Monday, March 27, 2023

A Few Books about Drinks

I’ve been thinking about some books I’ve read in the past that discuss various popular beverages that we drink without noticing their history. I’ve extracted a few paragraphs for each book in order to look back on things I’ve read in the past. These were selections of my culinary reading group, which has not met in 3 years because of the pandemic. I’m hoping it will be resurrected. 

Fizz: Read in 2014.

Fizz: How Soda Shook UP the World by Tristan Donovan is a comparatively light read, beginning with Joseph Priestly's discovery of how to add CO2 bubbles to water in the 18th century. People immediately LOVED soda as shown by rapid improvements in soda-making technology and the following rise of the soda fountain as a social and dining institution. And of course Donovan ends the book with a series of wars between Coke and Pepsi. Fizz is only about artificial bubbles -- naturally carbonated spring water and natural bubbles from fermentation in beer or sparkling wine were long known and loved before artificial carbonation.

Champagne: Read in 2015

The region of Champagne, France, has the misfortune to lie just between Paris and the French-German border. In 1870, 1914, and 1939 the hillside vineyards, historic wineries, and underground aging and storage cellars were ravaged by wars between the two countries. The total destruction of whole towns and villages and the suffering that occurred, especially in the near-by trenches of World War I, are nearly unimaginable. Don and Petie Kladstrup did an excellent job with this painful history in their book Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, published 2005.

Champagne contains a detailed history of both myths and facts about Champagne and its origins -- especially the mythologizing that's occurred about the early cellar-master Dom Pérignon. The authors begin with the invention and production of its famous bubbly wine, continue with details about the people who produced, promoted, and drank the wine (and made up things about the origins); and wrap up by detailing how the region suffered through the battles and occupations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course there's a bit about the Belle Epoch and how champagne became a drink of high-living Paris. I found the book fascinating, a wonderful successor to the Kladstrup's earlier book, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, published 2001.

Liquid Jade: Read in 2010

I enjoyed the discussion of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West in my culinary book club even more than the reading. A strong shared impression about Liquid Jade was the sense that it broke into two parts with somewhat different approaches. The early chapters described the legendary discovery of tea, the development of tea growing, and the almost mystical view of tea drinking in China and Japan. These chapters had a much vaguer historic approach than the later chapters, which were more social and politically oriented, as well as describing the content and origin of tea varieties and how tea is processed for consumption. Even the author's discussion of tea as a trade commodity is handled differently in the earlier and later parts of the book.

The author's politics (which I didn't know but one person said were very left wing) were held responsible for her drastically negative view of colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation of workers in the later chapters about the Opium Wars, the introduction of tea-growing to the British colonies of India and Ceylon, the rapacious traders, and the discussion on fair trade in modern agriculture. One response to this in our conversation was that no one could have a positive view of the way the British treated and viewed the "coolies" who worked in the colonial tea industry. We discussed the chapter on a letter from a high Chinese official to Queen Victoria, appealing to her sense of decency and asking her to drop the pushing of opium on the Chinese people. The response was the Opium War which destroyed the Chinese authority over the opium trade and had terrible consequences.

Tequila: Read in 2012

Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan is a book that I enjoyed. Science and poetic description combine beautifully as the author describes the taxonomy of the agave plant used in the beverage, its long history beginning in prehistoric Mexico, and the lives and traditions of the Mexican agricultural workers who plant, cultivate, and harvest the agave crop. Valenzuela-Zapata describes their hard physical labor and the taxing heat and aridity of the fields, the simple meals they cook and eat while working, and their "quixotic" oral tradition.

"Mescaleros are forever spinning yarns about mescal -- the plant and the spirit -- while working in fields or resting in the nearby shade, and while jiving on the street corner or drinking in the cantina on the village plaza," writes the author. "They keep up their running commentary while bolting for cover during a sudden downpour, or cursing the sun as it bakes the plants they have tended for seasons." (p. 31)

The labor continues in the distilleries where huge harvested "pinas" are roasted and their liquid fermented, possibly with sugar, into a variety of tequilas. The lore continues, backward and forward in time, in many traditions of eating and drinking the fruit of this very widespread plant.

Reviews © 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2023 mae sander for

Shared with Elizabeth’s blog party.


My name is Erika. said...

These sound very interesting Mae. I think a food and drink reading group would be fun, especially if the food or drink you shared while talking went along with the book. If this is your T day post (I'm guessing it is) happy early T day too. hugs-Erika

anno said...

