Anthropological Approach to the Industrialization of Tea

Along with sugar and coffee, tea has captured the social imagination of many across the world. The tea trade sparked globalization because people who lived in countries where they could not readily access tea plants, needed them to be imported, which created a market to produce tea. And even further revolutionizing the very means of trade by creating many markets and employment opportunities to farm, and regulate it. Which leads many scholars to believe that the tea trade is largely responsible for the rise global capitalism. Fromer (2008) explains that tea played a major role in the building and strengthening of the British Empire because the new market that the tea trade created helped with the development of the British economy. The British East India company acquired many tea plantations around the world so they could produce vast amounts to be sold in each of their colonies, which was a major source of capital in the British empire (Fromer, 2008). This was made possible because as Goody (1982) shows tea is processed in a way that allows it to be transported across long distances, which is due to the industrialization of food and the production of food and tea plants are dried so that they are preserved. Preservation enables tea to last as it travels over long distances for sale (Lutgendorf, 2012). This transforms tea from plants to commodities that bear almost no resemblance to their starting point (Barndt, 2002). What I mean by this is that tea starts off as all plants do, growing from the ground, but between that starting point and the finished product, tea plants undergo a major transformation to the point where they look nothing like they do originally, which as Goody (1982) explains, is the rationale behind the industrialization of food.


For me, there is something special about enjoying a warm cup of tea in the morning. My family is from the West Indian country of Jamaica, which was a British colony that used to, and still does, regularly consume tea. As a result, they have conditioned me to drink a cup of tea every morning as well. The idea behind it is to warm up your stomach, which prepares you for your day. This practice has affected me to the point where I cannot start my day until I have a cup of tea and I feel so unprepared to start my day if I do not have any tea in my system. However, as of late, I have been working long hours at my jobs, sometimes I have to wake up really early, other times I work overnights, so my body is really tired and I am unable to wake up early enough to enjoy my tea (including before school), so I often have to do without. In its place, however, I try to pick up a coffee on my way. On days where I can relax, I usually make tea in my large mug and enjoy it by sipping it slowly. Prior to the major lifestyle change, I have always used to make my tea in specific ways depending on the situation. For example, I would drink Earl Grey or Orange Pekoe tea with milk on regular days and I would drink them with cream on more relaxed days. I think that this conditioning is due to the influence of power that Mintz (1996) highlights. According to Mintz, because the powerful are responsible for setting the structures and conditions in place, which ultimately sets the stage for the lower classes to adapt to those structures by enacting their agency, leading to the formation of norms. These norms then get spread on a large scale, until virtually everyone joins in on it and it becomes normalized until it gets replaced, but even then some may still hold onto them and they become ingrained. This follows from and further serves as evidence for what I previously explained in the previous section. All of this happens in the background without noticing. Instead, what we do notice is the personal meanings that we personally attribute to it. For me, tea is important to me because it allows me to clear my head every morning and relax. The sensation of the warm liquid running through your body really reduces my anxiety about what could occur during the day, which serves a refresher and it prepares me for the day. That is why, as I mentioned earlier in this section, if I do not get my warm cup of tea, I feel as though something is missing.



Barndt, Deborah. 2002. “Across Space and Through Time” In Tangled Routes: Women, Work, and Globalization on the Tomato Trail. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. (pt 1). Pp.7-30.

Barndt, Deborah. 2002. “Untangling Roots: The Tomato Across Time” In Tangled Routes: Women, Work, and Globalization on the Tomato Trail. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. (pt 2) Pp.31-53.

Fromer, Julie E. 2008. “Deeply Indebted to the Tea-Plant: Representations of English National Identity in Victorian Histories of Tea”. Victorian Literature and Culture 36(2). Pp. 531-547.

Goody, Jack. 1997. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine” reprinted in Food and Culture: A Reader. Carole Counihan, Penny Van Esterik, eds. New York: Routledge. Pp.338-356.

Lutgendorf, Philip. 2012. “Making tea in India”. Thesis Eleven 113(1). Pp. 11-31.

Mintz, Sidney. 1996. “Food and its Relationship to Concepts of Power.” In Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press. Pp. 17-32.



One comment

  1. Jonathan Caswell · December 7, 2017

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

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