Sunday, September 1, 2013

Espresso 101

          I know I haven't posted in a while, but guess what. I've gone legit! I'm writing for The Daily Quirk, a real website, where I publish real articles, it's awesome. Check it out. Especially my latest article, a beginner's guide to ordering espresso, from an actual barista. Here's the link:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cosmic Latte

 Cosmic Latte
           Behold. The color of the cosmos if you put it in a blender. The color of entropy, perhaps.
           I won't pretend to know exactly what this color represents. I'm honestly a little bit confused myself, but I'm assuming this refers specifically to starlight--meaning the light being produced versus the color that's reflected. Whose idea was it, anyway, to calculate the color of the universe? Honestly. Have you ever wondered that? I know I haven't.
          Fortunately, NASA has. And they've determined our universe to be this creamy beige that roughly matches my complexion. Other names like skyvory and univeige had been suggested, but Cosmic Latte was the winner.
          Man, if I had my own coffee shop, I'd call it Cosmic Latte.
Originally posted on my other awesome blog, called "Is There Anybody Out There," check it out:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Latte Artist: Taylor Higgins

If you like art, and you like coffee, then you're gonna love this guy. His name is Taylor Higgins. He's an artist/barista in Colorado whose already mastered the usual media--painting, pencil, ink, etc. His latest challenge has been combining his two passions--coffee and art. Just to give you a little taste, I posted a few of my favorites below:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Etsy It Up This Mother's Day

          Alright, fellow Bloggers, Mother's Day is nearly upon us, and I don't know about, you but I've got two Mamas to take care of, so I thought I'd start shopping early this year. If you're at a total loss what to get your mom, you're not alone. Let me help you.
          Now, I'm not saying every mother's taste is the same by any means, but there is a gift that will win almost any Mama's heart, as long as she likes coffee. Maybe your mom is a little behind the times in terms of making coffee, maybe not. Maybe she uses instant coffee, or a vintage stovetop espresso maker. Maybe Mr. Coffee is the only man currently in her life. Or maybe she uses the latest most state of the art coffee maker... Either way, I'm sure she can appreciate a handmade ceramic single drip. I found the following on Etsy, just to give you guys a taste:

The last one, the one with the whale fin, was done by Mackenzie Terzian, and she'll whip up a custom dripper starting at only twenty bucks, so hit her up now before it's too late and see if you still have time to place a custom order. A truly one of a kind coffee drip for a mother who's unlike any other!
          Plus, they're easy to use. All you need is a filter, some ground coffee and a pot of hot water. They're also ceramic, so dishwasher safe. (Also oven and microwave safe, but no one's gonna nuke the thing anyway.)
          But the best part is, every time Mama sits down to drip & sip a delicious cup of coffee, she'll  be thinking of you. Your gift will remind her how much you love her every morning for the rest of her life, so you're set... until next year at least.
          If your mom's not a huge fan of coffee, no worries. Maybe tea is a little bit more to her taste. In that case, why not a hand-made tea pot, or single tea infuser, like this three-piece teacup-strainer-saucer set, by Jackie Matelski for only $40. That way, you can set yourself up for next year and every year after that, so that every mother's day you can just hook her up with some nice loose leaf tea to go with her awesome new tea infuser.
If your mom doesn't like to drink coffee or tea, be creative. You know your mom better than I do. There's all kinds of artists on Etsy that are more than happy to do custom orders, so take advantage. Say your mom's a huge fan of snowmen and sake, get her a snowman sake set, like this one by Misun Rie.

Revolutionary Roaster: Goshen Coffee Co

          Seventy or so years ago, the original Rosie the Riveter rocked the workforce off its sexist anti-feminist axis, spurring national reform. Well I think a little reform is in order, particularly in the coffee exchange. Goshen Coffee Co's Rosie represents a generation of consumers who will demand a market that does right by the world, and appreciates its growers' efforts as much as the roaster or barista. It's one thing to chuck a bunch of beans into an oven or pull a perfect shot, but to cower in a field over a basket that's chock full of coffee cherries for hours on end, or tend to the drying beans under a blazing sun is honestly piece of cake.
          I don't know what Goshen had in mind when they chose this spunky new Rosie to represent their roasting company, but they do ethically source all their coffee, 100% organic, the works. Anyway, my point is the revolution is upon us. Goshen's stepping up their game, going totally Fair Trade organic, and other's oughta do the same, because consumers have something called STANDARDS, not to mention a conscious, and if coffee companies can't keep up, they're gonna be taken off the roster.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Syphon, Step By Step

