Table of Contents
|Introduction: The Psychoactive Revolution||1||(8)|
|Part I: The Confluence of Psychoactive Resources|
|Part II: Drugs and Commerce|
|Part III: Drugs and Power|
The Big Three: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Caffeine
The expansion of oceangoing commerce is the single most important fact about the early modern world. Plants, animals, and microorganisms long confined to one continent or hemisphere spread elsewhere, with spectacular demographic and ecological results. New World foods such as the potato and maize made possible rapid population growth in Europe and Asia. Old World diseases such as smallpox and measles wiped out millions of Amerindians, creating a demographic vacuum filled by Europeans and Africans.
The exchange of diseases, so much to the Old World's advantage, was usually accidental. The exchange of plants was sometimes accidental, as anyone who has ever weeded a garden of hitchhiker species well knows. But the exchange of psychoactive plants, products, and processing techniques was seldom accidental. The globalization of wine, spirits, tobacco, caffeine-bearing plants, opiates, cannabis, coca, and other drugs--each to be considered in its turn--was a deliberate, profit-driven process. It would transform the everyday consciousness of billions of people and, eventually, the environment itself.
Viticulture, the selective cultivation of grape vines for making wine, exemplifies the global diffusion process. Viticulture probably originated in the mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas, where Armenia is now located, sometime between 6000 and 4000 B.C. Commercial wine production was well established in the Levant and Aegean by 1500 B.C. and was thriving throughout the Mediterranean world by the time of Christ. The Bible mentions wine no fewer than 165 times.
The rise of Islam, which condemned wine as an abomination devised by Satan, discouraged viticulture in North Africa and the Middle East, but wine making and drinking flourished in medieval Europe. Greek wine made its way to Russia, along with Orthodoxy; the Kievan Chronicle attributes Vladimir I's rejection of Islam to the Russian fondness for drinking. Wine was a symbol, of Christ's sacrifice, the preferred beverage of the European aristocracy (commoners mostly drank locally brewed ale or beer), and a safe, germfree alternative to polluted water, possibly the single greatest menace to human health since the advent of civilization. That the Good Samaritan poured wine rather than water into the traveler's wounds was no coincidence.
Viticulture also spread to northern India and China, though wine drinking never became as popular there as in Christian Europe. As a result of a minute genetic variation, roughly half of all Asians produce an inactive form of an enzyme necessary for complete alcohol metabolism. They experience an "alcohol flush reaction" of bright red facial flushing, heart palpitations, dizziness, and nausea. Those with milder versions of the syndrome, called "slow flushers," sometimes take to drink, but "fast flushers" are vulnerable to acute alcohol poisoning and typically have a stronger aversion. Though alcohol researchers differ over the deterrent power of the flush reaction, some have suggested that it slowed the progress of viticulture and other forms of alcoholic beverage production in East Asia. The Chinese, moreover, had less need of wine or other alcoholic beverages as alternatives to contaminated water. They had tea, made with boiling water and thus potable.
During the Renaissance Vitis vinifera , the European wine vine, was successfully transplanted to the eastern Atlantic islands. When Shakespeare's characters spoke of Canary, they meant the wine, not the islands. Though Columbus tried and failed to establish vineyards, Cortés and his followers succeeded in importing wine vines to Mexico. The local varieties of grapes would not do; like almost all native American grapes, they were small, tough, sour, and unpalatable. Cortés solved the problem by transplanting strains taken from the Estremadura by his own father, strains that were the product of seven thousand years of artificial selection for superior size, tenderness, sugar content, and flavor.
Between 1524 and 1556 viticulture spread south to Peru and Chile and across the Andes to Argentina, where a Jesuit priest introduced it. Missionaries were also responsible for bringing viticulture to Alta California in the 1770s. Within a century it became one of the great wine-producing regions of the world, exporting its produce to places as far distant as Australia, China, Hawaii, Peru, Denmark, and Britain.
