I received a call a few months ago from MTV asking how monkeys were trained to pick tea.
I had to break the news to them that westerners had been falling for that story since way before the time tea was tossed into Boston Harbor. It was one of the marketing ploys used to make Chinese tea more exotic. And the alluring monkey tale continues to be employed by unscrupulous (or misinformed) tea vendors today.
No European, including the East India Company traders in Canton, understood Chinese tea growing practices until Robert Fortune carried out his tea spy mission into China at the bequest of The Company in 1848. By that time, the monkey-picked story had become legend and another part of tea’s poetic charm. But like many such stories that inspire and excite us, the notion of monkeys picking our tea was not to be taken literally.