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Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in ancient Abyssinia to the advent of Starbucks. In this updated edition of the classic work, Mark Pendergrast reviews the dramatic changes in coffee culture over the past decade, from the disastrous Coffee Crisis that caused global prices to plummet to the rise of the Fair Trade movement and the Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in ancient Abyssinia to the advent of Starbucks. In this updated edition of the classic work, Mark Pendergrast reviews the dramatic changes in coffee culture over the past decade, from the disastrous “Coffee Crisis” that caused global prices to plummet to the rise of the Fair Trade movement and the “third-wave” of quality-obsessed coffee connoisseurs. As the scope of coffee culture continues to expand, Uncommon Grounds remains more than ever a brilliantly entertaining guide to the currents of one of the world’s favorite beverages.


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Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in ancient Abyssinia to the advent of Starbucks. In this updated edition of the classic work, Mark Pendergrast reviews the dramatic changes in coffee culture over the past decade, from the disastrous Coffee Crisis that caused global prices to plummet to the rise of the Fair Trade movement and the Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in ancient Abyssinia to the advent of Starbucks. In this updated edition of the classic work, Mark Pendergrast reviews the dramatic changes in coffee culture over the past decade, from the disastrous “Coffee Crisis” that caused global prices to plummet to the rise of the Fair Trade movement and the “third-wave” of quality-obsessed coffee connoisseurs. As the scope of coffee culture continues to expand, Uncommon Grounds remains more than ever a brilliantly entertaining guide to the currents of one of the world’s favorite beverages.

30 review for Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    I have to give the author credit; it can't have been easy to make coffee soporific. But that's just what Mark Pendergrast has done with Uncommon Grounds! "Coffee provides one fascinating thread, stitching together the disciplines of history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine, and business, and offering a way to follow the interactions that have formed a global economy," he states in the concluding chapter. I totally agree; I think that that would have been a fascinating book. But that I have to give the author credit; it can't have been easy to make coffee soporific. But that's just what Mark Pendergrast has done with Uncommon Grounds! "Coffee provides one fascinating thread, stitching together the disciplines of history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine, and business, and offering a way to follow the interactions that have formed a global economy," he states in the concluding chapter. I totally agree; I think that that would have been a fascinating book. But that is not this book. (Perhaps Pendergrast thinks it is?) I would have loved a history of the (continued) domestication of coffee, a la Michael Pollan's treatment of apples, potatoes, tulips, and marijuana in The Botany of Desire. Unfortunately, Pendergrast really glossed over these aspects, instead focusing on the pricing and advertising of coffee through the ages. I have nothing of the ad-man, businessman, or economist in me, and it completely failed to capture my interest. To make matters worse, I really took exception to Pendergrast's "voice". It's very easy to appear liberal and enlightened when in comparison with previous generations and I think it's better to avoid potshots at the past. Pendergrast clearly doesn't. Objective journalism this is not. The tone is smugly judgmental. He constantly denigrates past eras for their sexism and racism (primarily in their advertisements, of course) and even for their (atrocious) taste in coffee!

