Sharing time in a cup

I often speak of the value of a meal in bringing people together, but sometimes all it takes is a beverage.

In the progression of a relationship there are usually dates to meet for a drink before anyone commits to sharing a meal.

Did you know that certain beverages have had a part in shaping world history, not just our own circle of friends?

In 2005, Tom Standage published a book called The History of the World in Six Glasses.

He documented the connection that certain beverages have had to the evolution of our societies, and how they have helped us to share knowledge and kinship, inspire revolutions and foreign policy, and even symbolize globalization.

I’m not going to repeat Mr. Standage’s work, but a few intriguing points are certainly worth repeating. Did you know:

  • Beer was not invented but rather discovered in ancient Mesopotamia (circa 10,000 BCE) after people tasted gruel a few days old. The sweeter taste of the malted grain and the natural fermentation that produced alcohol was found to be a pleasant drink. This was before individual cups had been created, so it was generally shared from a communal vessel, with each person using a straw.
  • Wine was popularized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who carried it through their empires as they invaded new territory. To this day, the popularity of wine echoes these travels; Northern Europeans generally still prefer beer. If you follow the Greek tradition though, you would never drink your wine without adding at least a bit of water – the usual ratio was one quarter to one half water to wine.
  • Spirits were invented by the Arabs, by far the most advanced community in the first millennium. They developed algebra and the modern number system, pioneered the use of anesthetics, and refined the art of distillation. Distillation allowed for a more durable and compact (as in stronger) form of alcohol, handy on seafaring voyages not just for practicality, but also as an instrument of international trade. The taxation of spirits and their economic significance are still of political importance today.
  • Coffee was also discovered in the Arab world, and its stimulating effect was a subject of debate there through the 1500s. Coffee houses of the 17th century provided a sober alternative and a safe drink in a time when alcohol or drinks with boiled water were recommended in cities with open sewers. For intellectuals and scientists, this was a time of enlightenment (known still as The Age of Reason), so a beverage that promoted a sharp mind and clear thought was encouraged. Coffee houses even then were centres for the sharing of news, and gossip.
  • Tea is a drink associated with empires: first, China and then, Britain. But is a drink for the people. Where coffee houses were strictly for men, women were allowed to buy tea at the counter in Thomas Twining’s tea house in 1717, and tea gardens in England were a place where young men and women could meet. The antibacterial properties in tea also made people healthier; waterborne diseases such as dysentery declined in the 1700s as people consumed more tea.
  • Coca-Cola is the drink that symbolizes more than any other the rise of American culture and its ability to mass produce items and distribute them without worry of regional tastes or preferences. Originally, Coca-Cola was a company that supplied not a full bottled drink, but only the syrup – known originally for the invigorating and supposed medicinal benefits of its two main ingredients: coca leaves and cola nuts. A court case in 1911 complained that the caffeine in Coke was a dangerous ingredient and shouldn’t be marketed to children; they lost, the judge citing that the caffeine was noted in an original ingredient, the cola nut.

Human civilization has been attracted to stimulating beverages from the very beginning. We are drawn together to share a safe space and to discuss ideas. Our societies have made great advances over the last few thousand years, often in the spaces where these beverages were consumed.

The tradition of raising one’s glass and clinking it with others in a toast is said to symbolize the reconnection of those drinks to a single vessel, bringing us together in the same way the ancient Mesopotamians shared their beer with straws.

This kind of sharing is even more egalitarian than the sharing of food; one cut of meat can be regarded as better than another, and one scoop of stew or soup may have more morsels than another.

So, toast your good health with friends this week, or find a new friend at your favourite watering hole. Consider it doing your part to advance humankind. Cheers!

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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