          In my previous post, I discovered a whole 'nother world of barista-ing. It was like walking into the lion, the witch and the wardrobe or something, except instead of stumbling into wardrobe, I walked into some sketchy insane scientist's basement, except really it was just some over-caffeinated coffee nerd, experimenting different methods of extraction, starting with the Syphon. (Stay tuned and I'll catch you later with a post on the aero-press!)
          The earliest vacuum pots appear to be first used in Germany in the 1830's. England and France followed suit soon after, and the siphon quickly swept across European aristocracy. The syphon functioned to serve coffee, but doubled as entertainment for guests, and "bestowed prestige upon the hostess," according to Brian Harris's account of coffee history.
Step By Step Instructions How to Use a Vacuum Brewer
Made Easy by Mark Prince:

          To start, you'll need water, a grinder, some whole coffee beans, a burner, a stirring device, a filter, and finally the actual upper and lower glass chambers.
          Fill the bottom vessel with hot water, then place the filter at the bottom of the upper chamber. You can use cold water if you want, but be warned it will take considerably longer, and water will seep into the siphon before reaching the optimal temperature for extraction.
          Wait to grind your coffee until right before you pour it into the upper chamber, ideally slightly finer than drip.
          After this, you insert the upper chamber into the bottom one, carefully so as not to chip the siphon. Most sets come with some sort of rubber gasket or something to seal the center, ensuring no air will escape where it isn't supposed to, allowing suction into the upper chamber.
          Now all you need is your heat source, whatever it may be. A stovetop will do, or any burner as long as it has an adjustable flame. Crank the heat up to high to start. As the water evaporates it expands, causing pressure to build in the lower chamber, pushing water up into the top.
          As moisture begins to seep upwards through the filter, be ready with your stirring stick, because you want the grounds completely saturated. At this point you can lower your flame a little.
          Continue to stir, and be sure to keep a constant eye on the flame. The idea is to maintain just enough heat to keep the water in the upper chamber, but it should never be boiling, just brewing.
          The steep time depends on the size of your siphon. Generally speaking, the steep time for a single serving should be no longer than a minute and a half. Like I said, try to maintain the minimum amount of heat necessary to keep the coffee at in the upper chamber for the duration of the steep time.
          Once your coffee's done steeping, remove your heat source (if possible, obviously not if it's fixed to the siphon) just in case of any residual heat after turning it off. This part is called the kick down. As the bottom vessel begins to cool down, the vapor condenses back into a liquid, causing the coffee in the upper chamber to drain, passing back down through the filter and filling the lower vessel.
          Finally, you just dissemble the siphon and enjoy your coffee.

          Surprisingly, you can vacuum-brew your own coffee, for instance with this one from Sur La Table. It takes only five to ten or so minutes to whip up a spectacular batch of coffee so good it defies the laws of physics. Plus, who doesn't like showing off their awesome new anti-gravity coffee brewer to guests? It's entertaining and lets you feel like a scientist for a minute, so what's not to like?

Bon' boasts the ValBeMar butane burner below an ideal heat source for the syphon, complete with an instant electronic ignition and adjustable flame.

Ascension: Dallas's First Wine & Coffee Bar

          Alright, in keeping with Tom Standage's "A History of the World in Six Glasses" discussing how humans define their drinks, and likewise drinks define their drinkers, I thought I'd report on a certain beverage-related revolution going down in Dallas: the emergence of a hybrid Wine and Coffee Bar. The first of its kind, in Texas, at least. Honestly, how has this never been done before? Why are humans so desperate to segregate their beverages--designate them separate sections on the menu, different aisles in the grocery store...
           Because, the truth is wine and coffee appeal to similar people, for the most part. Both are considered socially acceptable addictions--caffeine and alcohol, who gives. Both are classy, and attract snooty pretentious douche bags and wasted, recently laid-off, (but by no means recently laid) alcoholics alike, so why not combine them? Although this particular place will most likely appeal to the snootier end of the wine-and-coffee-enthusiast spectrum.
          The owner, Russell Hayward discusses the marriage between wine and coffee with Pegasus News, stating that "Anyone who appreciates coffee can appreciate wine... They belong together." Perhaps this sparked  John Gaberino, the owner of Topeca Coffee roastery, to open a coffee, wine and cocktail bar in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seems like the South is taking off on this whole "convertible spaces" idea, breaking that invisible beverage barrier. Tom Standage would be proud.
          Although, as you can see, coffee seems to dominate Ascension's counter space. It will also be the focus of my post, since I'm no wine connoisseur. I'm twenty... I'm just a Barista.

          Ascension offers customers choice of five different brewing methods, made to order (and listed below). This place means serious business. I mean, this is no hour-and-a-half-old Mr. Coffee crap--"Free Refills... if you dare..." Except I highly doubt Ascension does free refills.

  • French Press:
Classy. Elegant. Simple. Ironically there is some debate as to whether this contraption is actually French, or if in fact the press pot, a.k.a. cafetiere was first conceived in Italy. But Italy already gets the credit for espresso, so we'll just give this one to the French, I guess. It's only fair.
  • Siphon:
It's okay, if you haven't heard of this one, don't worry, you're not alone. It's some insane chemistry-set-looking coffee extraction method involving an actual Bunson burner and some fancy flask and everything. I'll get back to you on the specifics in my next post, cause I'm curious to know myself...
  • Chemex:
This one's easier, you just stick a filter in the top, then add some freshly ground coffee and pour hot water over. When its finished dripping, you simply remove the filter and you've got a perfect carafe of coffee.

