Standage begins A History of the World in 6 Glasses by pointing out an obvious but important fact: in the beginning, humans drank water and nothing else. With the rise of civilization, however, came a steady progression of new beverages: beer, then wine, then coffee, tea, etc. It’s worth thinking about what drives this process of experimentation, discovery, innovation, and popularization, since it’s the process on which Standage’s entire book hinges.
…(read full theme analysis)
Standage makes it clear from the beginning of his book that a history of beverages is a history of civilization. Even more to the point, a history of beverages is a history of imperialism: the process by which one civilization uses its power to control another civilization. People don’t simply drink things that taste good—they drink things that are exotic and mysterious to their societies. It’s no coincidence that coffee and tea (first consumed in…(read full theme analysis)
The six beverages that Standage describes imply two opposite things: equality and elitism. One could say that the earliest beverages were elitist. This is reflected in the origins of wine and beer—in the beginning, they were intended for the leaders of society (either priests or kings), certainly not for common people. And yet beverages could also be considered inherently egalitarian. Beverages, unlike most foods, can be shared evenly—we see this reflected in an expression…(read full theme analysis)
A highly important part of Standage’s book is his discussion of the places where drinks have been consumed over the centuries. With every new beverage, humans had to invent a new space in which to enjoy it: the wine symposium, the coffeehouse, the tea parlor, the whiskey bar. Standage might as well have named his book A History of the World in Six Drinking Spaces. The question, then, is why are spaces so…(read full theme analysis)