An Historical World View through Beverages

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beverage_clip_art_155251By Asante Whittington

Water is the source of all other beverages. The first humans appreciated water more than anyone else. But when the water supply became contaminated then what? Humans became more creative with fire and pots and began brewing drinks that would shape the world as we know it.

Beer, being one of the first beverages created, dates all the way back to the neolithic era. Beer had a spiritual significance to foragers of that time period. Earliest human records of beer come from Sumer, Mesopotamia. Sumer was the first civilization to write and keep records. Beer actually helped to shape the Sumer culture and was their drink of choice during official meetings.
Later, wine was highly favored by the Greeks. Wine represented wealth in Greece and was one of their major exports to the ancient world. Greeks also believed that wine was a gift from the god Dionysus. In the Greek and Middle Eastern cultures, wine was so important it was used as currency. Beverages were vital to the people.

Spirits, otherwise known as alcoholic beverages today, originated in the Middle East and acted as a form of medicine thought to have therapeutic powers. Arabians in Cordoba Spain, made the original process of distillation and created such spirits as rum, grog and cognac. These drinks would become more important in the new world.

The rum that was created in Spain, eventually became currency for slaves. During the Middle Passage, rum was shipped from Europe to Africa in exchange for slaves. Slaves were sent to the new world where they toiled in the sugar cane which was harvested and sent back to Europe. Grog, a watered down version of rum, was famous amongst pirates and sailors. They drank it because it doesn’t spoil like other beverages and made them feel good.

Europeans created the market for coffee. They did this by going to Arab ports and smuggling the coffee beans back to Europe. That lead to the spread of coffee in France, Italy and eventually Asian countries like Indonesia. Toda y coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. It was preferred over other beverages because of its less expensive ingredients. It’s popularity is due to its high level of caffeine.

Tea is another important beverage that has had great influence over eastern Asia and Europe. Tea had strong influence over the cultures of Japan, China and England. Tea was often traded among countries and used as the beverage of choice at political functions and establishments. The demand for tea became so popular, that it replaced China’s main import of silk in value which caused a decline in the value of silk. Tea helped form the English society standards for etiquette.

Finally, cola, a brown carbonated drink, is the drink of the industrial revolution. Its origins are found in Leeds England where it was created by Joseph Priestly in 1767. Another form of the drink became quite popular and was refined in the South after the Civil War. The popularity during and after world war II pushed it to first place in beverages. We know it today as Coca Cola. The late CEO of Coca Cola, Roberto Goizueta, has made Coca Cola an international household name with his catch phrase, “think global, act global.
I propose a toast to the beverages, from water to cola, as great human history teachers.
This writer based the article on information from the book, “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, by Tom Standage.

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