Beverages have been consumed ever since the first humans walked the surface of the planet. Ancient Indian scriptures have many mentions of beverages, both as thirst quenchers and for their prophylactic values.
Ancient documents talk about juices made from fruits and berries. These documents classify juices into two categories raga if it is in liquid form or sadava if it had a thick consistency.
Needless to say, the first beverage to be consumed was water. This was just not free flowing water but also water that was stored. Apastamba, a highly venerated ancient sage who is said to have lived between 450 and 350 BCE has in the Apastamba Sutras not only described the etiquettes of drinking water but also stated that it is the duty of the householder and his wife to see that water vessels are never empty. The Harshacharita, by Banabhatta, written around 7th century CE has a specific mention of an officer in charge of water in the court of Emperor Harsha.
After water the most commonly used beverage was milk. It finds mention in many of the ancient scriptures written between 1500 – c. 500 BCE. Charaka Samhita the oldest and the most authentic treatise on Ayurveda written by ‘Rishi Charak’ mentions the benefits of drinking milk. Ancient texts mention the consumption of butter about 3000 BC a period associated with Lord Krishna.
Ancient scriptures have mention of Soma an elixir of the gods. Whether this was an intoxicating drink or not is still a matter of debate, the scriptures do mention that it was sweet in taste and was made from the extract of Ephedra plant. It was claimed that Soma was a rejuvenator of both body and mind.
Bhojana-kutuhalam and Kshema-kutuhalam two books written between 16 & 17 CE cover nearly 2000 years of ancient dietary and culinary knowledge of ancient India. These treatises have detailed description of juices and cold drinks. Bhojana-kutuhalam mentions a drink called sarkarodaka that is prepared by dissolving sugar in cool water with the addition of cardamom, cloves, edible camphor and pepper. It further says that one part of lemon juice if mixed with six parts of sarkarodaka makes a really refreshing beverage. These treatises also mention a drink called jhali that is made by boiling raw mangos and mixing the pulp with water, mustard and salt. This drink is supposed to improve digestion.
The 12th century CE book Mānasollāsa or Abhilashitartha Chintamani written by the Kalyani Chalukya king Someshvara III (1127 – 1138 CE) mentions the mixing of acidic fruits with milk and staying the concoction till clear and serving it as a refreshing beverage.
The Mughal period saw the introduction of sweetened and fruit flavoured syrupy drinks called sherbets. The earliest sweetener to be used was honey. Mixed with the pulp of rose, saffron, sandalwood, hibiscus, khus and water these sherbets were rejuvenators. As per Babur Nama, a biographical journal written by Emperor Babur (1483–1530 CE), it was the emperor himself who introduced sherbet to the Indian sub-continent. These sherbets were used to preserve the fruit flavours of the emperor’s favourite fruits from Samarkand.
The origins of aerated beverages in Indian can be attributed to the East India Company. Around 1825, British doctors started mixing quinine with sugar in carbonated water to be given to British troops as a mixer with alcoholic drinks to ward of Malaria. This was the humble beginning of the Indian Tonic Water. Thereafter, cantonments in India bottled flavoured carbonated beverages like Rose, Ice cream Soda and Vimto for the soldiers and their families. Seeing the popularity of these drinks in 1837, Henry Rogers, a chemist in Mumbai, set up an aerated water bottling unit to cater to demand of the civilian population.
Thereafter, Mumbai saw the introduction of some iconic brands like Pallonji’s Raspberry Soda in 1865 and Dinshawji Pandole’s Duke’s in 1889. It was around the same time that Ardeshir & Sons of Pune started operations.
The North too saw its share of beverages. The most popular being the “banta soda” or the soda bottle that had a marble as a stopper. Even today there are shops in Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi, that claim to be serving this with lemon and spices since the 1870s. In 1907 Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed of Delhi created Rooh Afza a sherbet from natural ingredients and herbs. This became a very popular summer drink.
The twentieth century too had its share of iconic brands. In 1923 Abbas Rahim Hajoori of Surat in Gujarat introduced juice-based carbonated drink- Socio now called Sosyo. In 1949 the Chauhans of Parle gave India its first Cola flavoured drink followed by an orange flavoured drink in the early 1950s.
The 20th century was historic for the beverage sector in India. It saw the exit and re-entry of multinational beverage companies. The century also saw the Government of India enter the fray with its brand “77”. The introduction of bottled water as well as the launch of fruit juices and fruit- based drinks in aseptic packaging in 20th century. We in the 21st century are at the cusp of a technological and consumerist revolution, which will propel the beverage sector rapidly forward.