In the 18th century Britain exported Indian cotton and opium to Canton in exchange for silver currency, in order to buy highly coveted tea. During the 19th century the volume of tea exported to the West increased dramatically. In the early days of trading between China and Europe, tea was expensive. At the beginning of the 20th century, when tea had become an everyday item, even for the poor, a pound of the cheapest tea cost three per cent of the average British man's weekly wages.
Tea exported to Europe was mostly grown in Fujian, transported to Canton, then shipped to Western markets as quickly as possible, as freshness guaranteed the highest profits. Clippers were designed by American shipbuilders in the 1830s to provide fast transportation.