The Dutch brought viticulture to the Cape Colony, established in 1652 on the southern tip of Africa as a victualing station for the Dutch East India Company. The idea was to provide crews with fresh wine, an antiscorbutic and palatable alternative to the three-month-old water in the ships' casks. It was, however, the British, anxious to develop alternatives to French imports, who rapidly expanded Cape wine production when they took over the colony in the nineteenth century. The British also introduced viticulture to Australia. The ships that arrived in 1788 to establish the penal colony also carried wine vines from Rio de Janeiro and the Cape Colony. The experiment was initially a disappointment, as transplanted convicts preferred the more familiar beer and spirits.
What the British attempted to do in Australia and later in New Zealand, where they introduced wine vines in 1819, was part of a larger pattern, the deliberate mingling of the world's plants by European colonizers and traders. The exotic plants of Kew Gardens, just upriver from London, are living reminders of Britain's preeminent role in the imperial reshuffling of nature. His Majesty's ships served as the means of botanical discovery and exchange. In 1789, when Fletcher Christian decided that he had had enough of Captain William Bligh, the Bounty was transporting a thousand breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies, where they might provide a cheap new food source for slaves. The mutineers rid themselves of Bligh and his cargo, but the doughty captain survived and later successfully completed a second breadfruit voyage.
European ships carried new technologies as well as new plants. Among the most important of these was distilling. Known to the Greeks and Romans, preserved and advanced by the Arabs, distilling entered Europe via Salerno in the eleventh century. Printed books on distilling, which began appearing in the late fifteenth century, spread knowledge of the technique. Although stills extracted the "essences" of many plants, the manufacture of alcoholic spirits from wine and other fermented liquids assumed increasing economic importance. Larger, improved copper stills and cheaper base materials, notably sugar and Baltic grain, made the mass production of liquor possible. By the mid-seventeenth century stills were dripping their fiery waters from Ireland to Russia. The center of the emerging industry was Holland. The Dutch, already leaders in the wine trade, had efficient stills and were well situated to export their product. To this day their language is imprinted on strong drink. "Brandy" is an abbreviation of brandewijn , or burnt wine. "Gin" is short for genever , grain spirits flavored with juniper berries. The English first ascribed the eponymous "Dutch courage" to their hard-drinking rivals during the seventeenth century.
Mass-produced spirits were a cheap source of intoxication and calories. The ales, beers, and wines drunk by early modern Europeans were often of poor quality and spoiled quickly. Brandy and whiskey kept well and improved with age. Vintners also commonly added brandy to preserve wines, whose alcoholic content was thus strengthened or "fortified."
Distilling rendered perishable crops imperishable. The potato, for example, was the mainstay of the German distilling industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Once harvested, potatoes kept only until the warm weather of the next growing season set in. Converted to alcohol in one of the Reich's 6,000 potato distilleries, they could last indefinitely--and be profitably exported to African colonies. Spirits of all sorts, which were cheaper and easier to ship than beer or wine, became important items in colonial trade. "She is the fountain of all good," the Maoris toasted Queen Victoria. "May she send us plenty of gun powder, plenty of rum and may both be strong."
Europeans also brought or improvised stills. William McCoy, one of the Bounty 'S mutineers who ended up on remote Pitcairn Island, managed to adapt a copper kettle salvaged from the ship, with tragic personal consequences: he leapt to his death from a cliff while drunk. Thirsty beachcombers on Ponape learned they could not count on rum or whiskey from passing ships. So they fermented coconut toddy ("a skill they very soon passed on to the islanders") and rigged stills to guarantee a supply of spirits.
Native peoples caught on to distilling and were soon adjusting recipes to suit their tastes. Some Maoris fancied tobacco and human urine in their home brew. But a mixture of imported and locally produced liquor became the most common pattern, at least in agricultural societies. By the 1840s the Siamese were consuming imported spirits from China, Batavia, Singapore, and Europe as well as growing amounts of locally distilled rum and arrack. One government official complained that, despite flogging his slaves to the brink of death, he could not stop them from converting their rice ration into spirits, "so strong was their appetite for the poison."