  • V60 Pour Over:
Essentially the same idea as the Chemex, except the top is not attached, making this one ideal for baristas brewing multiple cups all at once. Drippers come individually or in couples, or sometimes in a stand of up to six.
  • Espresso:
via the Synesso Hydra machine, complete with a manual pedal press, goes for over $20,000.

          The place sports a sort of rustic, modern elegance. It incorporates the scientific nuances of coffee-making, mastered by their head barista, this guy--Mike Mettendorf, the city's seemingly most experienced coffee nerd--slinging smiles and "hand-crafted caffeine" across Dallas.
          According to his interview with, Mettendorf started drinking "coffee" when he was fifteen, except he'd get it from this nasty gas station cappuccino machine--you know, the kind that dispenses some scalding hot milk into a styrofoam cup, to which he proceeded to add seven or eight French Vanilla crème packets to. For a long time, "that's what [he] thought coffee was," and to many Americans, it still is.
          Except, since his first job at Caribou Coffee sparked an un-extinguishable passion for the stuff, Mettendorf considers making coffee an art, but equally a science. There are hundreds of variables to consider--from temperature, moisture, pressure and speed to consistency of ground coffee particles (which I'll elaborate on in a later post). But the beauty of it is no two cups will ever come out exactly the same.
          To be honest, this guy's understanding of coffee puts me to shame. He goes on to explain about different extraction methods, which he categorizes into three types:
  • Decoction:
A.k.a. "Cowboy Coffee," also true of Turkish coffee, decoction equates to over-extraction. Cowboys used to boil down and reduce vats of black coffee into a bitter, intensely strong extract. (Although that's over-extraction at its extremest.)
  • Percolation:
Percolation refers to passing hot water through coffee grounds, and applies to the Chemex and V60 pour over. The only difference between the two methods is the thickness of the filters. The thicker density of the Chemex filter makes for a crisper cup of coffee, while the V60 filter is thinner, resulting in a richer, more robust body.
  • Emulsion:
Unlike percolation, emulsion means fully submersing your coffee grounds in hot water for an extended amount of time, as opposed to simply passing through. This extraction method is used in the Siphon and French Press, in which coffee grounds spend more time in contact with the water, allowing an ultimately richer and more robust cup of coffee. Plus, the drinker can let the coffee get as strong as he or she pleases.

           Ironically, despite his extensive coffee-extracting expertise, Mettendorf only drinks one cup a day. Although, to be fair, he has to taste every cup he makes to make sure it's correct--Can you imagine? Damn. And I thought I was over-caffeinated. All I took were a few mistake/test shots throughout the day, and I'd be shaking so bad I could barely hand customers their drinks. They oughta make a barista-proof anti-perspirant, because that much caffeine-intake is atrocious.
          Mettendorf understands not everyone has the time to learn all "the science behind how to brew their coffee well, so that's why we're here." Hell yeah, we're heroes. Where would this world be without its baristas? Seriously. We're here to keep our communities happy and caffeinated. And tipsy, now, thanks to Ascension! So be sure to check it out if you're ever in Dallas...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Las Capucas, Honduras

           Alright, fellow coffee fanatics, I've decided to take it upon myself to post some of Fair Trade's accomplishments on my barista blog, because I think consumers ought to be more in touch with where their coffee actually comes from.
           For one thing, look at this rickety processing mill. Cute, right? That is, until you try to use it.
           Well, if it weren't for COCAFCAL's support, Jose Isidro Lara, who inherited his father's farm and mill in Honduras, would have had to de-pulp his cherries in that rinky-dink old thing.
            Fortunately for Jose, he's earned enough from Fair Trade to invest in a brand new cutting edge wet mill.
           Not only is the new mill considerably less likely to crumble to pieces, but is also complete with a covered patio, allowing sunlight to come through, but keeping out the rain simultaneously. This is crucial in keeping the beans from rotting, and results in superior quality beans.
          Anyway, it's awesome, so I just thought I'd share, because this is the difference we as consumers are capable of making in real people's lives. Fair Trade makes it possible, and so do you as a conscious consumer. Think twice next time about what really went into your coffee, cause those beans come a long way.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Starbucks Buys Her First Coffee Farm