  2. 5 out of 5

    KeTURah

    I'm giving this book only 2 stars due to poor writing and even worse editing. It seems as if after the first 175 pages the editors (feeling the same as I did) got bored reading the manuscript and just sent it to the printers out of exhaustion. This is most evident when you get to the last 50 pages, when we finally learn the most basic facts about the thing we had been reading about for such a painfully long time: coffee's chemical composition, and the scientific facts about caffeine's affect on I'm giving this book only 2 stars due to poor writing and even worse editing. It seems as if after the first 175 pages the editors (feeling the same as I did) got bored reading the manuscript and just sent it to the printers out of exhaustion. This is most evident when you get to the last 50 pages, when we finally learn the most basic facts about the thing we had been reading about for such a painfully long time: coffee's chemical composition, and the scientific facts about caffeine's affect on the body. A high school newspaper editor would have had sense enough to discuss such things in the beginning of the book. On the positive side, the book filled in the gaps of what I already knew about how coffee gets into my cup (which wasn't much). It truly was interesting to learn about the Central/South American coffee-producing countries and U.S. involvement in their history - something completely ignored in public school history class. But, altogether I was disappointed. My initial excitement over this book waned into an unenthusiastic duty to finish in order to get the damn book back to the library in time before I racked up too many fines.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    THE GOOD: Detailed accounts of the competitive marketing tactics used by coffee companies in America throughout the past hundred plus years, as well as the history of the bean as it influenced coffee producing countries and their export relationships with the United States. THE BAD: Writing with a journalistic and not objective historical tone which means the text is replete with the authors anachronistic judgments on everything from what advertisements were sexist to what coffee blends and THE GOOD: Detailed accounts of the competitive marketing tactics used by coffee companies in America throughout the past hundred plus years, as well as the history of the bean as it influenced coffee producing countries and their export relationships with the United States. THE BAD: Writing with a journalistic and not objective historical tone which means the text is replete with the authors anachronistic judgments on everything from what advertisements were sexist to what coffee blends and methods are poor/superior etc.. Overall, however, I learned a lot. Worth the read even though some of it felt like I was slogging through it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Years ago, I'd read a book called The Devil's Cup by Stewart Lee Allen, which functioned as a combination travelogue/history of coffee throughout the world, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author traveled throughout Africa and the Middle East meeting unsavory characters and having memorable misadventures (at one point finding himself an art smuggler) while retracing the path coffee took from Eastern Africa through Yemen and the Ottoman Empire through Europe and into the New World. I'd worried when Years ago, I'd read a book called The Devil's Cup by Stewart Lee Allen, which functioned as a combination travelogue/history of coffee throughout the world, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author traveled throughout Africa and the Middle East meeting unsavory characters and having memorable misadventures (at one point finding himself an art smuggler) while retracing the path coffee took from Eastern Africa through Yemen and the Ottoman Empire through Europe and into the New World. I'd worried when I picked up this book, a much more well known work that is often seen as the definitive take on coffee, that it would be redundant; however, the focus is so different that there's very little repetition from Allen's book to this one. In this book, Pendergrast concerns himself primarily with coffee's impact in the United States. There's a little bit about Europe and Africa and a paragraph here and there referring to Asia--including the interesting fact that Vietnam is the world's second leading producer of robusta. All told, this is more of a book about big business and economics, in particular the market manipulation in Latin America and the influence of various right-wing and left-wing dictatorships. The book also deals with the rise of the familiar brands: Maxwell House, Folgers, and of course Starbucks. All in all, I preferred Allen's book, but this one is more comprehensive, more exhaustively researched and more suitable as the one book to read about the history of coffee.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ram Kaushik

    This is an interesting look at all the political and economic forces that interacted with perhaps the most influential beverage of our time. Anecdotes about the trajectories of the coffee industry in the 19th and 20th centuries are where this book shone the most for me. The author has clearly done enormous research and offers up juicy tidbits about the cereal-coffee wars instigated by E.W. Post (of General Foods Post Cereal fame) for example. Stories of the first women coffee-baronesses and the This is an interesting look at all the political and economic forces that interacted with perhaps the most influential beverage of our time. Anecdotes about the trajectories of the coffee industry in the 19th and 20th centuries are where this book shone the most for me. The author has clearly done enormous research and offers up juicy tidbits about the cereal-coffee wars instigated by E.W. Post (of General Foods Post Cereal fame) for example. Stories of the first women coffee-baronesses and the rampant sexism they faced, were also fascinating. Where the book suffers is by trying to be too ambitious. A few mild criticisms. 1. Transformed "our world" in the title. Really? The book references to Latin America are confined strictly to areas where the economics and marketing collided or coincided with American interests. Ethiopia, Kenya and other African coffee giants elicit passing mention at best. "A marketing and economic history of the coffee industry in the U.S." or something like it would be more apt. 2. It was very hard to find central themes or takeaways from a sweeping narrative . I found myself struggling to summarize every chapter in my mind. The final chapter was excellent in terms of offering a macro- look at the future of coffee and its likely impacts but the rest of the book is essentially stream-of-consciousness. Not a bad thing necessarily but something to be aware of. 3. This book could have used some more brutal editing. Forcing central themes and tighter academic style writing would have cut the intimidating length by 25%. Of course, that style of writing would have cut by review length by 50%! :-) Still a recommended read for lovers and haters of the brew alike.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tso William

