Three Cups of Tea

Last updated
Three Cups of Tea
ThreeCupsOfTea BookCover.jpg
Cover of Three Cups of Tea
Author Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
CountryUnited States
Publisher Penguin Group
Publication date
2006, 2007, 2008
Media typeHardcover, Paperback, Audio CD
ISBN 978-0-14-303825-2
OCLC 83299454
Followed byStones into Schools 

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time (original hardcover title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time) is a memoir book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2007. The book describes Mortenson's transition from a registered nurse and mountain climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and elevating education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the beginnings of his humanitarian efforts, Mortenson co-founded the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a non-profit group that has reported overseeing the construction of over 171 schools as of 2010. [1] CAI reported that these schools provide education to over 64,000 children, including 54,000 girls, [2] in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where few education opportunities previously existed. [3] [4] [5]


The book's title was inspired by a saying Haji Ali shared with Mortenson: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..." [6] Three Cups of Tea remained on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller's list for four years. [7] [8]

In April 2011, critiques and challenges of the book and Mortenson surfaced. Author Jon Krakauer alleged that a number of Mortenson's claims in the book are fictitious and accused him of mismanaging CAI funds. [9] [10] [11] [12] In 2012, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to CAI following an investigation by the Montana attorney general. The inquiry determined that he had misspent over $6 million of the organization's money, although no criminality was found. [13]


In 1993, mountaineer Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, located in the Karakoram range of Gilgit-Baltistan, as a way of honoring the memory of his deceased sister, Christa. As a memorial, he had planned to lay her amber necklace on the mountain's summit. [14] After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. Mortenson became lost while descending alone, and became weak and exhausted. Instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters awaited, he came across Korphe, a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder of Korphe, Haji Ali. [15]

Mortenson soon found out that the village had no school. To repay the remote community for their hospitality, Mortenson recounted in the book that he promised to build a school for the village. After difficulties in raising capital, Mortenson was introduced to Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer who donated the money that Mortenson needed for his school. In the last months of his life, Hoerni co-founded the Central Asia Institute with Mortenson, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. [16]

According to the book, Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory. Some of these challenges included death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers. [17]


Though Mortenson and Relin are given equal credit for authoring Three Cups of Tea, it is written from Relin's perspective as a journalist interviewing and observing Mortenson. In the introduction, Relin admitted that his desire to see Mortenson's project succeed likely influenced his objectivity as a reporter. [18] Elizabeth Kaplan, the agent for the book, later acknowledged that the relationship between Mortenson and Relin was difficult. [19] Mortenson, who was often traveling, was hard to track down, and Relin spoke publicly about how Mortenson should not have been named a co-author. [19] As detailed in a New York Times article, Relin "suffered emotionally and financially as basic facts in the book were called into question" and later committed suicide on November 15, 2012. [19] [20]


The original hardback edition of the book was released in 2006 with the subtitle One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. Mortenson fought against this subtitle, and the edition sold only 20,000 copies. He continued to prevail upon the publishers to change the subtitle to his first choice for the 2007 paperback edition: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time. His publisher relented, and the re-titled book made the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list. Mortenson explained his reasoning for the subtitle in a lecture given in Fairfield, Connecticut: "If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear. If you promote peace, it's based in hope." [21]

The book remained a number one New York Times bestseller for three years after its release. [22] The book has been published in over 39 countries[ citation needed ]. A young adult version of Three Cups of Tea was published by Penguin on January 22, 2009.



