10th
Sep
2015

Posted in Kafevend Blog

We like having a look at drinks by way of a little history here on the Kafevend blog, as anyone who has read the first in our series on drinks in ancient civilizations will tell you. Today we are looking at an empire which is somewhat more recent- only five hundred years ago rather than five thousand. You might know rather a lot about the Inca, but for those who don't, let's answer a couple of questions: who were they, and what did they like to drink?

The Inca Empire began in the early 13th century and lasted until 1572, when it was finally conquered by the invading Spanish. Between those times, the Inca forged an empire along the Andes mountain range in South America, stretching from the modern day countries of Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south. They were experts at farming in this vertiginous landscape, so much so that they were able to entice neighbouring peoples to join their empire with the promise of food security. To this end, they constructed roads along the length of their empire and warehouses in each town to stock food supplies.

One of the main crops they produced was maize, which could not only be eaten, but also fashioned into a drink. This was a beer known as chicha, which used fermented maize to produce alcohol. It is still made today, although there are now many varieties which don't necessarily include maize, or even rely on fermentation. Like the beer mentioned in the article above, no doubt chicha was a staple in the region as a replacement for water which had the potential to be contaminated.

Water and beer weren't the only drinks available to the Inca- take lapacho, for instance. This drink is made using the inner bark of Handroanthus impetiginosus, the pink lapacho tree. It served more as a medicinal item than a common beverage, particularly as an expetorant to help clear the airways. It is still consumed in the region today, although what limited medical tests that have been carried out show that there are a few potential health hazards involving its use.

Given the proximity of the Inca to the Aztecs in Central America, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they might have got their hands on some cacao, but it appears that they never really got into it. They did use the leaves of a similarly named plant to good effect however- coca. Whilst today the bush's association with the drug cocaine obviously leaves most with a bad view of the plant, it has been successfully used as a mild stimulant for thousands of years in the region, including by the Inca. By chewing the leaves, it produces a constant low release which helped dull pain during physical work, similar to how beer was used.

As ever, we hope you've found our tangential foraying interesting!

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