Similar complaints could be heard wherever distilled beverages took hold. The mass production of spirits and the fortification of wines exacerbated drunkenness and alcoholism in both European and non-European societies. Contemporaries and historians are unanimous on this point. The question is why. After all, fermentation is a natural process. Except for some Arctic dwellers and North American Indians, most people had access to at least one type of alcoholic beverage--palm wine, mead, corn and barley beers, fermented milk--before they tasted of the fruit of the tree of distilling.
One frequent explanation is that fermented beverages spoil quickly and are much weaker in alcoholic content, which is not more than 14 percent in wine and 7 percent in beer, and often less. (Early modern wines--less potent than today's beverages--were also commonly diluted with water before being drunk, lowering the percentage of alcohol further.) Spirits packed a far heftier ethanol punch. "This changed profoundly the economic and social role of alcoholic drinks," writes the historian David Christian, "for distilled drinks were to fermented drinks what guns were to bows and arrows: instruments of a potency unimaginable in most traditional societies."
Some traditional societies fared worse than others. Hunter-gatherers were hit harder than sedentary agricultural peoples, who were more constrained by community controls. Festive northern and eastern European drinkers and their American descendants had more trouble with grain spirits than the Romanized wine drinkers of southern Europe, who preferred their alcohol in moderation and on a full stomach. Les misérables swilled more gin than les bourgeois . Everywhere the cultural norms and social circumstances of those who were exposed to liquor, as well as those who did the exposing, influenced the prevalence of problem drinking.
Yet it is hard to escape the logic of David Christian's observation. When familiar drugs are processed in unfamiliar ways, increasing their potency to unprecedented levels, heightened abuse inevitably, if not always evenly, follows. This is an important and recurring theme in drug history. Wine is to brandy as opium is to morphine, coca is to cocaine, or shag tobacco is to the modern cigarette. The history of psychoactive substances resembles that of the arms race. Technological change continuously raises the human stakes.
Europeans learned of tobacco in 1492, when two members of Columbus's party, observed Tainos Indians smoking leaves rolled into large cigars. Subsequent contacts revealed that Indians also chewed and sniffed the drug, methods of administration that one day would be emulated by millions of Europeans. But for most of the sixteenth century tobacco was a sideshow--a botanical curiosity, an exotic medicine, or a raffish toy introduced to English courtiers by Sir Walter Raleigh. Sailors spread the smoking habit in humbler circles, in the taverns and brothels of numberless ports of call. With more deliberation, the Spanish used one of their Manila galleons to transplant tobacco to the Philippines, where after 1575 it quickly became a cash crop. Around 1600 Fukienese sailors and merchants brought the plant from the Philippines to China, soon to become a nation of enthusiastic smokers.
Tobacco cultivation began in West Africa sometime in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, recent scholarship inclining toward the latter period. It was brought by the Portuguese, who revolutionized African agriculture by introducing maize, beans, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and many other New World crops. Between about 1590 and 1610 the energetic Portuguese also introduced tobacco to India, Java, Japan, and Iran. Like ripples from a handful of gravel tossed into a pond, tobacco use and cultivation spread by secondary and tertiary diffusion: from India to Ceylon, from Iran to Central Asia, from Japan to Korea, from China to Tibet and Siberia, from Java to Malaysia to New Guinea. By 1620 tobacco was, by any definition, a global crop.
But it was not yet an item of widespread consumption. It was still expensive in 1620 and would remain so until colonial tobacco production--an object of all European imperial powers, even minor ones like Sweden--expanded. Virginia and Maryland were the most productive colonies. They were too productive, in fact, for their own good. Farm prices, measured in shillings per pound in the early 1620s, fell to less than one pence per pound by the late 1670s. The average weight of tobacco exports to England rose from 65,000 pounds a year to more than 20 million pounds during the same period.
