Six Glasses by Tom Standage Essay
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Throughout history certain drinks have marked a trend that has changed the face of the earth. Each drinks including beer, wine, spirits (distilled alcohol), coffee, tea, and coca-cola have been a catalyst for the development of our society. As a result, the alcohol and the caffeine in the drinks have not only quenched our thirst through history, but have done much more than that; they have helped different cultures intertwine. Each one of them set humankind on a path towards modernity.
Six beverages precisely, three alcoholic, and three caffeine marked the tendency; the first beverage to mark a trend was beer that both served as a currency and for political purposes. Later came the Greeks with a fermented grape juice, named “wine” that with the help of formal drinking parties helped diffuse ideas and thoughts. With the coming of the age of exploration and the discovery of America, raw goods and the distillation process arrived and helped the development of distilled drinks such as brandy, rum, and whiskey which were used as currency to buy slaves and became popular in North America.
As alcoholism spread, other people especially professionals looked for that drink that instead of confusing the mind rather promoted clarity. Coffee, the black gift from the Arabs promoted clarity that was what professionals were looking for such a long time. However the emergence of the British Empire as a world dominion helped China’s flagship drink, tea helped to open lucrative trade routes with the east. Perhaps, the most affluent of all, or at least the one single drink that reached every corner of earth is the carbonated soft beverage called Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola marked the start of the globalization period. Six drinks, six different stories that mark our world today.
Beer, the first alcoholic beverage appeared as a result of a change of lifestyle from the humans that migrated from out of Africa. Before, these people were nomads meaning that they life was based on hunting and gathering. However, starting twelve-thousand years ago, Humans in the Near East abandoned the Paleolithic lifestyle and adopted farming rather than hunting and gathering. Beer was not invented but rather discovered since it was found that cereal grain could be stored for a long time a would not be spoiled. With the introduction of beer, people no matter their social rank were able to enjoy a drink that at the time was considered a gift of god.
All along the Fertile Crescent people drank beer from the same container. This was considered a mayor development because it showed that beer was both a drink that united social classes, and it was a universal symbol and friendship and hospitality since drinking from the same container through a straw meant that the one offering the drink did not intoxicate the beverage. Beer abundance and invigorating flavors convinced the consumers of making ceremonies to god, whom in their conscience gifted such drink. Beer was used in religious ceremonies, agricultural fertility rites, and funerals by the Sumerians and Egyptians.
Beer rich contents cannot be denied. Without such stimulating and rich content, beer would not have the same popularity as it has. When stored for a long period, beer starts the fermentation process. In the Neolithic period, beer was rather drunk much sooner than today’s standards. Most people left it fermenting for about a week or less. As a result, the beer drank had a relatively low alcohol content but would be rich in yeast which would provide protein and vitamin, especially vitamin B. The rich contents of beer were essential for the development and survival of early civilizations since vitamin B provided the nutrients meat provided; so when there was a shortage of food, especially meat, people would opt drink beer.
Although extremely important for the development of early societies, beer is constantly associated with drunkenness and unclear thinking. Even many scholars consider beer as just a drink that it is used to quench special cravings or just simply to get drunk. However, beer importance in the development of writing is more important than common thinking. The earliest written documents are Sumerian wage lists and tax receipts that were used to record several things; amongst them was beer. Since beer by this time was considered the drink of the common man, beer was used as a form of payment for many people. Some people were given the drink as it is the case during the construction of the pyramid of Giza, and others were given tokens so they could exchange them with beer. Beer importance in the development of our civilized world is often under regarded, especially by those whom believe that beer sole purpose is to get people drunk.
Departing from Assyria, King Ashurnasirpar II gave a drink to his guests which aroma and taste was far more refined than that of beer. Even more, this vitalizing drink was not a universal drink for the common man, but was rather a way to show their wealth. As a result, wine development as the next popular drink, especially in Greece and Italy. Wine consists of a fermented juice of crushed grapes. Despite the availability of grapes through human history, wine did not emerge until later since in order to ferment the fruit it is necessary to use a pot. As wine became more widely available, it came to be seen as a social drink as well as a religious beverage. Its main consumption was based on the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, it’s increasing accessibility demised wine as an all elite drink.
Despite its high cost, wine is a determining factor for the development of “non-barbaric’ settlements such as Greece and Rome. Thucydides, a Greek writer described, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.” When wine emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean wine price decreased and it was widely available. As a result, wine became increasingly important especially in the economic sense. Wine was now not considered as just a drink, but rather a form of income. Italy’s and Greece convenient location helped wine become easy to trade amongst other European and Muslim nations. Therefore, vineyards became prime targets in the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens.