    I rarely rated a book less than three stars but I made an exception for this book. The title, 'Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed our World', is totally misleading, not to say deceiving. It is better phrased as 'A History of Cheap Brands of Coffee in the United States of America'. I read this book with the expectation that coffee, as a healthily addictive drink, can unite people of different nationalities with its unique culture. What Mark Pendergrast wrote instead I rarely rated a book less than three stars but I made an exception for this book. The title, 'Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed our World', is totally misleading, not to say deceiving. It is better phrased as 'A History of Cheap Brands of Coffee in the United States of America'. I read this book with the expectation that coffee, as a healthily addictive drink, can unite people of different nationalities with its unique culture. What Mark Pendergrast wrote instead was the coffee of history within America. Perhaps it was not his fault after all but the faults of the hopeless publisher making a totally misplaced title.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Uncommon Grounds is exactly what I was looking for. I had finished a similar commodity book (Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky) and was blown away. I was hoping for the same experience and am happy to say that I found something similar. The author goes into quite a lot of detail about the origin, trade, branding and questionable medicinal qualities of coffee in a relatively entertaining fashion. It gets a little bogged down at times but overall, Pendergrast succinctly digests coffee's Uncommon Grounds is exactly what I was looking for. I had finished a similar commodity book (Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky) and was blown away. I was hoping for the same experience and am happy to say that I found something similar. The author goes into quite a lot of detail about the origin, trade, branding and questionable medicinal qualities of coffee in a relatively entertaining fashion. It gets a little bogged down at times but overall, Pendergrast succinctly digests coffee's history in a way that is not, for the most part, overwhelmingly dragged down by minutia. It's not an amazing book, but for coffee drinkers who are curious about the history and trade of coffee, it is most certainly enlightening. I would have preferred the final chapter to have been the first chapter, and to have more said on the science behind the substances in coffee, but otherwise, it's a good read. A example of the author's start-to-finish style of writing might help to entice possible readers: "At the Smithsonian conference, I heard a grower ask, “We are shocked and confused that specialty roasters sell our coffee for $8 or $10, when we only receive a little over a dollar a pound. How is that just?” While their U.S. colleagues made sympathetic noises, no one really answered the question. Later, a specialty coffee professional gave me an answer. Let us say he pays $2 a pound for Colombian Supremo green beans (and remember that this price can fluctuate). Add 11 cents for freight-in, storage, and handling, 46 cents for the 18 percent weight loss during roasting, 19 cents a pound for roasting, 35 cents to hand-pack in five-pound valve bags for wholesale shipments, and 40 cents for shipping costs. That totals $3.51. Add $2.05 to cover overhead for the roaster/distributor (everything from mortgages and machinery loans to sales commissions, repairs, and rubbish removal) and profit, and it costs $5.56 to deliver roasted coffee to a specialty retailer. Depending on the retailer’s size, rent, and other overhead costs, he or she must then charge between $9.50 and $11.50 a pound to make a reasonable profit. If the roasted beans go to a coffeehouse outlet, the proprietor converts the $5.56 per pound beans into a twelve-ounce regular coffee at $1.75 or cappuccino or latte for $2.50 or more. If the proprietor gets twenty-four servings to the pound, that translates to a whopping $70 a pound for regular filter coffee, and $82.50 a pound for thirty-three lattes, minus the cost of the milk, stirrer, sweetener, and stale discarded coffee. On the other hand, coffeehouse owners have to pay astronomical rents, shell out $18,000 for a top-of-the line espresso machine, and allow customers to linger for long, philosophical conversations or solitary reading over their single cup of coffee."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I confess that I tried; I tried to sit ddown and read the history of coffee, and it was just too much. Too much history, and too much information to absorb. It's a wonderful book, but overwhelming.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hudson

