A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

History of World in 6 glasses

RATING: 5/10

An dense novel explaining world history through the development of Beer, Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Tea, and Soda. While I found this book very informative, it is not a quick read. I found the language dry and cringed turning to the next page. If you are looking for specific history on the 6 drinks mentioned, this book is for you, but don’t expect it to be a joyous read.

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No exact origins on beer, earliest writings date it to 3400 BCE

Ancient beer has grains, chaff, and other debris floating on its surface, so a straw was necessary to avoid swallowing them

The rise of beer was closely associated with the domestication of cereal grains

Moistened grain produces diastase enzymes, which convert starch within the grain into maltose sugar, or malt.

The more malted grain there is in the original gruel, and the longer it is left to ferment, the stronger the beer

More malt means more sugar and a longer fermentation means more of the sugar is turned into alcohol.

The malting process converts only around 15 percent of the starch found in barley grains into sugar, but when malted barley is mixed with water and brought to the boil, other starch converting enzymes, which become active at higher temperatures, turn more of the starch into sugar, so there is more sugar for the yeast to transform into alcohol.

Many cultures have myths that explain how the gods invented beer and then showed humankind how to make it.

Beer drinking was one of the many factors that helped to tip the balance away from hunter and gathering and toward farming.

The world’s first cities arose in Mesopotamia, “the land between the streams”, the name given to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that roughly correspond to modern Iraq.

Civilization simply means “living in cities”

Mesopotamians and Egyptians alike saw beer as an ancient god-given drink that underpinned their existence, formed part of their cultural and religious identity, and had great social importance.

Writing was originally invented to record the collection of grain, beer, bread, and other goods.

The earliest written documents are Sumerian wage lists and tax receipts

The world’s oldest recipe is for beer

Beer became a widespread form of payment and currency

The workers who built the pyramids were paid in beer, according to records found at a nearby town where the construction workers ate and slept.

The standard ration for them was two loaves of bread and 4 liters of beer (8 pints)

“bread and beer” meant sustenance in general; the phrase “bread and beer” was also used as an everyday greeting much like wishing someone good luck.

One Egyptian inscription urges woman to supply their schoolboy sons with two jars of beer and three small loaves of bread daily to ensure their healthy development.

Neither Mesopotamian nor Egyptian beer contained hops.


Wine used to be about 10x as expensive as beer due to transport from the mountains (wine growing lands) to the plains

Was known as the emblem of power, prosperity, and privilege  –the masses drank beer

Discovered around 9000 to 4000 BCE in the Zargos Mountains (modern Armenia and northern Iran)

Wine consists simply of the fermented juice of crushed grapes

Natural yeast, present on the grape skins, convert the sugars in the juice into alcohol –therefore attempts to store the grapes for long periods of time in pottery vessels would result in wine.

As it became cheaper (more volume, cheaper transport, less taxes) it lost its elite status

The Greeks were the first to produce wine on a large commercial scale —Greek vintners adopted the practice of growing vines in neat rows, on trellises and stakes, rather than up trees.

A farmer could earn up to 20x as much from cultivating vines as he could growing grains

As it became more widely available (slaves even drank it), it didn’t matter that you drank wine, but what kind it was.

First was place of origin then Old wine was a badge of status, the older the better.

Drinking a fine wine without first mixing it with water was considered barbaric to the Greeks.

Water made wine safe; but wine made water safe. As well as being free of pathogens, wine contains natural antibacterial agents that are liberated during the fermentation process.

After the Romans gained power, they pretty much adapted the majority of Greek Culture (who they just conquered) and by 140 BCE became the largest exporter of wine.

Wine became a symbol of social differentiation, a mark of wealth and the status of a drinker.

Depending on your social position, you would be served a different wine.

The Roman class system was based on Patrons and Clients —clients depended on the patrons (such as financial advice, legal advice, etc.) and the patrons also relied on other patrons

Herbs, honey, and other additives were added to lesser wines to make it taste better (oak used as a flavoring agent today to make shitty wines taste better)

Banned in Islam because Muhammad received a message from Allah that wine was devised from Satan —also as Islam spread and power away from Mediterranean, wanted to do away with the elitism of wine.

Leading producers of wine: France, Italy, Spain


Distillation: vaporizing and then recondensing a liquid in order to separate and purify its constituent parts.