Different from beer, old wine was a badge of status; the older the wine, the better. For Greeks and Romans wine drinking was associated with civilization and refinement. Also, wine was also a form to test someone’s personality. As Aeschylus, a Greek poet said, “Bronze is the mirror of the outward form; wine is the mirror of the mind,” referring to the ability of a person to speak truth when drinking wine. Some Greek philosophers considered wine as treacherous for the human society; they believed that placing too much power in human hands (wine alcoholic content), could ultimately lead to revolution and anarchy. Wine social is so important that is often undermined.
For example there is a Roman story, that once Marcus Antonius sought for refuge and someone accept it. In order to delight and give tribute to their guest, the house owner sent their slave to buy the most expensive wine, the kind only people such of Marcus Antonius would drink. As a result, the authorities discovered Marcus Antonius as a result of just the wine he drank, marking wine as a social drink. Therefore, wine became a symbol of social differentiation and a rentable way of business.
Wine’s riches and development of trade led to the discovery of America. With the riches of wine European nations now sought more resources and other form of transporting beverages. For voyages such as those to America, wine was not that convenient. Instead in the Spanish city of Cordoba, the distillation process was developed. Distilled drinks provided a durable and compact way to transport alcohol on board ships. The first distilled drink was distilled wine and it was considered a therapeutically drink. Arnald of Villanova, a wine distiller, believed that “the true water of life will come over in precious drops, which, being rectified by three or four successive distillations, will afford the wonderful quintessence of wine,” he wrote “we call it aqua vitae, and this name is remarkably suitable, since it is really a water of immortality. It prolongs life, clears away ill-humors, revives the heart, and maintains youth.” As Villanova said, aqua vita godlike powers were tempting for many seeking immortality. During the Pre-Columbian period, people believed that drinking a regular dose of aqua vita could improve the functioning human body and mind.
Following the discovery of America and the establishment of the European colonies in the Americas, slavery soon out spurted, especially in the Caribbean colonies. In these colonies, especially in the British sugar cane was the main crop. However, in order to obtain the man power to extract the resource, the British sought to exchange Brandy for slaves in West Africa. Europeans soon realized that it was far more efficient to use distilled alcohol extracted from the sugar cane. Rumbullion as it is called was far superior for high seas since it didn’t spoil like wine since it had a high concentration of alcohol. Rum was perhaps the most profitable spirits, or distilled drink of all became it is relatively easy to distill and it was also made with the leftovers of sugarcane plantations. Therefore, rum did not only serve as a way to use the leftovers but it consequently was used as a form of income.
Inevitably, rum became the American typical drink, rather than brandy, the British counterpart. Rum was far cheaper then brandy and was made from leftover molasses. Rum amongst the American minds alleviated hardship and provided a liquid form of central heating during harsh winters. More importantly alleviated the dependence of foreign imports. In some cases, rum was so cheap that a one day wage could get drunk a person for weeks. Indirectly, rum triggered the American Civil war. The story goes like this, as the colonies grew economically and constantly became more independent of foreign goods, the British felt that they were losing money from a market that before they controlled in a monopolistic manner.
As a result, they decided to put taxes on the molasses, the main ingredient of rum. However, the British felt that they could exploit the Americans and kept increasing the taxes to see if the Americans once and for all opted for brandy. Instead, the number of rum producing factories increased and smuggling molasses became a normal business. During the fight for independence, the American soldiers opted for rum. As Henry Knox said in a letter, “Besides beef and pork, bread and flour, Rum is too material an article to be omitted,” he wrote, “No exertions ought to be spared to provide ample quantities of it.” Distilled drinks helped shaped the New World since it served as a form of income and as a form of enjoyment.
After the age of exploration, came the Age of Reason where everything was put into contest. No longer were Greek and Roman scientific commonly accepted. As Bacon expressed, “There is no hope of any major increase in scientific knowledge by grafting or adding the new on top of the old,” referring that in order to develop new thoughts have to be accepted. Along with this advance came coffee, which promoted sharpness and clarity of thought. It became the preferred drink for scientists, intellectuals, merchants and clerks. Coffee instead of relaxing the mind instead sharpened it and was usually drank during the mornings or during continuous working time. Coffee drinkers argued that with alcohol people had a clouded view of the world; therefore, coffee was there to clear it.
Coffee success is mainly as a result of the coffee houses. The coffee houses differed from the taverns in which they were often visited by scholars rather than by the common man, and had an environment more tranquil and better to think. Coffee houses were used as information hubs; there you could tell your thoughts of the book you just read, talk about new scientific developments, simply any information you could find in a coffee shop. These were so important that for example, after Hooke demonstrated an improved form of astronomical quadrant a the Royal Society, he repeated his demonstration at Garraway’s coffeehouse. In a certain manner, coffee helped European nations to develop at a faster rate since with coffee and coffee shops people were able to discuss and exchange ideas amongst them. Even today, coffee plays a major role in keeping our society awake and up to task.