          I've been studying up a lot lately on coffee farmers, and the circumstances of the financial plight they face. It's no secret that farmers receive next to nothing for their harvest. They have no say in the price of their own product. The system is structured so that it's impossible for workers to receive adequate pay, because between the field on which the beans are grown to the counter from which they're eventually sold, they have to go through a heap of greedy middlemen, who take more than their share, often leaving farmers with nothing if not a loss.
          Well, the obvious solution is simple: Remove the middlemen, and deal with farmers directly. Starbucks seems to have taken their first step toward a more transparent system when they purchased their very own coffee farm in the slopes of Poas Volcano, Costa Rica. According to Roast Magazine, Starbucks intends to ethically source all coffee by 2015. Well I guess we'll just see about that, won't we?
          I'm certainly interested to see what happens. Many have questioned Starbucks' integrity in the past, myself included, but maybe I was wrong. That is, if Starbucks carries on purchasing farms in the hopes of rescuing them from the current system. Because if everything is direct, there will be no room for money to fall between the cracks, into the hands of the wrong people.
           I hope others follow Starbucks' example and invest in their own farms--work toward a fair, transparent and efficient system, not to mention know their growers personally. I'm proud of Starbucks--looks like they're really stepping it up...? I mean, either that or slowly colonizing earth. Soon they'll take over outer space, and make Star Bucks the universal currency or something.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Java Log

          Sorry I fell off the face of the earth for a while there, everyone... whoever you are... did anyone even notice? Anyway, I've been caught up in a bunch of other crazy stuff, but the other day while I was in Whole Foods checking out, and I noticed a stack of eco-friendly fire logs made of--you guessed it--coffee! Obviously, or else it wouldn't be on my blog.
          Anyway, it's environmentally ideal, because not only is it tree-free, but also diverts 12 million pounds a year of spoiled grounds that would otherwise wind up in a landfill. Not to mention, java logs put out 85 percent less carbon monoxide than traditional firewood does, according to an article from TLC Home, Green Living Tips, on how to "Make Your Own Java Log."Apparently all you need is some spent coffee grounds, vegetable oil and molasses. Yum.
          Likewise, the store-bought Pine Mountain brand uses renewable all-natural waxes. Due to its chemical-free composition, the Java Log boasts the most vibrant, bright and natural flame aflicker on amazon.
          I'm yet to check it out myself, as I don't have a fireplace. But do the environment a favor and check it out next time you light up a fire.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Arabic Coffee

          Since reading A History of the World in Six Glasses (see previous post) I've been inspired to pursue the history of coffee in its entirity, and where better to start than it's birthplace, where it "first received intensive cultivation" (William H. Ukers).
          To the Arabs, coffee was so seriously embraced that "the principal feature of an Arab house is the k'hāwah, or coffee room," says William Wallace. Inside are mats and cushions for sitting surrounding a small furnace or stove.
          The k'hāwah is built facing the direction of the ka'ba, the sacred city of Mecca (the same direction Muslims face during prayer). Incidentally, the room is indeed used for prayer, as well as receiving guests.
         Coffee vendors in the streets and marketplaces always prepared everything fresh. They brought with them raw coffee beans and a perforated iron plate on which to roast the beans over an open fire. As they darkened to the proper hue, the beans were then plucked one by one from the plate. The beans were then ground using a mortar and pestle.
          The coffee is brewed in the traditional vessel, the dallah, not unlike the Turkish cezve, except that the dallah comes with a lid. Dallah are also distinguishable by their distinctly parrot-beak-like spout. Some come with a stick-handle, much like the cezve, however, many also sport the classic hand-on-the-hip handle that comes sassily to rest on the dallah's bulbous bottom. I wonder if you rub it three times a coffee genie comes out.
          As it boils, the coffee froths all the way to the top, and then is removed from the burner until it recedes. This process of rising to the rim and receding is repeated three times. It is then served into tiny cups no larger than eggs.
          Coffee is taken with sugar or plain, no milk, and sometimes prepared with cardamon.
          The Turkish take their coffee quite the same, and likewise, the tradition of brewing Cafée Sultan, (or kisher, as it's called in Africa) carries on in both Turkey and Arabia today. Kisher is brewed by steeping toasted coffee hulls in hot water. It makes for a sweetish, light beige brew, and is considerably weaker than coffee. To the right, two men can be seen hulling coffee in Aden, Arabia.

Ukers, William H. "All About Coffee."1992. Web.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A History of the World in Six Glasses

     In honor of my first real comment ever, thanks to my first official follower, Last Knight, who suggested I check out this book, I offer my longest and bestest post ever, and possibly a new angle for my blog. I think I'll call it:
...A Good Read to Go
With a Good Cuppa Joe...

     For my first, I suggest Tom Standage's A History of the World in Six Glasses, although, like I said, the credit really goes to Last Knight, my first and only follower... I mean, come on, guys. Really? Is my blog so bad? Not even my mama?! Watsup with that.
     Just kidding. My mom reads my blog all the time. (I make sure).


