James Walvin in his article “A taste of empire” examines the role colonization played in the localization of activities such as tea drinking, tobacco smoking, and chocolate consumption into British culture. “Yet, each and many more of these habits is only British by adoption. The peculiarly British customs associated with these traditions were developed in a relatively short period, and involved commodities imported from every edge of colonial settlement and trade” (Walvin 11). Walvin states that tea started out as a primarily luxurious commodity only meant for the elite but with time grew to form a core part of every Briton’s culture. “Brewing up a storm” looks at tea, tobacco, chocolate, coffee and sugar as drug-food. “three forms of Pancontinental trade developed. One was the slave trading from Africa to The New worldthe third – and the only type to last well into the industrial age – was a boom in what have been termed the drug foods: coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, tobacco and later opium.” (Pomeranz and Topik 77-78) The growth in their consumption and affordability is attributed to the adoption of their production in the New World. This production is also combined with the availability of cheap land as well as slave labor.
The involvement of the British in trade is the link between tea consumption and the slave trade. While Walvin sees tea as imported as part of the British trade activities, “the answer of course lies in the 18th century British pre-eminence as Atlantic slave traders and the economic importance of British slave colonies in the Caribbean and North America” (Walvin 12). Pomeranz and Topik attribute trade between the Britons and Chinese merchants. Britain engaged in trade with other regions and “as its import bills soared, the British sought in vain for a good they could sell to China in equal amounts. The answer they eventually found was opium grown in their Indian colonies” (Pomeranz and Topik 79). Further, after the acquisition of the plant, the British ventured to produce it in their colonies.
The arguments in the two articles are similar for they both agree on the origins and facilitators of tea production and consumption. All writers agree on the role that British involvement in goods and slave trade played in their introduction to the product. After the introduction, both articles admits that colonization enabled the production of tea either on British land or in other colonized places. Both articles also are similar in the engagement of cheap slave labor in the production of tea in British colonies. The differences between the materials arise in their perspectives for the authors; Walvin looks at the adoption tea consumption inot the British culture and the costs that were incurred during this process. These collateral damages included colonization of tea production zones around the world alongside trading of slaves meant to work on the tea production plantations. In some areas the british had to apply militarry force to get compliance with their rule aimed at tea production. Pomeranz and Topik, on the other hand, looks at tea for its cause of opium consumption in China. The exchange of tea plants for the drug opium was seen as a fair trade between the British and Chinese traders, however this exchnage ended up having a negative impact on the Chinese population who had taken up opium consumption.
Authors for both articles have selected similar information but varied in their execution. All have chosen tea and aspects that enabled growth in tea consumption as well as its production are identical in both articles. “Most of these mild addictive little luxuries went to Europe and became cheap enough for the masses because they began to be grown on vast New World Estates combining plentiful, cheap land, and cheap slave labor.” (Pomeranz and Topik 78). “What underpinned these changes in British social life was the rapid emergence of Britain as a commercial and military power resultant in the often brutal imposition of economic and strategic interests on distant peoples and regions.” (Walvin 13). From this, it is clear the authors have not selected very different information for their pieces, the similarities between the articles are more than the differences.
The two pieces inform each other from the fact that the information selected is primarily similar and only differs in the approaches taken in its explanation. This difference in interpretation methods provides a means through which the articles can complement the information contained in each other. Pomeranz and Topik approach it from a trade perspective. ”It was a crime to take tea plants out of China while most of Asia was gratified to rely on China for much of its tea supply, the Europeans – who began to import the beverage in the 1600’s – were in the long run, less willing to accept this monopoly arrangement” (Pomeranz and Topik 79). Walvin, on the other hand, approaches the issue from an English adoption angle “of course by then the superfluities of an earlier generation had become cheap basics in the makeup of the diet even for the poor. The British working class found it hard to envisage life without their sweetened tea” (Walvin 12).
My understanding of the origin and adoption of tea into the British culture has been enlightened from the two pieces. The methods of trade and colonization that were used to satisfy the increased demand for tea in the country. Further, the impact created by consumption of tea in producer regions is now clear. This impact moves from introduction of drugs as an exchange medium – which later led to war, to the slave trade aimed at supporting tea production in British colonies. In addition, the concept of culture transfer and adoption into foreign cultures also comes out clearly from the two articles.
Pomeranz, Kenneth and Steven Topik. “Brewing Up a Storm” in The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture, and the World Economy, 1400 to the present. New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 2006. Print.
Walvin, James. "A Taste of Empire, 1600-1800." History Today (1997): 11 - 16. Print.