    I just could not get in to this book. Abandoned at 50%.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    If you want an in depth, detailed look at the history of coffee, this is a great book to pick up. From its discovery in Africa, to how it became the second largest export in the world (with oil being the first); from plantation to cup, and everything in between, this book covers it all. It even describes the evolution of brewing techniques and instant coffees, weaving the history of coffee in with the history of world. I work in the coffee industry as mostly a barista. I picked up this book in If you want an in depth, detailed look at the history of coffee, this is a great book to pick up. From its discovery in Africa, to how it became the second largest export in the world (with oil being the first); from plantation to cup, and everything in between, this book covers it all. It even describes the evolution of brewing techniques and instant coffees, weaving the history of coffee in with the history of world. I work in the coffee industry as mostly a barista. I picked up this book in the hopes to learn a bit more about what I was serving to people, and possibly get a nice foundation for if I'm ever able to break into writing for CoffeeHouse Digest. I must admit, I got a lot more than I expected with this book. Did you know that in early history of the middle east, a woman could initiate a divorce, if her husband did not have enough coffee in the household? I certainly didn't. My one complaint, and the reason I gave 4 stars instead of 5, is that this book is very America Centric. Not just the U.S., but South America as well. That is not to say that id doesn't cover the rest of the world. It does, and in great detail. But the concentration is on the U.S. and Central/South America. Here's an example: somewhere in the first half of the book, the author spends a great deal of time speaking of pre-depression era coffee consumption in the U.S., then mentions in the last paragraph of the section how Germany at that time was actually the leader in coffee drinking countries. But he doesn't spend nearly the amount of time on that as he does in the U.S. Granted, I don't know a whole lot about the history of coffee in other countries, so maybe there isn't that much to tell. However, given how intricate and complex the story of coffee is in the States, my impression is that a lot was missing in Pendergrast's account of coffee in other parts of the world. Other than that one tiny complaint - and believe me, the wonderfulness of the book (and its sizable length) do make the complaint a tiny one - I thought this was a great and informative read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ksenija

    More accurate title of this book could be USA Imperialistic Arrogance Told Over a Cup of Coffee. The "world" according to Pendergrast, stops where the US borders ends. This is a serious flaw for a book with such a pretentious title. More than 2/3 of the planet is blatantly ignored, and even giant countries such as Canada and Russia (or SSSR) are referenced in two sentiences each respectfully. The author gives a good overview of the aggressive and in most cases, highly morally doubtful US More accurate title of this book could be USA Imperialistic Arrogance Told Over a Cup of Coffee. The "world" according to Pendergrast, stops where the US borders ends. This is a serious flaw for a book with such a pretentious title. More than 2/3 of the planet is blatantly ignored, and even giant countries such as Canada and Russia (or SSSR) are referenced in two sentiences each respectfully. The author gives a good overview of the aggressive and in most cases, highly morally doubtful US business and political practices. His research offers a good sociological introduction to the world of mindless consumerism brought to us by the almighty corporations, but still, it cannot be taken seriously since it simply does not deliver what it promises. I give it a three-star review mostly because the author is a skilful writer and the book is a page-turner. However, this fact alone is enough to make me feel cheated since the subject of his research is not concluded as deeply or as thoroughly as it should be.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This book deserves 3.5 stars- just can't rate it that way. After being in the airport in Addis Abba Ethiopia and seeing a woman sell the best tasting cup of coffee ever drank, and knowing that coffee began in the area, this book recommended by NPR became a MUST read. It's got the beginnings, the spread of coffee around the world, the change in the US from bulk selling to packaged sales. One finds out about how the various companies grew from entrepreneurs to coffee barons and then morphed into This book deserves 3.5 stars- just can't rate it that way. After being in the airport in Addis Abba Ethiopia and seeing a woman sell the best tasting cup of coffee ever drank, and knowing that coffee began in the area, this book recommended by NPR became a MUST read. It's got the beginnings, the spread of coffee around the world, the change in the US from bulk selling to packaged sales. One finds out about how the various companies grew from entrepreneurs to coffee barons and then morphed into the giants of the food industry. A mess of politics then goes on and this is where I felt bogged down and thought I would never get on with the book. It was correct and detailed- more than I wanted. But in the long run, after skipping that part, and again returning to more general info, it got interesting again. It will make a good gift for a coffee lover who has Italian coffee machine and cares about buying roasts that appeal.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Very interesting history of coffee with a good awareness of the social inequality of the coffee economy. I wasn't very impressed with the short "how to brew the perfect cup of coffee" section at the end, and the wasn't much info on brewing in general. But as a history book it was a great read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pritam Chattopadhyay