            “Thirst,” Standage begins, “is deadlier than water” (1). In school we learn history according to the use of different materials—the stone age, bronze age, iron age, and so on. But wouldn’t it be interesting to classify the ages of man according to what he drank at the time? “Six beverages in particular—beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola— (2)” have conducted the orchestra of human history, so here they are, starting with beer:

“The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.”
Egyptian proverb, circa 2200 BCE

            Since the dawn of time, the early nomadic peoples of the earth wandered endlessly in search of food until 12,000 or so years ago, when “humans in the Near-East abandoned the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle" (9) upon discovering the ability to cultivate their own barley, among other grains.
          Cereal grains had the unique and advantageous ability to be stored for future use, ensuring a secure and continuous food source, eliminating the need to wander in search of food, and ultimately prompting people to settle wherever they were. Little did they know their little barley farms were the seedlings of future bustling metropolises. (Metropoli?)
            The creation of beer was inevitable. In attempts to store excess grain, barley was collected into baskets. However, since humans were yet to invent the umbrella, the baskets tended to fill with water, in which the barley steeped, malted and eventually fermented, as though nature herself willed the birth of beer.
            And it’s a good thing she did, because essentially nothing would ever have happened if it weren’t for the discovery of beer, which prompted the invention of almost everything else—writing to regulate its distribution, pottery for storage and consumption, and the wheel to more efficiently transport it. Before pottery, humans had to be more resourceful. We were so desperate for beer we brewed it in baskets, sacs made of skin and leather, even animal stomachs. In fact, “a traditional Finnish beer is still brewed in hollowed out-tree trunks to this day” (14).
            Likewise, the custom of clinking glasses together before drinking is derived from an old tradition among the first beer-drinkers of all time. You see, beer was first consumed by sipping through a straw, and a single vessel was shared by several sippers. Sumerian depictions indicate beer was thus consumed well into the third millennium BCE, even though by this time beer could have been easily filtered, eliminating the need to use a straw, “and the advent of pottery meant it could have just as easily been served in individual cups” (18), yet the ritual persisted. Perhaps it didn’t occur to anyone to pour their own cup, but most likely sharing a beer was simply a hospitable gesture at the time, as is sharing a pot of tea or coffee today. Similarly reminiscent of ancient times, wine and spirits are still poured from a common bottle.
            One custom that did not continue was the use of a communal storehouse for keeping grain, which simply goes to show what a trusting people we once were. Obviously not anymore, I mean, imagine sharing a pantry with everyone on your block. You just know your fat neighbor’s gonna get all the Frito’s and the only thing left would be an expired granola bar and measly pack of airplane peanuts. Anyway, this trust continued until about 8000 BCE, when currency in the form of clay tokens and writing were first conceived to “ensure all villagers were pulling their weight” (23), by recording contributions to the common storehouse. Surplus grain was used to fund city improvements, and thus were sown the seeds of our contemporary tax system.
            Yes, beer was, and still is, a very big deal. So much so in fact that an Egyptian myth claims the substance quite literally saved the human race from certain destruction. The story goes: the sun god Ra, who feared humans were plotting against him, sent Hathor to teach them a lesson. But then, upon realizing no one would be left to worship him if they were all dead, he flooded the fields of barley, which shone in the sun like a mirror, stopping the goddess Hathor in her tracks to admire her reflection. She took a sip, and found the liquid to her liking. Eventually she became so intoxicated she forgot to annihilate all the humans, thus saving the human race. “Hathor became the goddess of beer and brewing” (28).
                 It’s clear that beer is more than just a beverage. Beer was “a fluid of primordial importance… a liquid relic from human prehistory” (10). The beverage that set modern humans apart from our savage ancestors, distinguished us as an intelligent species, despite making us drunk and stupid of course.

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.”
Aristophanes, Greek comic poet (c. 450-385 BCE)

            Beer, despite everything I just said about it being the defining beverage of the first civilizations, was by no means the first alcohol “to pass human lips. At the time of beer’s discovery, alcohol from the accidental fermentation of fruit juice or water and honey (mead) would have occurred naturally in small quantities” (15). In fact, wine was probably first produced in the Zargos Mountains (modern Armenia / northern Iraq) somewhere between 9000 and 5000 BCE.

      Wine was a little more of a late bloomer than beer. It crept into Greece and Egypt by 3000 BCE, but production was pretty limited. Wine was scarce, to say the least, but became widely spread and consumed by the first millennium BCE, at which point, “even the beer-loving Mesopotamians turned their backs on beer, which was dethroned as the most cultured and civilized of drinks” (51).

