A busy network of trade had criss-crossed the Asian seas for centuries, but European sailors did not reach India by sea until 1498.
Indian ships and Chinese junks traded with the many islands at the "corner" of Asia, the source of spices. These ships used the monsoon winds to blow them East across the Indian Ocean in summer, sailing back again in winter.
Spices, silks, precious stones and other luxury items had been brought overland from the East to Europe for hundreds of years.
Spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and peppercorns were extremely valuable. Wealthy Europeans used these spices to concoct elaborately flavoured dishes. Spices were also used in medicines and perfumes.
During the 1600s, pepper was the most important part of the East India Company's trade. Much of the pepper that was imported into London was sold on to other countries.