Much of this tobacco was reexported, particularly to Amsterdam. The Dutch and the English were the first European peoples to achieve genuine mass consumption. The Dutch averaged 1.5 pounds per capita in 1670, the English a little more than a pound. Amsterdam and London served as rival headquarters of the psychoactive revolution in the seventeenth century, with Amsterdam the more advanced and aggressive of the two. Amsterdam had its own lively reexport trade. Its enterprising merchants mixed Virginia and other colonial tobaccos with cheaper Dutch varieties, which flourished on the sandy, manured soils of the inner provinces. They shipped the mixture to Scandinavia, Russia, and other markets dominated, to the chagrin of the English, by Dutch tobacco imports.
Spanish, English, and Dutch soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) introduced tobacco into the German-speaking lands of central Europe. From there it spread to northern, eastern, and southern Europe. Soldiers, along with sailors, merchants, diplomats, students, immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and tourists, have long constituted the advance guard of the psychoactive revolution. Armies, whose ranks are filled with single, lower-class men plagued by alternating cycles of boredom, fatigue, and terror, were natural incubators of drug use. Highly mobile, they introduced novel drugs and drug-taking methods into the countries in which they fought, and returned home with drug knowledge acquired abroad. The troops who fought under Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years' War brought smoking to the interior of Scandinavia. (English and Dutch sailors had already exposed the seaport populations.) Veterans of the Mexican War (1846-1848) boosted cigar smoking in the United States, and veterans of the Crimean War (1853-1856) did the, same for cigarettes in Britain. Demobilized Greek soldiers, who learned to smoke hashish in Turkey, helped spread the practice in Greece in the 1920s. American deserters who had begun using heroin in Vietnam brought the drug to Amsterdam in 1972.
Whether advanced by military or by other means, two things are remarkable about tobacco's conquest of Europe and Asia during the seventeenth century. The first is that use of the drug cut across all social categories. Lowborn and high, ortho- and heterodox partook of its pleasures, though whether by quid, pipe, or snuff varied with class, gender, and local custom. The second is that tobacco managed to overcome sharp and sometimes violent initial opposition by civil and clerical authorities. English smokers risked the disapproval of James I, who declaimed against the Stygian weed. Monarchs of more absolute sway meted out cruel punishments. Russian smokers suffered beatings and exile; snuff-takers had their noses torn off. Chinese smokers had their heads impaled on pikes. Turkish smokers under the reign of Ahmed I endured pipe stems thrust through their noses; Murad IV ordered them tortured to death. Priests who indulged in tobacco during Mass--one vomited up the Sacrament after dipping snuff--were threatened with excommunication.
Added to the fines, floggings, mutilations, and threats of death and damnation was the everyday obloquy of those who did not indulge. Tobacco, as its critics tirelessly pointed out, fouled the breath, stained the teeth, soiled the clothing, and brought forth umbered streams of snot and spittle. Smoking also entailed the risk of fire, a mortal danger in a world of combustible dwellings. Yet nothing checked tobacco's progress. The drug was so reinforcing--the historian V. G. Kiernan called it the most universal new pleasure human beings have acquired--that it triumphed over all legal obstacles and offended sensibilities.
Official statistics suggest that tobacco consumption, measured in pounds per capita, leveled off in Europe during the eighteenth century. This trend is misleading, however. The figures omit clandestine domestic production and unreported American imports, equivalent to perhaps a third of the total. The eighteenth-century rage for snuff also helps explain the apparent stagnation. Pound for pound, tobacco could be stretched further in the manufacture of snuff than in smoking products. Europeans were not consuming less nicotine in the eighteenth century, but rather were consuming it more efficiently--or, in the case of contraband, illegally.
