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Six History Shaping Beverages History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Tom Standage states in A History of the World in Six Glasses that the course of human history has been shaped by six beverages that are commonplace today. The roles of these beverages – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola – are explained in roughly chronological in the book. Although all of these drinks have helped advance culture, some were more important than others in this respect. In order of importance, the arrangement of the drinks would be quite different.

Beer, the most important, was discovered long before the emergence of civilization, when people lived as hunter-gatherers. The transition to farming was a major step towards civilization, and while the reason for it is still controversial, beer seems to have been a factor. One theory suggests that the popularity of beer necessitated a steady supply of grain, which was required to make beer, and brought about the cultivation of it. Because beer was drunk prehistorically while still fermenting and rich in protein and vitamins, it allowed farmers to consume less meat, thus assisting the switch to farming. Furthermore, the Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians regarded beer as a drink given by gods, which contributed to the conversion of storehouses for surplus food into temples where offerings were made to these gods. Beer was a crucial factor contributing to the conversion to farming, and as a result, the beginning of civilization; it was undoubtedly a major catalyst for advancing culture.

Coca-Cola, often associated with commercialization and globalization, is the second most important catalyst, especially since globalization is viewed today as an indicator of a high degree of advancement. The beverage evolved from being a strictly American product to its now internationally famous status in just over a century. As its popularity spread throughout the world, it brought many American values, such as liberty, with it. In fact, Coca-Cola was the very embodiment of these values in World War II, during which the Axis countries of Japan and Germany used the drink to portray the United States and the Allies negatively, denouncing the concepts associated with it. Bottles of Coca-Cola contained more than a soft drink; they contained complex ideas that entire governments have been based upon.

Next in importance in the line of beverages that influenced history is coffee. Coffee originated in the Arab world, but it had a much greater impact on Europe. More important than the drink, itself was the place that it was often served in: a coffeehouse. In coffeehouses throughout Europe, discussion and debate, as well as gossip, took place. Many people learned of current events in coffeehouses, and others made scientific advancements after academic discussions occurred there. Inevitably, political ideas were also spread in coffeehouses, as in the case of France, in which a revolutionary war for fair rights started at a café. Coffee, which sharpens the mind, promoted new ideas and discoveries through discussion, and even helped start a revolution.

Though not as powerful as beer, Coca-Cola, or coffee were, tea assisted the development of culture. The Industrial Revolution in 18th-century England caused the introduction of numerous factories, and tea, served to the workers of these factories, kept them alert and prevented illness. It also increased the demand for crockery, fueling commerce even more. Tea had a large effect on Asia, specifically China and India. The Opium Wars, the result of the trade of opium because of the demand for tea, ended with China engaging in wider trade with other countries. In India, the cultivation of tea started by the East India Company created a new industry and eventually made India the largest producer of tea in the world. Tea contributed to the advancement of culture by furthering industrialization in several modern-day nations, as well as increasing international trade.

In the Mediterranean basin, wine played a moderate role in shaping history, evident in its representation of sophistication in the area at the time. In Greek symposia, wine accompanied intellectual discussion in subjects like literature and philosophy. At some symposia, kottabos, a less academic drinking game, took place instead. Wine was associated with art as well as academics; the amphorae in which wine was stored contained motifs that are now symbols of Greek culture. Additionally, wine became widely drunk in Ancient Rome, where convivia, the Roman counterpart of symposia, took place. In both Greece and Rome, wine helped to differentiate classes – higher classes consumed higher-quality wine. This widespread alcoholic drink took the place of beer, promoting intellectual thinking in casual assemblies and emphasizing differences between social classes.

Spirits were the least significant beverage discussed by Standage, but nonetheless, they were indispensable drinks that aided the advancement of culture. For instance, grog protected British sailors against scurvy; this helped Britain establish its supremacy at sea. For the English colonies, rum lowered dependence on European imports, as it could be distilled from inexpensive leftover molasses. The Molasses Act of 1733, passed by England to stop the importation of molasses from the French into the colonies, produced negative feelings toward England, and was one of the factors leading to the American Revolution. On the other hand, rum was one of the main currencies involved in the slave trade from Africa, a step backwards in the development of culture. Spirits affected human history both positively and negatively, and while it assisted the advancement of culture, it also hindered it.

Beer, Coca-Cola, coffee, tea, wine, and spirits have all had considerable effects on human history. These beverages, which are frequently consumed even now, can tell the story of the progress of civilization solely through their respective roles in it. Some have played a more important part than others in shaping world history, but they have all unquestionably served as catalysts for advancing culture.


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