In 2010, South Asian scholar and anthropologist Nosheen Ali wrote regarding Three Cups of Tea in that “let me state clearly that Three Cups of Tea illuminates a remarkable tale of courage and compassion. Like numerous readers, I too am deeply moved and inspired by Mortenson’s genuine and enduring devotion to the cause of education in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.” [23]


In regard to Mortenson's management style at the Central Asia Institute, Nicholas D. Kristof, formerly a supporter, said that Mortenson is "utterly disorganized", and added, "I am deeply troubled that only 41 percent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools." [24] In a deeper look into Mortenson's business dealings, British journalist Jonathan Foreman wrote in a 2008 Daily Telegraph story that CAI's success was due in part to Mortenson's use of intuition and last-minute decision-making. Foreman explained that Mortenson was habitually late for meetings but that those traits worked well and were important to the success of his work in the Balti region of Pakistan. Baltistanis have no tenses in their language, are vague on their timekeeping, and make their own decisions largely based on intuition. [25]


On the April 17, 2011, broadcast of CBS News' 60 Minutes , correspondent Steve Kroft alleged inaccuracies in Three Cups of Tea and its sequel, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as financial improprieties in the operation of the Central Asia Institute. The 60 Minutes report made the following allegations:

60 Minutes asked Mortenson for an interview before their broadcast, but he did not respond to their requests. [26]

Jon Krakauer, a former financial supporter of CAI, questioned Mortenson's accounts separately and was interviewed for the 60 Minutes segment. The day after the broadcast, Krakauer published his allegations in a lengthy online article, Three Cups of Deceit — How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. [28] In the article, Krakauer documents how he had been captivated by Mortenson's story and donated substantial sums to CAI, but subsequently heard stories of misconduct and began investigating. Krakauer stated that he invited Mortenson to address his allegations and scheduled an interview where Mortenson lives, but Mortenson canceled the interview. [29]


Interviewed by the Bozeman Chronicle a few days after the 60 Minutes exposé, Mortenson told reporter Gail Schonztler: "I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students." He further explained, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993..." [30]

Scott Darsney, a respected mountaineer and friend of Greg Mortenson, sent an email, subsequently turned into an exclusive article for the online version of Outside magazine, as a response to the allegations against Mortenson. [31] Darsney questioned the accuracy and fairness of both the Krakauer piece and the 60 Minutes report. Darsney had been interviewed by Krakauer, and maintained that Krakauer either misquoted or misunderstood what he said.

CAI responded to the various media reports with a public statement, saying the board had retained an attorney the previous year to investigate whether Mortenson received "excess benefits" for his work, and that counsel had concluded this was not the case. The statement concluded, "It would be truly tragic if the sensationalized allegations against him were to harm the future of this crucial work." [32] In December 2011 CAI released a comprehensive list of projects completed over several years and currently in progress.[ citation needed ]

In April 2012, following a year of investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI. The Montana inquiry determined that he had misspent over $6 million of the organization's money, although no criminality was found. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said: "Mr Mortenson may not have intentionally deceived the board or his employees, but his disregard for and attitude about basic record-keeping and accounting for his activities essentially had the same effect." [13] Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Mortenson was required to resign as executive director and could no longer serve as a voting member of CAI's board. [33] However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee. [34] Mortenson broke all of his remaining ties to CAI by officially retiring from the organization in 2015. [35]


In May 2011, Jean Price and Michele Reinhart, Democratic Party representatives in Montana, along with Dan Donovan, a Great Falls attorney, filed a class-action lawsuit against Mortenson and asked a federal judge in Missoula to place all proceeds from the purchase of Mortenson's books into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes. The total of Mortenson's book sales then stood near $5 million. [36] [37] [38] In June 2011, Price dropped out of the suit because she had never read the book. [39] In Illinois, former school teacher Deborah Netter dropped her Illinois lawsuit against Mortenson in early July 2011, and joined the Montana lawsuit in mid-July. [40] [41] [42] The Montana lawsuit was dismissed on April 30, 2012. [43] In October 2013, an appeal of the dismissal of the class-action lawsuit claiming damages against Greg Mortenson over Three Cups of Tea was rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. [44]




A sequel to Three Cups of Tea, titled Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan , was released on December 1, 2009, by Viking Press. Stones Into Schools explores the progress of Mortenson's seventeen-year effort to promote female literacy and education, with an emphasis on the expansion of his efforts into Afghanistan and his expressed desire to help the U.S. military to promote peace and build relationships with the Afghan shura (leaders). [50]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bozeman, Montana</span> City in Montana, United States