Smoking again became fashionable in Europe during the nineteenth century. Romantics, bohemians, soldiers, and dandies led the way. By the 1850s pipes and cigars were rapidly gaining ground, though oral snuff remained popular in Sweden and Iceland. In the first half of the twentieth century cigarettes triumphed over all competitors, becoming the smoking norm--or, more accurately, a kind of international language and freemasonry--in Europe, the United States, Turkey, China, and much of the rest of the world.
Smoking in general and cigarettes in particular increased tobacco consumption. In France, a bellwether for continental drug practices, the use of tobacco products per person was only about three-quarters of a pound in 1819. Snuff then accounted for 58 percent of the market. In 1925, when the French were using well over three pounds per person, snuff held just 7 percent of the market, chewing tobacco only 2 percent. The French, remarked an American physician in 1909, after visiting the spotless modern tobacco factory at Issy les Moulineaux, did not indulge in the vile mastication so beloved of his fellow citizens.
He need not have concerned himself. Within a generation spittoons were antiques and Americans were in thrall to the cigarette. The victory did not come easily: the cigarette had many enemies. One of the more implacable, Mrs. John Stuart White, objected to smoking during the sinking of the Titanic . "Before we cut loose from the ship two of the seamen with us ... took out cigarettes and lighted them," she complained during a Senate inquiry into the disaster. "On an occasion like that!" More pragmatically, a coalition of evangelical and progressive reformers, who blamed "the little white slaver" for corrupting the young and poisoning the race, endeavored to throw up legislative barriers to its progress. But widespread military use during World War I, rapid urbanization, changing gender roles, and clever advertising ("Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet") paved the way for the cigarette's triumph. In 1930 the authoritative Tobacco Industry Annual Review reported that U.S. leaf production was at an all-time high. It attributed the good news to heavy advertising and the "present great consumption of cigarettes by women," brought into the smoking fold by a "masterly" campaign. "Today, therefore, the cigarette industry cannot only look forward to annual accretions to its ranks from the generations of new male smokers but has added the opposite sex to this group, while continuing its efforts toward those women for whom smoking is still, if not among the taboos, at least a debatable question."
By the late 1950s American men and women were purchasing upwards of 15,000 cigarettes a second . World production had climbed to over 8.4 billion pounds annually. N. tabacum was a cash crop on all continents save Antarctica, whose explorers smoked anyway. A third of global production came from North America, two-fifths from Asia, one-sixth from Europe, and the remaining tenth from South America and Africa--the latter then expanding its production rapidly. America led the world in tobacco production and export; its gold-standard cigarettes could be found on every continent. Bushmen begged for them in mime, puffing the tips of their fingers. Though consumption leveled off in the United States and other western nations during the 1960s and 1970s, it continued to expand in developing nations. By the mid-1990s the world's estimated 1.1 billion smokers--a third of the population over age 15--smoked 5.5 trillion cigarettes annually. That sum represented a pack a week for every man, woman, and child, smoker or nonsmoker, on the planet.
Caffeinated Beverages and Foods
As impressive as the cigarette's triumph was, its principal active ingredient, nicotine, is by no means the earth's most widely used drug. It is in third place. Alcohol ranks second, caffeine first. World per capita consumption is about 70 milligrams a day. In some countries, such as Sweden and Britain, the average is well over 400 milligrams a day, roughly equivalent to four cups of coffee. According to the anthropologist Eugene Anderson, the most widespread words on the planet, found in virtually every language, are the names of the four great caffeine plants: coffee, tea, cacao, and kola.