            It did remain an elite drink for a while, however. Unlike beer, which was abundant and accessible to all, wine was considerably more expensive and precious, an “emblem of power, prosperity, and privilege” (46-47). “Access to wine was a mark of status” (48). It inspired drinkers to “try to outdo each other in wit, poetry, or rhetoric,” not to mention, “reminded the Greeks how civilized they were, in contrast to the barbarians, who drank lowly, unsophisticated beer” (52).
            Due to its dearness, farmers saw more profit in the grapevine than they did in some measly old cereal grain. Everyone and their mama up and abandoned barley for the vineyard biz, to the point that, “In Attica… grain had to be imported in order to maintain adequate supply” (54). Really, guys?
            Anyway, one more thing that set wine quite apart from its brother beer is how picky people decided to get about it. Because, if you were rich enough to afford wine in the first place, you were entitled to the best, or something like that—unlike beer, which isn’t too good for anybody. And "as individual styles became well known, different wine-producing regions began shipping their wines in distinctively shaped amphorae” (55), a custom that lingers to this day, as we still use different shaped wine bottles to distinguish different types and regions. Likewise, we use different size and shaped wine glasses--tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones, flat ones, and my personal favorite: the Marie Antoinette, which is shaped like—you guessed it—one of her breasts, which has been immortalized… I mean, if you think about it, she gets felt up every day. I bet you’ve got one of Marie Antoinette’s titties in your cabinet as we speak! Go check. I hope you have a set of two. One day there will be a wine glass of one of my boobs. That’s how I’ll know I’m truly successful.
            ANYWAY! “For wealthy Romans, the ability to recognize and name the finest wines was an important display of conspicuous consumption” (75). It demonstrated that not only could one afford the best wines, but he was pretentious enough to actually take the time to learn to distinguish each one by taste, and thus were born the first douchy wine snobs ever. This wine-related-pretentiousness regrettably persists.
            As does a sort of seductive connotation. Because what’s more romantic than an old movie, glass of wine and box of chocolates? Because “wine does away with inhibitions” and inspires “the pursuit of pleasure… and unruly passions” (62), ultimately leading to a sexier ending than might otherwise be in store that night. After all…
“Baths, wine and sex ruin our bodies. But what makes life worth living except baths, wine and sex?” –Corpus Inscriptionis VI, 15258


Oh we can make liquor to sweeten our lips

Of pumpkins, of parsnips, of walnut-tree chips

            The above lines attest to the resourcefulness of the (once desperate, alcohol-deprived) New England brewers. Hard liquor came hand in hand with Colonialism, although, ironically, we have only the Muslims (whose religion prohibits consumption of alcohol) to thank for the distillation process (used to refine weaker drinks like beer and wine into stronger ones like Brandy or Scotch). Although, the Arabs used distillation to make perfume (94), not spirits.

            Anyway, this technique was ideal for the Age of Exploration, because for one thing, space on board ships was scarce, and higher alcohol content meant just as much of the stuff could last considerably longer (or at least get the crew a good deal drunker) than an equal volume of beer or wine would do. Not to mention, beer and wine were more likely to spoil, so hard liquor made more sense. But spirits came with a lot of politics.

            The stronger the drink, the more dependent the drinker, and settlers were desperate for liquor indeed. Coastal land was unsuitable for cultivating the proper grains for making beer. A woeful Jamestown resident in 1607, Thomas Studley lamented, “‘there remained neither tavern, beer house, nor place of reliefe,’ on account of which they all wished to return” (113) to Europe and steady access to alcohol.

            Instead, colonists in the New World were forced to take it upon themselves to establish distilleries and import molasses from the French colonies in the Caribbean to make a new killer drink they called rum (originally “Rumbullion” which was English slang for a “brawl or violent commotion” (108) which frequently ensued if someone consumed too much of it, which of course everyone did). The British weren’t too keen on the idea, however, (of the colonies using French molasses, that is) so in 1733 they passed the Molasses Act in protest, disallowing further trade with the French, even though by this time, rum accounted for over 80% of New England’s exports (117), and England’s sugar plantations alone didn’t yield nearly enough sugar to sustain the same level of rum production, and would have been devastating to the colonies’ economy had it actually been enforced. “Although the Molasses Act was not enforced, it was [certainly] resented” (118) and consequentially made smuggling socially acceptable, as “the vast majority of rum produced—over five-sixths according to some estimates—was still being made from smuggled molasses” (118). Not only did Americans undermine British authority, but also “set a vital precedent: Henceforth, the colonists felt entitled to defy other laws imposed seemingly unreasonable duties on items shipped to and from the colonies” (118), meaning the Molasses Act ultimately triggered the Americans to revolt. I mean, not directly, obviously…

            Rum was likewise the liquor of seafaring men and interestingly led to the first “cocktail” known back then as grog. It was two pints water, plus rum and lime juice. The limejuice was the only source of vitamin C board ship, and crucial because if it weren’t for their grog and lime juice the crew were likely to die of scurvy. (Hence the nickname “limeys”.) However, the men generally objected to diluting the water, but Admiral Edward Vernon insisted because it forced the men to drink the otherwise unpalatable water. In order to assure the men they weren’t being jipped, they sprinkled gunpowder over the drink and if it didn’t ignite, it was too weak, and more alcohol was added until it sparked. Except, if it was too strong, “an explosion could ensue, and tradition has it that the sailors were then entitled to help themselves while the purser was incapacitated” (109).

