Friday Morning Coffee Break: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Tom Standage’s other book The Victorian Internet is next on my list of reads.

Lately here in the good ol’ state of Colorado we have been getting late in the year snow storms and now late in the afternoon Rain. Miserable because I just wan’t to ride my bicycle. Oh well, I guess that just means grabbing a Cortado and sitting down to read a book. Come along and join me as today I read a phenomenal and life changing book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses. Trust me, you will not be disappointed that without whiskey and coffee, the American and French revolutions NEVER would have happened. To start off with, I love learning the history of things. Especially for my own personal passions, I like reading about the history of libations. I don’t know what it is but learning interesting facts about where say for instance where the birth of beer comes from is fascinating. But who would have know that if it wasn’t for beer than we wouldn’t have modern day commerce?

In A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Author Tim Standage, takes a close look at the political, economical, and social influence that libations had on the world. The book focuses on Beer, Wine, Coffee, Tea, Whiskey and Coca Cola. He explores in depth the way that drinks were produced, who drank these liquids, the social importance or stigma of these drinks, and also how they influenced important moments in history. For instance, did you know that Camille Desmoulin’s famous start of the French revolution where he said “To arms, Citizens! To Arms!” was in a coffeehouse? Or that Coffee, Whiskey, Wine, and Beer were all used as Currency at some time?

The book does a fantastic job of following the trails of these drinks and really focuses on the critical importance they played on helping develop modern societies. The book is split into 6 differenc sections focusing solely on one drink. It starts out with Beer in Mesopotamia  Wine in the Greek Isles, Whiskey and Rum during the French and American Revolution, Coffee during the Age of Enlightenment  tea in the East trading, and finally Soda in the early 20th century. As you watch the world unfold, you see how these drinks became important outlets for thought, camaraderie and for creating visual cues o social status. For instance, many people saw whiskey during the American revolution as a filthy drink that only causes fighting and stupidity. Thomas Jefferson for instance is quoted as famously saying “no nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes the ardent spirits as common beverage.”
*This is funny because George Washington actually had his own still that was producing 11,000 Gallons of Rye Whiskey.

Within 10 years of the First coffeehouse opening in London, they had over 83 spaces for conversation and enlightenment.

What I really liked about the book was that it was written in a very casual format. Focusing less on the academics and more on the social nature of drinks. I really liked that because Standage understands that these drinks were inspirations for conversation so to keep with tradition he wrote the book in a very conversational format. His emphasis was on how these drinks brought people together. In pubs, in coffee houses, and even in soda shops, the places where these drinks were sold is also where people were able to converse and pontificate about ideas and life. You were able to really delve deep into the psyche and talk about the human experience or develop the theory of gravity. It’s true!

These 6 drinks created common ground between people and created an opportunity to nurture and grow an appreciation and understanding of each other or spur competition and help develop our modern age. I love that. I love the fact that something that we now take for granted can really change the whole world. When I read each section I would only read it if I had the drink in my hand. I drank beer, I had wine, I made a great coffee via aeropress, I drank a fantastic earl grey tea, had 18 year old whiskey, and finally enjoyed my first coca-cola bottle in years. It was great to read about these drinks and be able to appreciate them with all of my senses. I think it has created a greater understanding for me and for that I am truly appreciative and am encouraged to bring my drinking experience back to their roots and focus on the commraderie one is supposed to have and share these drinks with people I love and people I haven’t met yet.

Some of my favorite lessons:

The clinking of beer glasses dates back to ancient Mesopotamia when beer was shared from one bowl between two people. By clinking our glasses together we are reunifying our cups and creating a shared experience

Wine, like beer, was created by accident when somebody was trying to preserve the grapes in water and it became fermented. Nothing more, nothing less. The society of snootiness evolved from an accident.

Coffee was taxed like any other liquid so it had to be brewed in barrels before it could be taxed, reheated and than served. So the first coffeehouses sold awful coffee. And here were are in 2013 bitching about our Starbucks. Makes you think.

Coffeehouses were known as the “Great Soberer” and many famous scientists used the coffeehouse as their office and mailing address. Including Newton!

Tea, ahead of its time, had a very detailed set of instructions, brewing parameters and equipment already in hundreds of years before sweet baby Jesus even walked the earth. Coffee has only been creating rigorous instructions in the last 30 years.


I think that truly appreciate something it is important to learn and understand it’s roots. I believe this because education and knowledge is the key to creating things like empathy, compassion, and understanding. For instance, my ladyfriend was reading the book Overdressed:The High Cost of Cheap Fashion. In it, the author discusses the history and American’s obsession with cheap fashion and how it has ruined the clothing industry and created these impossible to sustain expectations. As our clothes get cheaper, their value becomes less to us and instead of appreciating a really fine made pair of shoes, we turn the whole fashion industry into a cheap imitation of itself, except with more Reality TV. If we all take time to learn about the things we love, than maybe, just maybe we will learn how to appreciate everything and everyone around us.




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