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
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7128-4
    Published: November 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6350-8
    Published: November 2022

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Awards & distinctions

Bolton-Johnson Prize, Conference on Latin American History

Warren Dean Prize, Conference on Latin American History

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

2023 Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards, Office of the Vice President for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Endeavors and the University Co-operative Society, University of Texas at Austin

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

Honorable Mention, 2023 Roberto Reis Book Award, Brazilian Studies Association

Honorable Mention, Elinor Melville Prize, Conference on Latin American History

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.


"Seth Garfield’s book fills a gap in the historiography by providing the first thorough study on the history of guaraná. . . . [This is a] complex, well-connected, superb book, which will be of interest to a variety of scholars from various disciplines including those who are non-Brazilianists.”—The Americas

“A powerful, evocative book, a work of deep scholarship . . . It offers an understanding of how a native plant is connected to so much else.”—Journal of Latin American Geography

"A deeply researched narrative that illuminates so much more than one seems to see at first glance. . . . Garfield situates guaraná within a series of different systems of knowledge and culture over a period that stretches from the earliest moments of colonization of the Amazon to the present. "—H-LatAm

"This is an impressive scholarly achievement and a significant contribution to the historiography. . . . The book is at turns cultural history, agricultural history, environmental history, and history of science; each new analytical lens is elaborated in detail and carefully contextualized."—H-Environment

"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

“Seth Garfield’s Guaraná is well written and finely researched, and its bibliography is a treasure trove of little-known historical material. I thoroughly recommend this book to the readers.”—Economic Botany