            As the settlers moved inland they found that the soil was plenty fertile for cultivating cereal grains for making Whiskey (or Scotch, as we call it in the US). And the Native Americans got hooked instantly. The difference was Indians drank to get drunk, and if it wasn’t enough to get them drunk they weren’t interested, which you might think is weird, but makes perfect sense. To the Native Americans, spirits were literally a means of access to the spirit world, only one had to be completely intoxicated to do so. “They wonder[ed] much of the English for purchasing wine at so dear a rate when Rum is so much cheaper & will make them sooner drunk” (128).

            You may know that coffee was first discovered in Yemen in the mid 1400. And maybe you know it was first brewed for liquid consumption in the city of Mocha. But what you probably don’t know is that the bean itself was discovered, like beer, on account of divine intervention, by a man named Omar—condemned to die in the desert outside the city of Mocha, or so the story goes. In his dehydrated hysteria, a vision led him to a nearby tree. After consuming several berries, he found he had “sufficient strength to return to Mocha, where his survival was taken as a sign that God had spared him in order to pass along to humankind the knowledge of coffee” (137).
            Coffee spread to Mecca and Cairo by 1510, where it was consumed socially—sold first on the street by the cup, and at marketplaces, finally at devoted coffeehouses. In 1609, an Englishman named William Biddulph noted, “their [the Arabs’] Coffa houses are more common than Ale-houses in England… If there be any news it is talked of there” (140). The following year, 1610, a man named George Sandys observed upon his travels to Egypt and Palestine that, “although they be destitute of Taverns, yet have they their Coffe-houses, which something resemble them. They sit chatting most of the day; and sippe of a drinke called Coffa (of the berry that it is made of) in little China dishes, as hot as they can suffer it; blacke as soote, and tasting not much unlike it” (140).
            Muslims first embraced it as a legal alternative to alcohol, except for a meddlesome few who held that the same religious prohibition applied to coffee as did to alcohol, because it distorted mental perception. Finally, in 1511, it was literally taken to trial by a man named Kha’ir Beg, whose job it was, by the way, to “maintain public morality” (138). Imagine being that guy’s therapist, am I right? Anyway, it was decided to forbid coffee consumption, until a few months later when the law was overturned in Cairo on account of the ban being simply unbearable.
            Unlike its alcoholic predecessors, beer, wine and spirits, coffee offered an alcohol-free alternative, allowing people to “begin the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated” (135). And as “Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze” (136), some of Europe’s keenest minds called for what we now refer to as the Scientific Revolution—the intellectual equivalent of the Age of Exploration. During this time, scientists shed ancient assumptions and set out to question everything, reconstruct the “edifice of human knowledge” (134) brick by brick.
            Coffee, “a drink that had been unknown to the Greeks and Romans” (136), was the perfect beverage to compliment such a task. Not to mention it “clears the clouds of the imagination and their gloomy weight…” (133), says Jules Michelet, French historian (1798-1874).
            European coffeehouses “were well lit, and adorned with bookshelves… and good furniture, in stark contrast to the gloom and squalor of the taverns” (141), and in fact, many coffeehouses functioned as what were then called “penny universities,” because anyone could participate in a lecture as long as they paid the entrance fee of a penny (the cost of a "dish of coffee"). Back in the day, each coffeehouse catered to a particular clientele—scientists, artists, businessmen, politicians… (152). The same goes for universities today, who specialize in business, or law, or the arts.
            “So great a Universitie, I think there ne’er was any; In which you may a Scholar be, for spending of a Penny” (158). Honestly, considering the state our education system, coffee shops would be an ideal alternative. Imagine if on your résumé, under “Education” you list the coffee shops you attended instead of schools. What a better world that would be. For one thing, you’d have constant access to coffee.
            Anyway, back in seventeenth century Europe, coffeehouses “dispensed conversation as often as coffee” (150), and became “vibrant, often unreliable sources of information” (152). However, as I said, they were attended by Europe’s most eminent minds, such as astronomer Edmund Halley, who “Between sips of coffee, wondered aloud whether the elliptical shapes of planetary orbits were consistent with a gravitational force that diminished with the inverse square of distance…” (160). Imagine trying to make small talk with this guy while the register’s being slow and you’re even slower. I’m glad customers have since dumbed down…
            Yes, coffee had quite the following, but with it came a pissed off opposition, namely exasperated tavern-owners who protested the spread of coffeehouses on account of the competition. God forbid a coffeehouse take business from a pub, however, many people “worried that coffeehouses encouraged time-wasting and trivial discussion at the expense of more important activities” (143-4), like getting drunk.
            Of course, the authorities had to take issue with coffee too, although, “it was not so much coffee’s effects on the drinker but the circumstances in which it was consumed that worried the authorities, for coffeehouse were hotbeds for gossip, rumor, political debate, and satirical discussion” (139). Indeed, coffeehouse talk did somewhat inspire the French Revolution, and many other movements, because they simply offered a place for people to congregate. Not to mention, coffeehouses did not discriminate. They were open to all—women and “country bumpkins” included. Some doors even sported catchy welcome signs, for instance, “Gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither, and may without affront sit down together” (156), which I would totally put on the door of my coffee shop if I had one.

