Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage

Now here's a book that's been on my reading list for quite some while, "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage (2005, Walker & Company). Standage says that six drinks have had a huge influence on the course of world history, and they include beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. He notes that the first three all contain alcohol, and the last three all contain caffeine.

The book is much more of an overview and social commentary than I had expected, but it was still an interesting read. Discussing beer, for instance, he says that there is a debate among archaeologists about which came first, bread or beer. He says the Mesopotamians used bread in making beer, which causes some to believe bread was a result of beer making. "It seems most likely, however, that both bread and beer were derived from gruel," he says. "A thick gruel could be baked in the sun or on a hot stone to make flatbread; a thin gruel could be left to ferment into beer. The two were different sides of the same coin: Bread was solid beer, and beer was liquid bread." (I'm a teetotaler, and I still find the history of all these drinks quite interesting.)

The tea section of the book, naturally, is what I was most curious about. Standage calls it "The Drink That Conquered the World." He discusses tea's origins, the tea culture that arose in China, and tea's eventual arrival in Europe, particularly Great Britain's "peculiar enthusiasm" for tea. If you've read a few histories of tea you won't break a lot of new ground with this book, but what Standage does do well is connect the dots of how technology and world events have influenced which beverages we consume. He ends, fittingly, with some discussion of how we have come full circle and, thanks to better purification methods, now water itself may be the drink of the future. "The history of drinking has come right back to its source," he says. This book gives a nice overview if you want a look at tea's place in the history of drink.


  1. interesting - have you tasted "beer bread"? Delish - I think Tastefully Simple home shows carry a good one - but everyone likes it!

  2. I got this book when it first was published and found it fascinating. So much history surrounding all of these beverages and imagine how the world might have been different if they had not been discovered.


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