Economically, coffee became the most important of the caffeine plants. By the late twentieth century it consistently trailed only oil as the world's most widely traded commodity. In its own way, coffee had become just as indispensable as a fuel of industrial civilization. Yet it began its career in the relative obscurity of the Ethiopian highlands, whose residents chewed rather than infused the beans for their stimulating effects. Coffee drinking made its earliest appearance outside Ethiopia in Yemen, in southern Arabia, sometime in the fifteenth century, likely before 1470. By the late fifteenth century it had spread to Mecca and Medina; by the early sixteenth to Cairo; by the mid-sixteenth to Istanbul. Iran, connected to the Ottoman Empire by warfare and commerce, soon followed. Exporters shipped the beans to southeastern Europe. They sold in Venice as an exotic drug as early as 1615, and came into more general use by the 1640s. Except for tea, coffee was the only important stimulant beverage whose use spread beyond its original zone of cultivation prior to and independently of European commercial expansion.
But it was Europeans who made coffee into a worldwide drink and global crop. Coffee caught on in Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century. As in Islamic lands, the public center of consumption was the coffee house. Itinerant vendors also sold coffee, though fixed distribution was more practical because of the bulky equipment and fire required to brew and warm the drink. Coffee houses quickly emerged as centers of male conviviality, gossip, and business. Luminaries such as Voltaire--"the most illustrious of the coffee addicts," as one French physician styled him--gathered to discuss literature and politics. Coffee houses became incubators of liberal and revolutionary ideas: Camille Desmoulins delivered his "to arms, to arms" speech to a crowd gathered just outside the Café Foy, two days before the storming of the Bastille. Secular and religious authorities were, with good reason, suspicious of coffee houses, and sometimes ordered them closed. But they did so because they feared what went on inside them, rather than the stimulating effects of coffee itself.
Many coffee houses doubled as local drug emporiums, offering everything from chocolate to strong drink. Patrons of Paris's famous Café Procope could, besides savoring fresh-brewed coffee, sample imported wines and exotic liquors like rossoly , a mixture of crushed fennel, anise, coriander, dill, caraway, and brandy steeped in the heat of the sun. Such delights were denied the patrons of Islamic coffee houses, who could not generally purchase alcoholic beverages. That trade was relegated to the taverns, disreputable institutions on the fringes of society. But patrons did indulge in smoking, as did their western counterparts. The air of many a coffee house hung thick with acrid haze. This was, in hindsight, good for business. Smokers metabolize caffeine at a rate 50 percent faster than nonsmokers and thus require more frequent cups of coffee to feel the same stimulating effects. It often happens that drugs are not merely substitutes for one another, but serve to increase demand for other psychoactive products. Drug commerce is more than a zero-sum game.
European coffee consumption exploded in the eighteenth century, rising from an estimated 2 to 120 million pounds. Tea imports rose from 1 to 40 million pounds, cacao from 2 to 13 million. Allowing for smuggling, customs fraud, spoilage, adulteration, and other sources of measurement error, the growth of caffeinated beverage consumption clearly outstripped that of population, up 50 percent during the same period. Price and social-class usage moved in the same direction, downward, as cooks and chambermaids took to greeting the day with café au lait .
Coffee could not have become a beverage of the masses if the Europeans had not organized production in their own colonies. When coffee came into fashion in Europe, the Dutch East India Company purchased Yemenite coffee at the port of Mocha. They resold it in Amsterdam at a markup of 100 to 200 percent. Profits like that drew competition from the English and French, who bid up the price of Mocha coffee. So the company's directors shifted their efforts to western Java, where they had introduced coffee on an experimental basis in 1707. By 1726 they controlled 50 to 75 percent of the world bean trade, and coffee was on its way to becoming an international cash crop.
This story was repeated time and again. Indigenous producers tried to maintain cultivation monopolies, but without success. Europeans and their colonial descendants expanded the production of, and eventually the markets for, plant drugs and spirits in regions under their political influence or control. The French turned Saint-Domingue (Haiti) into a sort of Java of the western hemisphere. They produced so much coffee that by 1774 they were exporting 2 million tons annually via Marseilles to their former suppliers in the Levant. The Portuguese managed a similar feat in Brazil, as did the Spanish in their South and Central American colonies. Today coffee covers 44 percent of the permanent arable cropland in northern Latin America. Although the Americas dominate world production, Subsaharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Hawaii, home of Kona coffee, have joined the Ethiopian and Arabian hearth lands as significant sources of beans.
