Exotic Brew is a concise and elegant account of the eating and drinking habits of the upper classes in the eighteenth century, written by one of the foremost historians of food and social manners in Europe.
Camporesi examines the shift from a rich, heavy diet to a much lighter one which emphasized "exotic" foods like tea, coffee and chocolate. This shift was, he argues, a sign of the profound transformations in fashion, taste and manners that took place in Italy and the rest of Europe in the Enlightenment.
He describes how the upper classes were anxious to leave behind the heritage of the "dark" age, and to elaborate a nimbler, more refined life-style. With this new life-style came a lighter, more functional diet, free of the rich meats, strong spices, and pungent and unsociable aromas (cheese, onion, garlic) which characterized the old cuisine. The new cuisine that emerged was intended to be as pleasing to the eye as to the palate: it suited sensitive dispositions, the meagre appetites of noblewomen, and was perfectly in tune with the new preference for close-fitting clothes and slimness of figure.
Camporesi places these changes in taste and cuisine in their socio-cultural context, including the increasing importance of French cultural models in the world of food and drink, and describes the growing interest taken in the world outside Europe, especially China and the Americas, where most of the exotic additions to the European diet originated.