Distilling wine makes it much stronger because the boiling point of alcohol (78 degrees c) is lower than water (100 degrees c)

Distilled wine was being acclaimed as a miraculous new medicine or “water of life”

The hardiest yeasts cannot tolerate an alcohol content great than about 15%, which places a limit of fermented alcoholic drinks

Brandy and other fine liquors would be used as payment to fuel the slave trade and African slavers —British used slaves to harvest sugar

Slaves were encouraged to drink rum to withstand the demands placed on them and deal with the hardship —means of social control

Scurvy – due to a lack of vitamin C, not present in beer, but present in wine —used lemon or lime juice

British used lime juice to fight off scurvy, became known as “limeys”

After America was established, the biggest complaint was for alcohol —America was only drinking water at the time

Rum quickly established itself as the North American colonists’ favorite drink

It became the most profitable manufactured item in New England, accounted for 80% of exports

When George Washington ran for election to Virginia’s local assembly in 1758, his campaign team handed out 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer, and 2 gallons of cider —in a country with only 391 voters.

Much of the frustration of America against Britain was Britain’s taxation on molasses (to make rum) imported from France instead of using from West Indies (where British had control) from France and a sugar tax.

John Adams wrote: “I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence. Many great events have proceeded from much smaller causes.

After the war, Whiskey became the preferred drink –cheaper to make, easier to make after moving westward.

U.S. wanted to place a tax on Whiskey, and the farmers rebelled threatening to succeed from the union, testing the early U.S. Government, U.S. government prevailed


Age of Enlightenment – out with old views, philosophy, and old authority and in came criticism, tolerance, and freedom of thought

Coffee promoted clarity of thought

Became preferred drink of scientists, intellectuals, merchants, and clerks or “information workers” today.

Coffee was seen as the great soberer to alcohol

Coffee houses were very prominent early on (in some cases, more so than ale houses) central meeting place, place for gossip, place to talk politics

In England the thing that drew customers in was “it will prevent drowsiness, and make one fit for business, if one have occasion to Watch; and therefore you are not to Drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 to 4 hours.

Arab critics of coffee, worried that coffeehouse encouraged time-wasting and trivial discussion at the expense of more important topics.

Women were prohibited from coffeehouse —women launched campaign to protest coffee

Government wanted to close coffee houses due to the allowed free speech in them —government wanted to control the messages — Did little to slow the spread of coffee

Arabs had monopoly —would treat the coffee beans before being shipped to ensure they were sterile and could not be used to see new coffee —coffee production spread anyway

17th century –when European businessman wanted to hear the latest business news, gossip, find out what people thought of a new book, or stay up to date on scientific developments —they did it at a coffeehouse

They became the natural outlet for a stream of newsletters, pamphlets, advertising free-sheets, and broadsides (like a poster).

Certain coffeehouses catered to a specific subject such as specific trades

You could go to different coffee houses depending on your interests

Social differences were to be left at the door

The coffee houses were like the pre Internet for reason

Coffee houses were sometimes called “penny universities” —they could get the latest thoughts / debates with the greatest thinkers & leaders, especially near Oxford

Hooke was said to have met Isaac Newton and exchanged information with him in a coffeehouse…Newton took the information (theory of gravity) and did something with it…he proved it and wrote a book about it…Hooke claimed he thought of everything before Newton…Newton DID SOMETHING with the information

Edward Lloyd would collect the business information from ship-owners, captains, and merchants and decided to publish a newsletter to which they subscribed. Became the natural meeting place for ship-owners and the underwriters who insured their ships.

Coffeehouses acted as places as stock exchanges

Coffeehouses acted as “incubators” to start new businesses


At the heights of its rain, Britain covered a 5th of the worlds surface, and a quarter of the population.

Tea is the infusion of the dried leaves, buds, and flowers of an evergreen bush.

Tea was a medicine and a foodstuff before it was a drink

Became to be seen as a form of spiritual as well as bodily refreshment

Japanese had long tea ceremonies (about an hour): using special kind of jar to transfer water to kettle using a delicate bamboo dipper; a special spoon to measure the tea, special stirrer, a square silk cloth to wipe the jar and the spoon, and so on.

The first tea was green tea

Tea had less of an impact in the 17th century because it was very expensive

Tea got its start when it became fashionable at the English court following the marriage in 1662 of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza. Catherine was a devoted tea drinker and had it catch on almost immediately with the aristocracy.

The second influence was the monopoly on tea by the Britain East India Company

Still expensive till end of 17th century, for rich elites only —cost about 5 times as much as a cup of coffee

Knowledge of tea and its ceremonial consumption in genteel surroundings at home became a means of demonstrating one’s sophistication.

Coffeehouses on decline – “are but ale houses, only they think that the name coffee-house gives a better air.” — popular ones turn into gentleman’s clubs and commercial institutions; tea gardens (where women are allowed) on the rise,

Poor adapted tea, some complained of aping the habits of the rich, used cheaper methods, had to have their two cups a day

SODA*** did not take notes for this section

Coca-Cola was originally devised as a medicinal pick-me-up by an Atlanta pharmacist