Better to be deprived of food for three days than of tea for one. –Chinese proverb (175).

            By the late 1700s, Britain was described as the “vast empire on which the sun never sets” (175) on account of having conquered the majority of the planet. And as Standage cleverly points out, “If the sun never set on the British Empire, it was perpetually teatime, somewhere at least” (176). Although the ignorant English hadn’t the slightest clue (nor did they care) where their tea leaves came from, as long as they kept right on coming (176).
             Long before tea established itself as the quintessentially English beverage, however, it was first consumed in China, discovered in around 2700 BCE by Shen Nung, and has since been avidly consumed the world over. Although, the Chinese got really meticulous about how they took their tea, particularly a man named Lu Yu, a Taoist poet and tea expert (not to mention total asshole), who was so presumptuous he even took his water a certain way. According to Lu Yu, as the water boils it “must look like fishes’ eyes and give off the hint of a sound. When at the edges it clatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it has reached the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic and resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Any more and the water will be boiled out and should not be used” (181). ). I’m surprised no one’s ever splashed scalding hot (“burnt-out”) water in this guy’s face. “Lu Yu’s palette was so sensitive that he was said to be able to identify the source of water from its taste alone” (181). I mean it’s one thing to wanna be a douchy wine snob, but a water snob? Really?
            Alright I don't mean to call out Lu Yu (in fact he may even be fixing for his own follow-up post), because the truth is we're all particular about how we take our tea, even me. Not only was tea a Chinese staple/obsession, but likewise in Japan, even the tiniest households maintained a couple of bushes, from which they plucked a leaf or two whenever needed. So cute! (183). But tea didn’t take off in England until after a London coffeehouse owner, Thomas Twining, opened a teashop next door in 1717 (193). His intention was to sell tea not only for immediate consumption, but also as leaves to buy and brew at home. Women had special blends made up, and bought fancy tea sets. This marked the emergence of elaborate tea parties, the English equivalent of traditional Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies.
            The sign the subsequent Twining fashioned for his teashop in 1787 is said to be “the oldest commercial logo in continuous use” (202). Similarly, a tea seller named Wedgwood may have been the first to use celebrity endorsements, after Queen Charlotte purchased a “complete set of tea things” (202) and Wedgwood took it upon himself to sell similar items under the enticing title “Queen’s Ware.” Tea was born unto a competitive market, and thus prompted innovative advertising techniques, still used to this day.
            For the sake of your time and continued interest in this post, I’ll spare you guys the Boston Tea Party.

A billion hours ago, human life appeared on earth.
A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged.
A billion seconds ago, the Beatles changed music.
A billion Coca-Colas ago was yesterday morning
--Robert Goizueta, chief executive of Coca-Cola, April 1997

            Until 1800, soda water was strictly a medical beverage (228). Soda took off in the US, particularly Coca-Cola, on account of its high caffeine content as well as traces of actual cocaine, which made for quite the invigorating effect, enjoyed by adults and children alike. Coca-Cola was of course mass-produced. Then arose the problem of exploding bottles, resulting in Joseph Hawkin’s clever invention of the soda fountain, which eliminated the problem of bottling. It was a standard feature in an apothecary’s shop by 1830 (229).
            Coca-Cola was named after its two main ingredients—Coca, “the divine plant of the Incas” (235), and “the nuts of the kola plant from West Africa… used in religious ceremonies by the Yoruba people in Nigeria” (236). Today, “Coca-Cola is the second most commonly understood phrase in the world, after Okay” (264).
            Coca-Cola is rich in social significance, but I won’t get into the historical stuff, except one thing which I thought was weird and cute. During WWII, Russian General Georgy Knostantinovich (I’m not making this up) Zhukov, made an odd request: “Was it possible to make Coca-Cola without coloring, so that it resembled vodka, the traditional Russian drink? His request was passed to the Coca-Cola company, which duly obliged… and devised a colorless version” (256). There’s a drink I oughta add to my list of obscure drinks I wanna try. I’m not kidding, I’m really making a list. In fact it’ll probably be my next post.

            So, to wrap the hell up, people get serious about what they drink for a reason. People identify with what they drink. As Standage says, what one chooses to drink "has become a sort of lifestyle choice" (269). "In contrast, for many people in the developing, access to water remains a matter of life or death." But for those of us lucky enough to be able to choose what to drink, it's important to appreciate where that drink truly came from, what it did for its people, what it's people did for it. It's interesting, the "interconnectedness of world cultures" (6)... These drinks “survive in our homes today as living reminders of bygone eras, fluid testaments to the forces that shaped the modern world” (6). Beverages “have had a closer connection to the flow of history than is generally acknowledged, and a greater influence on its course” (5).