Aurora Prehn profile

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Aurora Prehn

Royal Holloway University of London (2023)


Philip Crang, Felix Driver and Mark Nesbitt (Kew)


The Biocultural Diaspora of Tea in the 21st Century


Developed in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this PhD research project addresses new geographies of tea production in the 21st Century. Tea cultivation is experiencing a renaissance in Europe and North America, with an expanding number of tea growers and makers supplying niche specialty teas to consumers globally, chiefly facilitated via internet marketing. The project examines the implications of this phenomenon for cultures of tea production, our understanding of tea’s geographies, and tea’s biodiversity. Empirically, the research will engage with craft tea growers and makers in the UK and USA on their sourcing and development of tea plant stocks, their production practices, their marketing discourses, and their key consumer markets.

This project has grown out of research by the candidate into the historic tea specimens in the Economic Botany collection at Kew. This work highlighted the significance of these specimens in documenting successive introductions of tea cultivation, first in Assam, then in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Kenya and other colonies. The doctoral research builds on this to investigate contemporary introductions of tea in the United Kingdom and the United States. As a collaborative project it draws on complementary intellectual strengths: Kew’s commitment to using colonial specimens and their history to address contemporary issues, and Royal Holloway’s strength in food geographies and plant humanities. Kew also brings specialist expertise in relevant botanical topics such as seed banking and intellectual property. In turn, Kew will benefit from the student’s input into interpretation of living and research collections; the project’s programme of public engagement activity; and the initiation of a 21st Century tea collection at Kew of a similar calibre to that developed in the 19th Century.