    The second-most traded commodity in the world, behind only petroleum, Coffee has become a bastion of the modern diet. Believed to have originated in Ethiopia, coffee was used in the Middle East in the 16th century to aid attentiveness. I believe having read somewhere that Kaldi, a lonely goat herder in ninth-century Ethiopia, discovered the revitalizing and bracing upshots of coffee when he saw his goats getting excited after eating some berries from a tree. Kaldi told the abbot of the local The second-most traded commodity in the world, behind only petroleum, Coffee has become a bastion of the modern diet. Believed to have originated in Ethiopia, coffee was used in the Middle East in the 16th century to aid attentiveness. I believe having read somewhere that Kaldi, a lonely goat herder in ninth-century Ethiopia, discovered the revitalizing and bracing upshots of coffee when he saw his goats getting excited after eating some berries from a tree. Kaldi told the abbot of the local monastery about this and the abbot came up with the design of drying and boiling the berries to make a beverage. He threw the berries into the fire, whence the instantly recognizable fragrance of what we now know as coffee glided through the night air. The now roasted beans were raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water: so was made the world’s first cup of coffee. The abbot and his monks found that the beverage kept them awake for hours at a time – just the thing for men devoted to long hours of prayer. Word spread, and so did the hot drink, even as far afield as the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee, today, is big business, one of the world’s most valuable agricultural commodities, providing the largest jolt of the world’s most widely taken psychoactive drug. From its original African home, coffee propagation has spread in a girdle around the globe, taking over whole plains and mountainsides between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. In the form of a hot infusion of its ground, roasted seeds, coffee is consumed for its bittersweet bouquet, its mind-racing jump start, and social bonding. And one must not forget that Coffee, like alcohol, has had a long history of prohibition, attracting fear and suspicion and religious disquiet and hypocrisy. Had the zealots (of all religions) got their way then there would not be very many coffee houses open today. Apart from the historical nunances and cultural entanglements, the author reminds us that Coffee provides a livelihood (of sorts) for some 125 million human beings. It is an amazingly labour-intensive crop. Calloused palms plant the seeds, nurse the seedlings under a shade canopy, transplant them to mountainside ranks, prune and fertilize, spray for pests, water, reap, and lug two hundred-pound bags of coffee cherries. Labourers control the complicated process of removing the valuable bean from its covering of pulp and mucilage. Then the beans must be spread to dry for several days (or heated in drums), the parchment and silver skin removed, and the resulting green beans bagged for shipment, roasting, grinding, and brewing around the world. This book was a path-breaker of sorts. The author in his preface to the second edition of the book writes: ‘Uncommon Grounds seems to have spawned a mini-industry of coffee books, documentaries, and interest in coffee’s social, environmental, and economic impact. Too many books have come out to mention them all, but I have added some to the “Notes on Sources” section at the end of the book. Most notable are Majka Burhardt’s Coffee: Authentic Ethiopia (2010); Michaele Weissman’s God in a Cup (2008); Daniel Jaffe’s Brewing Justice (2007); Antony Wild’s Coffee: A Dark History (2004); John Talbot’s Grounds for Agreement (2004); and Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer’s The World of Caffeine (2001).’ If you love coffee, and are interested in its history, read this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Feral Academic

    We listened to this in the car and skipped like half of it because he spent so much time talking about inane details of coffee sellers and marketing. His stuff about coffee culture, production, and politics was interesting though.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nate Bate

    Peoples opinions of Pendergrasts book seem analogous to the ones swirling around coffee - diverse and complex. I took a sneak peak at some of the reviews on Goodreads. I dont always do that before I write my own review so that mine thoughts wont be tainted. For whatever reason I chose to sneak peak this book. The first several reviews shared various complaints about the quality, focus, and opinions of the author in the text. I was surprised, but I shouldnt since we are talking about coffee. First People’s opinions of Pendergrast’s book seem analogous to the ones swirling around coffee - diverse and complex. I took a sneak peak at some of the reviews on Goodreads. I don’t always do that before I write my own review so that mine thoughts won’t be tainted. For whatever reason I chose to sneak peak this book. The first several reviews shared various complaints about the quality, focus, and opinions of the author in the text. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t since we are talking about coffee. First and foremost, this is a history of coffee. As far as a detailed, compelling history, I was satisfied. When there was more detail than I wanted, I switched to meta reading. The scope was fairly comprehensive, and since I like coffee and history, I found it interesting. A bonus benefit was a refresher on many aspects of world history as coffee history weaves its way through it. One surprise for me was the glimpses I got into how women in American were treated (demeaned) in past generations. These were just mere references, and I don’t know how representative and substantive they were. There must have been enough of this type of treatment for large scale ads to be run like they were. I hope I can learn more. A bigger crisis is how whole families were treated on coffee plantations for generations. I can appreciate fair trade coffee now much more than I did before. However, I believe I have a lot more to learn on this. The one thing I wanted more from the book which isn’t necessarily within its scope is a deeper analysis of the coffees on the market today and the matrix of the types of beans and roasting practices. Reading the book through does give a pretty good foundation, and Mark does say how to brew the perfect cup of coffee at the end of the book. Also at the end of the book is an excellent bibliographic essay with lots of further reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    ELK

