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A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2005) Tom Standage

history-of-the-world-in-6-glassesI got this as a kindle deal, and was absolutely delighted by it. It’s a look at how six beverages–beer, wine, liquor, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola–changed the world.

There were so very many fascinating historical tidbits, I’m afraid that on multiple occasions I regaled my walking partner with facts she probably already knew, but I did not.

For example:


Ancient beer had grains, chaff, and other debris floating on its surface, so a straw was necessary to avoid swallowing them.


The distinction between beer in northern Europe and wine in the south persists to this day. Modern European drinking patterns crystallized during the middle of the first millennium and were largely determined by the reach of Greek and Roman influences.


Distilled drinks, alongside firearms and infectious diseases, helped to shape the modern world by helping the inhabitants of the Old World to establish themselves as rulers of the New World. Spirits played a role in the enslavement and displacement of millions of people, the establishment of new nations, and the subjugation of indigenous cultures.


Coffee’s opponents tried to argue that any change in the drinker’s physical or mental state was grounds on which to ban coffee. …Indeed, it was not so much coffee’s effects on the drinker but the circumstances in which it was consumed that worried the authorities, for coffeehouses were hotbeds of gossip, rumor, political debate, and satirical discussion. They were also popular venues for chess and backgammon, which were regarded as morally dubious.

Backgammon and chess were morally dubious?!

Shortly before his death in 1605, Pope Clement VIII was asked to state the Catholic church’s position on coffee. … Coffee’s religious opponents argued that coffee was evil: They contended that since Muslims were unable to drink wine, the holy drink of Christians, the devil had punished them with coffee instead.

Well, that’s how I feel about coffee.

Tea on the other hand:

The prosperity of the period and the surge in population were helped along by the widespread adoption of the custom of drinking tea. Its powerful antiseptic properties meant it was safer to drink than previous beverages such as rice or millet beer, even if the water was not properly boiled during preparation. Modern research has found that the phenolics (tannic acid) in tea can kill the bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.

There is so much on the British East India company and tea, I may make a blog post out of it.

The political power of the British East India Company, the organization that supplied Britain’s tea, was vast. At its height the company generated more revenue than the British government and ruled over far more people, while the duty on the tea it imported accounted for as much as 10 percent of government revenue.

(The American colonists) resented the way the government was handing the East India Company a monopoly on the retailing of tea. What would be next? “The East India Company, if once they get Footing in this (once) happy Country, will leave no Stone unturned to become your Masters,” declared a broadside published in Philadelphia in December 1773. “They have a designing, depraved and despotic Ministry to assist and support them. They themselves are well versed in Tyranny, Plunder, Oppression and Bloodshed. . . . Thus they have enriched themselves, thus they are become the most powerful Trading company in the Universe.”

So essentially, the Boston Tea Party was not a protest against the British Government as much as it was a protest against the British East India Company.

Funny how the modern “tea party” misses that this protest was against big business, not big government. And that doesn’t even begin to look at the British East India Company’s involvement with the opium trade. (And by involvement, I mean, creating and running.)

And then finally Coca-Cola.

Until 1895 (Coca-Cola) was still being sold as a primarily medicinal product— described as a “Sovereign Remedy for Headache” …

Selling it simply as a refreshing drink, in contrast, gave it universal appeal; not everyone is ill, but everyone is thirsty at one time or another.

In 1898 a tax was imposed on patent medicines, a category which was initially deemed to include Coca-Cola. The company fought the decision and ultimately won exemption from the tax…

…(Harvey Washington Wiley, a government scientist) put Coca-Cola on trial in 1911, in a federal case titled The United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of CocaCola. In court, religious fundamentalists railed against the evils of Coca-Cola, blaming its caffeine content for promoting sexual transgressions…

Did I at all pique your interest? I hope so, because this is a fabulous book, and one well worth reading.
Rating: 10/10

Published by Walker Books


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