Bozeman is a city and the county seat of Gallatin County, Montana, United States. Located in southwest Montana, the 2020 census put Bozeman's population at 53,293 making it the fourth-largest city in Montana. It is the principal city of the Bozeman, Montana, Micropolitan Statistical Area, consisting of all of Gallatin County with a population of 118,960. It is the largest micropolitan statistical area in Montana, the fastest growing micropolitan statistical area in the United States in 2018, 2019 and 2020, as well as the second-largest of all Montana's statistical areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karakoram</span> Major mountain range spanning the borders between Pakistan and China

The Karakoram is a mountain range in the Kashmir region spanning the borders of Pakistan, China, and India, with the northwestern extremity of the range extending to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Most of the Karakoram mountain range falls under the jurisdiction of Gilgit-Baltistan, which is administered by Pakistan. Its highest peak, K2, is located in Gilgit-Baltistan. It begins in the Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan) in the west, encompasses the majority of Gilgit-Baltistan, and extends into Ladakh and Aksai Chin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jon Krakauer</span> American writer and journalist

Jon Krakauer is an American writer and mountaineer. He is the author of bestselling non-fiction books—Into the Wild; Into Thin Air; Under the Banner of Heaven; and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman—as well as numerous magazine articles. He was a member of an ill-fated expedition to summit Mount Everest in 1996, one of the deadliest disasters in the history of climbing Everest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Bono</span> American politician and lobbyist (born 1961)

Mary Bono is an American politician, businesswoman, and lobbyist who served Palm Springs and most of central and eastern Riverside County, California, in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1998 to 2013.

Jean Amédée Hoerni was a Swiss-born American engineer. He was a silicon transistor pioneer, and a member of the "traitorous eight". He developed the planar process, an important technology for reliably fabricating and manufacturing semiconductor devices, such as transistors and integrated circuits.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wakhan</span> Mountainous area of northeastern Afghanistan

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Culture of Pakistan</span> Overview of the culture of Pakistan

The Culture of Pakistan is based in the Indo-Persian cultural matrix that constitutes a foundation plank of South Asian Muslim identity. The region has formed a distinct cultural unit within the main cultural complex of South Asia, Middle East and Central Asia. There are differences in culture among the different ethnic groups in matters such as dress, food, and religion, especially where pre-Islamic customs differ from Islamic practices.

The Kiriyama Prize was an international literary award awarded to books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. Its goal was to encourage greater understanding among the peoples and nations of the region. Established in 1996, the prize was last awarded in 2008.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greg Mortenson</span> American professional speaker, writer and former mountaineer

Greg Mortenson is an American professional speaker, writer, veteran, and former mountaineer. He is a co-founder and former executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute and the founder of the educational charity Pennies for Peace.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Central Asia Institute</span>

Central Asia Institute (CAI) is an international non-profit organization, co-founded by Greg Mortenson and Jean Hoerni in 1996. The organization is based in Bozeman, Montana and works to promote and support community-based education throughout Central Asia, primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by building schools, supporting teacher-training programs, and funding school scholarships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anatol Lieven</span> British author and political analyst

Anatol Lieven is a British author, journalist, and policy analyst best known for his expertise on the Taliban of Afghanistan. He is currently a visiting professor at King's College London and senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is also a contributor to the Valdai Discussion Club.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pennies for Peace</span> A program to raise pennies to help fund

Pennies for Peace is a program sponsored by Central Asia Institute, in which school children in the United States raise pennies to help fund CAI's educational projects. The program focuses on raising cross-cultural awareness through education to promote peace.

Korphe is a small subsistence farming village in northeastern Pakistan, situated at the foot of the Karakoram mountain range along the banks of the Braldu River.