A disproportionate share of those beans found their way to the United States, long near the top of the table of per capita coffee consumption. Coffee and America grew up together. Cowboys (and Indians) took theirs hot. black, and strong: "It don't take as much water as you think it do." Frontiersmen of a different sort, the Apollo 11 astronauts, were drinking coffee three hours after landing on the moon. Theirs was history's first extraplanetary drug use.
The conventional explanation for the beverage's enduring American popularity is that in the 1770s tea became a symbol of British taxes and tranny, and an object of colonial boycott and vandalism. Coffee became the patriotic drink. But protest politics have a short half-life, and any account that omits cost is incomplete. More significant over time were the country's proximity to Caribbean and Latin American coffee plantations and its low duties on coffee--a few pennies a pound for most of the nineteenth century, sometimes no duty at all. The cost per milligram of caffeine in coffee was thus lower than for any other caffeinated beverage. This was particularly true after the Brazilians, beginning in the 1820s, unleashed a flood of slave-produced coffee. American per capita consumption, three pounds per year in 1830, rose to eight pounds by 1859. Declining price had a similar effect on the habits of the Dutch, another heavy coffee-drinking people. There tea lost out to coffee after 1760, when import duties fell and Dutch per capita coffee consumption quadrupled.
Coffee remained cheap throughout America for most of the twentieth century. It was a widely advertised loss leader in supermarkets and a come-on at lunch counters. One drugstore fountain in Canon City, Colorado, still sold it for three cents a cup in inflation-plagued 1969. (When the store had previously raised its price to four cents, half its coffee customers ungratefully departed.) Coffee was practically a free good--literally so in soup kitchens and at grand openings, fairs, and picnics. In the 1970s it took the average American just 30 seconds of work to pay for a cup of home-brewed coffee, less time than it took to drink it. Revolutionary America's "prenatal disinclination for tea" makes for a good story. However, the Occam's Razor of the modern American coffee experience, and the moral to be drawn from it, is that when psychoactive drugs are widely available, heavily promoted, and cheap they become extremely popular, particularly if they are habit-forming.
As with coffee, the use of tea became progressively more widespread as the price came down. Tea is indigenous to the region where India and China meet. A Chinese text of 350 A.D. mentions it as a medicinal beverage. It came into general use--taxation was a sure sign--by the late eighth century. When the Japanese first learned to drink tea is uncertain, but firm evidence establishes its presence by 815. Buddhist priests brought seeds from China and planted them in temple gardens. Eventually the tea ritual, embodiment of the Zen conception of greatness in the smallest moments of life, became more central to Japanese culture than to Chinese.
The Dutch first imported tea to Europe in 1610, but it remained quite expensive until the British East India Company commenced direct trade with Canton in 1713. After that the trade, legal and illegal, steadily increased. In 1784 the British government removed most of the duties on tea. Low taxes undercut smugglers and further increased consumption, which reached over two pounds per capita--about 400 cups per year--in England and Wales at the end of the eighteenth century. By then consumers were paying only a quarter of what they had paid for tea in the 1720s.
The steady expansion of the China trade by the British East India Company and its rivals was the first stage of the development of the world tea industry. The second was the appropriation, in the mid-nineteenth century, of tea cultivation by the European colonial powers. The Dutch introduced tea bushes to the koffie moe (coffee-tired) lands of Java. The British did the same in India and Ceylon, where a blight had so devastated the coffee industry that dead trees were stripped and shipped to England to make legs for tea tables. April 1887 marked the turning point. In that month the British, Europe's leading tea consumers, first imported more Indian and Ceylonese tea than Chinese. Cost was again decisive. The Chinese taxed their tea more heavily at the point of export and produced it less efficiently than on the large Indian plantations. Chinese attempts to maintain the price by putting less tea on the market proved futile, as they no longer held a monopoly on production; Indian and Ceylonese producers simply took up the slack. Aggressive retailers like Thomas Lipton made large, direct purchases of Indian and Ceylonese leaves. By using heavy turnover to compensate for low profit margins, Lipton could sell his tea for a little more than a shilling a pound, a sum within the reach of the poorest families.
The third stage was the spread of tea cultivation from Asia to eastern, southern, and central Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1952 more than 97,000 African acres were planted with tea bushes, yielding over 47 million pounds. By then commercial tea production had blossomed throughout the southern arc of Asia. Plantations stretched from Formosa in the east to Iran and Russian Transcaucasia in the west. Tea growing had also spread to Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. Though it does well in lands suited to coffee farming, tea never became a leading cash crop in South America. Perhaps it suffered from too much caffeinated competition, not only from coffee and cacao, but from guarana and yerba-maté. The latter yields a potent tea drunk by more than twenty million people in southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and portions of Peru.
Cacao, another plant destined to become an important African crop, originated in the American tropics. The Olmecs domesticated it sometime after 1500 B.C. The Spanish learned of it from the Maya and the Aztecs, for whom chocolate, made from pulverized cacao beans and various spices, was the beverage of the social elites. They served it at the end of banquets, along with tobacco, rather like the port and cigars of later European aristocracy.
Chocolate bore similar aristocratic connotations in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, where it came to be drunk warm and sweet rather than cold and bitter in the Aztec manner. Particularly popular among the secular and clerical elites of Spain, Italy, and France, chocolate had about it an air of ancien régime decadence. The obese Marquis de Sade was obsessed with it in all its forms. From prison he badgered his wife for ground chocolate, crème au chocolat , chocolate pastilles, and even cacao butter suppositories to soothe his piles. "I asked ... for a cake with icing," he wrote in 1779, "but I want it to be chocolate and black inside from chocolate as the devil's ass is black from smoke."
Chocolate was democratized in the nineteenth century. Technological innovation, industrialized production, and expanded cultivation--Europeans were importing more than 100 million pounds by 1899--made it widely affordable as both beverage and solid food. In 1828 Coenraad Johannes Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, patented a process for pressing most of the cacao butter from chocolate. The resulting cake, powdered and treated with alkaline salts, could be mixed with water to make cocoa, a cheap beverage that required no gilt pots or beating of heavy liquids. Cocoa became a breakfast drink for children, chocolate candies tokens of middle-class affection.
While Van Houten and others were revolutionizing the manufacture of chocolate products, the Portuguese were successfully transplanting cacao across the Atlantic, beginning with Príncipe, a small island off the African coast, in 1822. (Spanish efforts to spread cacao had focused on the Philippines, where both cultivation and consumption caught on.) Cacao was growing on the African mainland by the 1870s. Although the imperial powers pushed cacao cultivation ever eastward, establishing plantations from Ceylon to Samoa, West Africa became the center of world production in the twentieth century, supplanting Latin America. By 1991 Africa was supplying 55 percent of the world's cacao, while Mexico, where domestication first occurred, supplied lust 1.5 Percent.
West Africans also produced kola nuts, a crop that entered world commerce late and in an unusual fashion. Kola nuts are richer in caffeine than coffee beans and contain traces of theobromine, a milder stimulant also found in cacao. Kola nuts were traditionally broken into small pieces and chewed for their stimulating, mood-elevating, and aphrodisiac effects. Because they dried out easily and required special packaging, their long-distance trade was largely limited to western Savanna Muslims, who prized kola as an alternative to alcohol. Coffee, tea, and cacao were less perishable and hence better suited to international commerce. Coffee, for instance, could travel long distances without much detriment to quality, provided supercargoes took some elementary precautions, such as keeping the beans out of holds that had contained pepper.
Copyright © 2001 President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.