How Brazil Embraced the World's Most Caffeine-Rich Plant

By Seth Garfield

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 2 maps, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7127-7
    Published: December 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7126-0
    Published: December 2022
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-7128-4
    Published: November 2022

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Awards & distinctions

World Winner and Brazil Winner, 2023 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, Drinks History

World Winner and Brazil Winner, 2023 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, Drinks History Non Alcoholic

Brazil Winner, 2023 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, Indigenous Peoples Food

Honorable Mention, 2023 Sergio Buarque de Holanda Prize for Best Book in Social Sciences, Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association

In this sweeping chronicle of guaraná—a glossy-leaved Amazonian vine packed with more caffeine than any other plant—Seth Garfield develops a wide-ranging approach to the history of Brazil itself. The story begins with guaraná as the pre-Columbian cultivar of the Sateré-Mawé people in the Lower Amazon region, where it figured centrally in the Indigenous nation's origin stories, dietary regimes, and communal ceremonies. During subsequent centuries of Portuguese colonialism and Brazilian rule, guaraná was reformulated by settlers, scientists, folklorists, food technologists, and marketers. Whether in search of pleasure, profits, professional distinction, or patriotic markers, promoters imparted new meanings to guaraná and found new uses for it. Today, it is the namesake ingredient of a multibillion-dollar soft drink industry and a beloved national symbol.

Guaraná’s journey elucidates human impacts on Amazonian ecosystems; the circulation of knowledge, goods, and power; and the promise of modernity in Latin America's largest nation. For Garfield, the beverage's history reveals not only the structuring of inequalities in Brazil but also the mythmaking and ordering of social practices that constitute so-called traditional and modern societies.

About the Author

Seth Garfield is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is In Search of the Amazon.

For more information about Seth Garfield, visit the Author Page.


"A luminous social biography of a single Amazonian fruit. Historian Seth Garfield reinvigorates the abiding relevance of the history of commodities as an entry point into Latin American history. . . . Elegantly written and immensely interdisciplinary."—Not Even Past

"Beginning with an origin myth—the eyes of a child recast as the guaraná fruit—Garfield gives us a rich and engaging history of this Brazilian plant's use over time as an Indigenous product, a colonial stimulant, an Amazonian commodity engaging nationalistic dynamics, and a drink that has now come to rival Coca-Cola as a kind of national beverage. A terrific book."—Susanna Hecht, University of California, Los Angeles

"A tour de force. Garfield's eye-opening history brings together the many ramifications and implications of a culturally and commercially significant plant. From the appropriation of Indigenous knowledge to conflicting visions of the Amazon's past and future, Garfield centers the quintessential Brazilian 'taste' in his exploration of the role of authenticity in the global economy."—Barbara Weinstein, New York University