A cup of tea is a single serving of the beverage tea. Informally, it may be rendered "a cuppa". The idiom "one's cup of tea" refers to a preference; often it is in the negative, so "X is not really my cup of tea" means "I don't like X."

<i>Stones into Schools</i> 2009 book by Greg Mortenson

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a New York Times bestselling book by Greg Mortenson published by Viking in 2009. The book is the sequel to the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea and tells the story of Mortenson's humanitarian efforts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan with his non-profit charity organization, Central Asia Institute (CAI). CAI reports that as of 2010, it has overseen the building over 171 schools in the two countries. These schools reportedly provide education to over 64,000 children, including 54,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greg Gianforte</span> Governor of Montana (born 1961)

Gregory Richard Gianforte is an American businessman, politician, software engineer, and writer serving as the 25th governor of Montana since 2021. A member of the Republican Party, Gianforte served as the U.S. representative for Montana's at-large congressional district from 2017 to 2021.

<i>Three Cups of Deceit</i> Book by Jon Krakauer

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way is a 2011 e-book written by Jon Krakauer about Three Cups of Tea (2007) and Stones into Schools (2009) author Greg Mortenson. In it, Krakauer disputes Mortenson's accounts of his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and accuses him of mishandling funds donated to his charity, Central Asia Institute ("CAI").

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Oliver Relin</span> American writer

David Oliver Relin was an American journalist and the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea, published in 2006. Relin co-wrote the book with Greg Mortenson. The book gives Mortenson's account of his transition from registered nurse and mountain-climber to humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and promoting education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Haldi also Halde or Huldi is a village in Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Haldi is a historic village of Baltistan, located at the meeting place of Saltoro river and Hushe River 28 km from district centre Khaplu.