Despite its reach, coffee was not able to compete in England with a drink similar to coffee called tea. During the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, British enjoyed its golden reach. As Sir George McCartney described, “this vast empire on which the sun never sets.” Indeed it was true since Britain had colonies in America, Asia, and Australia, meaning that the sun was always seen in any one of the colonies. Britain’s reach during this epoch was immeasurable and its power imaginable. However as any other empire they needed a “national” drink. The British opted for tea that had been invigorating the Chinese for quite some time. As coffee, tea promoted, clear thought and the spread of thought. However tea was not well known in Britain until Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II introduced tea to the English court. As any other mayor power, the citizens view their rulers of examples of what to do, so they inferred that drinking tea was good.
Even some scientist said that tea had special powers. Such was the case for Cornelius Bontekoe who said, “We recommend tea to the entire nation, and to all peoples!” he declared, “we urge every man, every woman, to drink it every day; if possible, every hour; beginning with ten cups a day and subsequently increasing the dosage-as much as the stomach can take.”One of the most important aspects of tea was its economic factor. The East India Company, the largest at its time recorded that sixty percent of its profits derived from the tea trade. Moreover, ten percent of British tax revenue derived from the tea. Clearly, tea’s economic influence is undeniable. With tea, Britain was able to develop settlements so far away, such as that of Hong Kong. Tea influence in Britain colonies helped Britain input more revenue since they created the drinking of tea as away of life. Everyone no matter their social class needed to have their tea at least once a day. As a result, tea was a drink that was so popular that Britain it spread through the world and became the main association with Britain.
Coca-Cola, perhaps the most well known brand in the world is a carbonated drink that was developed from Carbonated Water, or just simply Soda. Coca-Cola was developed by John Pemberton, a pharmacist who lived Atlanta, Georgia. Most people believe that the creation of Coca-Cola was a mistake. However this is false because in fact Pemberton was an experienced medicine producer and while creating Coca -Cola he was trying to find another remedy for stomach ache. While devising the formula, Pemberton added Coca that has a stimulating effect; later he added the koka leaf from Western Africa. In order to put a name for his invigorating, refreshing, quenching beverage he named it “Coca-Cola” referring to the two main ingredients of the product.
Coca-Coca introduced globalization into our minds. Rather than thinking for a single market, Coca-Cola owners believed in mass production and versatility of the product. Advertisements such as, “Drink Coca-Cola. Delicious and refreshing,” showed the world that the age of reason was light years away and that now it was the dawn of globalization. For Asa Candler the Coca-Cola business turned out to be really profitable. First the product was easy and cheap to produce and people paid a lot for each drink. Following his purchase of the company came the prohibition period; a period were alcohol consumption was illegal in the United States. Therefore, as a remedy people opted for Coca-Cola. As a result, Coca-Cola enjoyed a relative monopoly in drinks.
However this hit hard by the end of prohibition when alcohol reanimated its sale. Right after the prohibition, people said, “Who would drink ‘soft stuff’ when real beer and ‘he-mans whiskey’ could be obtained legally?” Furthermore, Coca-Cola was hit even harder with the innovating drink sizes of Pepsi that offer a similar flavor for a reduced price. Coca-Cola globalization was marked when Coca-Cola set a policy that those fighting the war (World War II) would have a Coca-Cola no matter where they were. The refreshing drink inside that remarkable bottle was so important for the soldiers since it made them feel at home. Also, as people outside the war effort saw the soldiers consuming the drink, they opted to start drinking it. Coca-Cola influence today is undeniable; Coca-Cola is simply globalization in a bottle.
Six drinks, each drink including beer, wine, spirits (distilled alcohol), coffee, tea, and coca-cola have been a catalyst for the development of our society. Each one has had its glory period and its place in history without them, the world would not be the same, nor as developed as it is today. From the start of civilization, to today globalize society each drink has played a major role in our development as a civilized world. However, the drink that we have to pay more tribute is water. Through history water has been essential for sustaining human life, but no one has paid respect to such precious item. In less than a century, water will become the transparent oil since only two percent of the whole planets water is drinkable.
Although we live in a place where we believe there is sufficient water, there isn’t, and we have to face it. In places such as Darfur and other dry places water has become so essential that instead of fighting for diamonds or any other resources; they are fighting for land in order to obtain at least was necessary for survival. If us (the youth), don’t stop consuming that much we will have to find another remedy for survival because at its pace water could start lacking in many critical places. In the end, we cannot be self-centered and just think of ourselves, we have to also think of taking care of unacknowledged earth.
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Standage, Tom. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker &