Black Drink: A Native American Tea

6/10

This book is actually a collection of academic essays about a Native American tea (often called ‘Black Drink’ for its distinctive dark color), edited by Charles M. Hudson. I picked this book up at a national park on a recent vacation, and was lucky to have it on a long plane ride home. That being said, it’s more of a reference book than something to read for pleasure.

The book covers a wide range of information about the yaupon plant and the tea its leaves produce; from an essay about the morphology of the plant to an essay about the strange and twisting history of the plant’s scientific name, every topic is covered in detail. My personal favorite sections dealt with the historical use of the tea in several different cultures in the South-Eastern United States, especially the discussion that attempted to explain why, when coffee and Chinese teas were rapidly gaining popularity all over the world, the similarly brewed and comparatively caffeinated Black Drink was dying out. Alas, this explanation was one of the shorter, less complete chapters of the volume. (Also- the answer to that question is that no one really knows, except that the spiritual ritual surrounding the beverage likely would have made European colonists hesitant enough to adapt the drink until after coffee had already monopolized the market.)

The real issue I had with this book, and the reason for the low score, was that this isn’t a book you should sit down and read for fun. Perhaps if I had read a chapter/essay at a time and broken the reading up with something else it would have seemed less boring and repetitive. Each author puts their own spin on the information, and each approaches the topic of Black Drink from a different angle, but the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of repetition due to the somewhat limited source material. Props to the well-researched endeavor on an interesting topic, but the final product didn’t deliver much more than that.

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