I agree with Erika: these both sound like very interesting books. Thanks for these reviews.

Also, your culinary bookclub reminded me of something similar that I once belonged to. It was great fun -- and there was always terrific food related to the reading -- but I think scheduling difficulties finally did us in. I hope you are able to re-start yours soon.

Vagabonde said...

These two books look very interesting, indeed, and with great history, which I like. You always provide great reviews of books, but then I wish to read them all although I should not since I need to still go through over 1,500 books in GA. I just drove back to Nashville and actually was going to drive to Whole Foods to get bread, milk and some soda. Unfortunately there was a school shooting 1 mile from my WF, which is 3 miles from me, and now all this sounds frivolous, I’ll go tomorrow. When my house in GA is all done and sold I’d like to find a reading club such as the ones you describe.

DVArtist said...

Oh these sound like great books. Each one has a contribution to the world. Have a lovely evening.

Jenn Jilks said...

What a great idea for a book club group!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

These all sound interesting and I totally enjoyed your reviews. I think Liquid Jade sounds wonderful, especially since I have studied a bit about the Opium War and Queen Victoria.

I was watching a show yesterday that reviewed some of the best Fizz machines for the home. It seems some people can't live without their carbonated bubbly. I was surprised that even the machines you had to plug in and did not use a CO2 canister cost between $80 and $265 US dollars.

Thanks for sharing these book reviews with us for T this week. I hope your group gets back together again soon, dear Mae.

Sharon Madson said...

What fun to take part in an culinary book club. I would love to be part of a book club. Very interesting post. Happy T Day.

Valerie-Jael said...

That sounds like a fun reading group. I used to run a reading group with some ladies at an old people's home, they were so good and knew so much - I learned a lot from them. Valerie

nwilliams6 said...

Wow - they actually sound very interesting, Mae. Each of these drinks colors our lives in many ways and sounds like they were all full of very interesting stories and thoughts as well. I read somewhere last week that a monk said drinking champagne was like drinking stars. I agree and now wish I could have a glass. Happy t-day and hugz

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, I need time! They all sound interesting!

CJ Kennedy said...

These all sound very interesting. I like Liquid Jade referring to tea. Happy T Day

Carola Bartz said...

A culinary reading group - now this sounds interesting! Are you only reading about food and drink or enjoying it at the same time as well? The history and stories around drink and food sure are interesting and fascinating.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Fascinating books -- and I would have wanted to read the tea one just based on the beautiful cover. And maybe that influenced me, but the review also would put it first on my list if your book club had asked me to choose (though all the beverages are ones we enjoy at times -- I don't want to sound like a tea-totalling reader ;>) . The one about tequilla also interested me -- when we were in Mexico last time (I think in Puerto Vallarta, but I'm not sure I remember correctly, the chef/waiter in the small local restaurant we found got into a long discussion with us about tequilla and he offered us a taste of his own mescal (no charge and we thought it was good) he told us about where he lived and grew agave on his family farm; we wished we'd had more time there and would have visited.

jinxxxygirl said...

Interesting reads all Mae! I'am reading 'Origin' by Dan Brown and enjoying it.. Thank you for your kind comment on waiting for the results.. Happy T day! Hugs! deb

ashok said...

Good books 📚

eileeninmd said...

These all sound interesting, great reviews.
Take care, enjoy your day!

Divers and Sundry said...

Fascinating discussion! Surely, though, you wouldn't have to be left wing to object to the exploitation of workers... I keep a bottle of tequila on hand but not champagne ;)

Happy belated T Tuesday!

Tina said...

A reading group sounds fun. I used to love champagne, Will look for a few of your books.

Lisca said...

How interesting Mae! I do hope your culinary book club will be resurrected. It sounds fascinating.
I have never had tequila although the agave plant grows here too.
Happy T-Day,

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

A culinary book club sounds perfect. I joined an online version of this during the pandemic, but I've only participated a couple of times. I'm hoping to join in during June/July for Food Americana. The site is here:

Mae Travels said...

@Deb — The culinary book club that I participated in for around a decade (until the pandemic) was an in-person discussion group where we read the book and then discussed it. It was sponsored by a great book store, and met in the store once a month. We didn’t cook or eat as part of the activity, though we once read a book about whiskey and shared a bottle. The owner was great at finding books for us to read, and the participants also made suggestions, which created a wonderful book list.

Doing a blog post about a book, even if others have also read & posted about it, just doesn’t seem to me to be the same thing!