  1. "The Power of Knowledge". Bridgewater State University. March 30, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-04-04. Retrieved 2011-06-26. Newslog, Bridgewater State University
  2. Aliya Anjum. "Education emergency in Pakistan". Pakistan Observer. Archived from the original on 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2011-06-26. Pakistan Observer, "Education Emergency in Pakistan"
  3. "Journey of Hope". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
  4. "Mortenson Campaigned to Build Schools in Asia" Archived 2008-04-30 at the Wayback Machine , ABC News, March 8, 2006.
  5. Worldview: The lesson jihadis fear most – In the remote reaches of Pakistan, former mountain climber Greg Mortenson is besting extremists by building schools" Archived 2008-02-29 at the Wayback Machine , The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 13, 2008.
  6. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, NY (2006), pg. 150.
  7. CNN reports number of years Three Cups of Tea on NYT Bestseller list Archived 2012-10-09 at the Wayback Machine ,; accessed December 9, 2016.
  8. "Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers", The New York Times , March 16, 2008.
  9. Three Cups of Deceit Archived 2011-06-24 at the Wayback Machine , Jon Krakauer, April 2011.
  10. "‘Three Cups of Tea,’ Spilled", by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, April 20, 2011
  11. "Greg Mortenson’s Tepid Defense", by Tom Wright, The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2011
  12. "Can't Get There From Here" Archived 2011-04-30 at the Wayback Machine , Outside journal, Apr 27, 2011
  13. 1 2 BBC (6 April 2012). "Three Cups of Tea author must pay $1m to his charity". BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  14. "Schools for Pakistan and Afghanistan" Archived 2008-02-02 at the Wayback Machine , Richard Halicks, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, April 16, 2006.
  15. "Fresh Air" Archived 2008-04-01 at the Wayback Machine , with Terry Gross,National Public Radio (NPR), February 7, 2002.
  16. "Another Way to stop Terrorism" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine , Parade Magazine, March 5, 2006.
  17. Marilyn Gardner, "A failed mountaineer becomes a philanthropist after a village without a school saves his life" Archived 2008-04-05 at the Wayback Machine , The Christian Science Monitor, September 12, 2006.
  18. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time. Introduction by David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, 2007 edition, p. 5.
  19. 1 2 3 Leslie Kaufman. "David Oliver Relin, Adventurous Journalist, Dies at 49". The New York Times , December 2, 2012.
  20. "Coroner: Three Cups of Tea" co-author David Oliver Relin commits suicide", CBS News, Accessed December 3, 2012.
  21. "Educating the World One Step at a Time" [ permanent dead link ], Alison Walkley, Fairfield Citizen News, March 7, 2008.
  22. Desmond, Matthew (2017-12-09). "Best Sellers - The New York Times - November 15, 2009". The New York Times . Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  23. "Ali, Nosheen, Books vs Bombs? Humanitarian development and the narrative of terror in Northern Pakistan " Third World Quarterly, Issue 4 2010, pp 541-559".{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. Kristof, Nicholas D. (April 20, 2011). "'Three Cups of Tea,' Spilled". The New York Times.
  25. Foreman, Jonathan (2008-02-16). "Jonathan Foreman "Pakistan: Free to Learn" The Telegraph, 16 February 2008". Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  26. 1 2 3 4 "Questions over Greg Mortenson's stories". CBS News. April 15, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  27. "We Never Kidnapped Greg Mortenson". The Daily Beast . Apr 18, 2011.
  28. "Link to Krakauer's Amazon Kindle|Kindle". Archived from the original on 2011-06-24. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
  29. Stemle, Cary (April 20, 2011). "The Greg Mortenson Scandal: One University's Bitter Cup of Tea". Time. Archived from the original on April 23, 2011.
  30. Gail Schontzler (April 15, 2011). "Mortenson under fire from '60 Minutes' — Bozeman philanthropist denies allegations". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  31. Scott Darsney, “Scott Darsney Questions the Accuracy and Fairness of “Three Cups of Deceit””, Outside Magazine, April 13, 2009
  32. "Statement of the CAI Board". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  33. Bullock, Steve. "Montana Attorney General's Investigative Report of Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-27. Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  34. Flandro, Carly (6 April 2012). "Mortenson, CAI mismanaged money, but will be able to continue work in the future". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  35. Volz, Matt (November 19, 2015). "APNewsBreak: Author Greg Mortenson to retire from charity". Associated Press .
  36. Greg Mortenson sued for fraud and racketeering for "Three Cups of Tea", The Daily Beast, May 6, 2011
  37. CNN wire staff. "Planned lawsuit targets charity, author of 'Three Cups of Tea'." CNN . May 7, 2011. Retrieved on May 7, 2011.
  38. Complaint against Greg Mortenson and CAI Wall Street Journal May 5, 2011
  39. Price drops out of lawsuit in Montana Archived 2012-03-22 at the Wayback Machine
  40. Illinois Woman Joins Lawsuit Against Mortenson Archived 2012-03-13 at the Wayback Machine KBZK
  41. Washington Times - Woman Drops out of Three Cups of Tea Lawsuit Washington Times, July 7, 2011
  42. Illinois Woman Drops Lawsuit Against Mortenson Missoulian
  43. Mont. judge dismisses lawsuit against ‘Three Cups of Tea’ author Greg Mortenson, publisher The Washington Post, April 30, 2012
  44. "Fraud suit against Greg Mortenson's '3 Cups of Tea' rejected". Los Angeles Times . 2013-10-11. Retrieved November 5, 2013.
  45. "An International Award". Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  46. Archived 2011-02-12 at the Wayback Machine
  47. "Puddly Awards 2010". Powells Books. 2009-08-12. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  48. "Christophers honor 13 authors & illustrators for books about love, courage & communication across cultures". The Christophers. 2010-04-07. Archived from the original on 2011-07-09. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  49. "2010 The Mason Award". Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  50. Neyfakh, Leon (2009-08-13). "Three Cups of Tea Authors Mortenson and Relin Part Ways; Latter Sells Next Book to Random House". Media. The New York Observer . Retrieved 2009-08-16.