“All the Tea in China”

An extravagant exaggeration, signifying that which is of uncountable and inestimable value. The phrase is used in a comparison to indicate someone or something that is of even greater worth.

“That’s Bess, over there. She’s the best and I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China.”

“You could give me all the tea in China and I still wouldn’t leave Brooklyn.”

Tea Plantation in China.
Tea Plantation in China.

How much tea is there in China anyway?

According to the most current figure I could find, in 2010 China produced 1,450,000 tons of tea, which was worth 20 billion in U.S. dollars.

But what about stockpiles of tea or inventory extant from other years? And what about the current stats?

Poster of tea being shipped from China.
Poster of tea being shipped from China.

Anyway, we’re talking about a lot of tea, and a lot of money. (Although to provide a little perspective, according to Forbes magazine, Bill Gates, who is the richest person in the world, is currently worth just over 79 billion dollars.)

The Origin

According to the very fine website The Phrase Finder, the expression “all the tea in China” is first found in Australian publications from the late 19th/early 20th century and seems to have arisen from the common observation that China was the world’s top producer of tea, and that brewed as a beverage, tea enjoyed a huge market and immense popularity throughout the world, especially within the British Empire.

Raiders of the Lost Ark ending scene (1981).
Raiders of the Lost Ark ending scene (1981).

So it is easy to imagine that when your average Aussie in the past contemplated the idea of “all the tea in China,” he or she envisioned something like that closing scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the camera pulls back to reveal the interior of a seemingly never-ending warehouse filled with an uncountable number of wooden chests. Now that’s a visualization of “all the tea in China” that most can share.

Similarly, when classic rock crooner Van Morrison sings his ballad Tupelo Honey (1971) he helps us envision “all the tea in China,” which he would gladly sacrifice rather than lose the love of his life.

Here are the opening lyrics …

Tupelo Honey

You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee

And here’s Van “The Man” Morrison, a.k.a. “The Belfast Cowboy” singing the above…

Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey - 6/18/1980 – Montreux Jazz Festival.
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey – 6/18/1980 – Montreux Jazz Festival.

Have a good cuppa.


Leave a Comment