Uncommon Grounds: The History Of Coffee And How It Transformed Our World
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Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in Abyssinia to its role in intrigue in the American colonies to its rise as a national consumer product in the twentieth century and its rediscovery with the advent of Starbucks at the end of the century. A panoramic epic, Uncommon Grounds uses coffee production, trade, and consumption as a window through which to view broad historical themes: the clash and blending of cultures, the rise of marketing and the national brand,” assembly line mass production, and urbanization. Coffeehouses have provided places to plan revolutions, write poetry, do business, and meet friends. The coffee industry has dominated and molded the economy, politics, and social structure of entire countries.Mark Pendergrast introduces the reader to an eccentric cast of characters, all of them with a passion for the golden bean. Uncommon Grounds is nothing less than a coffee-flavored history of the world.
Since its discovery in an Ethiopian rainforest centuries ago, coffee has brewed up a rich and troubled history, according to Uncommon Grounds, a sweeping book by business writer Mark Pendergrast. Over the years, the beverage has fomented revolution, spurred deforestation, enriched a few while impoverishing the many, and addicted millions with its psychoactive caffeine. Coffee is now the world's second most valuable legal commodity, behind oil, according to Pendergrast, who is also author of For God, Country, and Coca-Cola.
"A good cup of coffee can turn the worst day tolerable, can provide an all-important moment of contemplation, can rekindle a romance," he writes. "And yet, poetic as its taste may be, coffee's history is rife with controversy and politics." For example, coffee bankrolled Idi Amin's genocidal regime in Uganda and the Sandinistas' revolution in Nicaragua. Uncommon Grounds provides some fascinating tidbits. Did you know that coffeehouses helped spawn the French and American revolutions? Or that coffee supplanted alcohol as a favorite breakfast drink in Britain in the late 1600s, and later became a patriotic American beverage after the Boston Tea Party? Pendergrast also details the rise and fall of regional coffee brands in the United States, the role of advertising in the industry, the global economic impact of coffee prices, and the recent emergence of specialty-coffee retailers--Starbucks, for example. Finally, he explores the social and environmental ramifications of coffee and highlights recent attempts to encourage a livable wage and environmental protection in coffee-producing nations such as Brazil. Pendergrast also includes an appendix on "how to brew the perfect cup." This wide-ranging book is a good read for those curious about the history and context behind that morning cup of coffee, as well as for those strictly interested in the business side of the industry. --Dan Ring
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