    This is a lavishly detailed book that suffers from poor to nonexistent organization. (As the acknowledgments credit an editor for pruning "over a third of the original manuscript", I can't imagine what this tome was like originally.) This book would benefit from a lot more editing. Besides following a basic timeline of the production and consumption of coffee over the years, focusing on the mid-1800's to the present, there is zero narrative thread. Each subheading leaps between subjects This is a lavishly detailed book that suffers from poor to nonexistent organization. (As the acknowledgments credit an editor for pruning "over a third of the original manuscript", I can't imagine what this tome was like originally.) This book would benefit from a lot more editing. Besides following a basic timeline of the production and consumption of coffee over the years, focusing on the mid-1800's to the present, there is zero narrative thread. Each subheading leaps between subjects haphazardly. The entire book reads like a collection of chronologically arranged index cards. It was a struggle to slog through. Despite this, the information is still fascinating. It covers the social and political ramifications of the coffee crop in Latin America, the rise and fall of brands as tastes in America developed and changed, the impact of advertising, the roll of speculation, industry infighting, climate change... It sounds like an exhaustive list, but even though the subtitle promises "The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World", his research primarily focuses on America. Asides about other countries are brief and perfunctory. All in all, a flawed but educational read. Notes The strongest blast against the London coffeehouses came from women, who unlike their Continental counterparts were excluded from their all-male society (unless they were the proprietors). In 1674 The Women’s Petition Against Coffee complained, “We find of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour… Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever.” This condition was all due to “the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called Coffee, which… has so Ennucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind gallants… They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears.” The Women’s Petition revealed that a typical male day involved spending the morning in a tavern “till every one of them is as Drunk as a Drum, and then back again to the Coffee-house to drink themselves sober.” Then they were off to the tavern again, only to “stagger back to Soberize themselves with Coffee.” In response, the men defended their beverage. Far from rendering them impotent, “[coffee] makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds a spiritualescency to the Sperme.” (Pg. 13) Most coffee roasters struggled to understand new marking methods. They observed, for instance, that milk sales went up at a Boston sales counter when the drink was poured by a sexy young woman… Yet few coffee ads attempted any form of sex appeal for the traditional, dignified beverage. One that did, albeit in an awkward, school-boyish fashion, was widely criticized. A 1912 ad for Satisfaction Coffee depicted a can with female legs fleeing from a pursuing male. “Worth running after any time,” read the text. “Always pure. Never sold in bulk.” This ad was, noted a trade journal, “in questionable taste.” (Pg. 115) Five year later Dr. Hugo Muensterberg, a Harvard psychology professor, lectured on the topic “Applying Psychology to Business.” He made extraordinary⁠—and frightening⁠—claims. “Business men will eventually realize that customers are merely bundles of mental states and that the mind is a mechanism that we can affect with the same exactitude with which we control a machine in a factory.” (Pg. 115-116) Resor quoted the philosopher-psychologist William James: “Our judgments concerning the worth of things, big or little, depend on the feelings the things arouse in use.” (Pg. 128) A surprising number of early copywriters with a religious background were attracted to the secular advertising pulpit. “Business had had become almost the national religion of America,” Frederick Lewis Allen observed in Only Yesterday, his classic book on the twenties. “So frequent was the use of the Bible to point the lessons of business and of business to point the lessons of the Bible that it was sometimes difficult to determine which was supposed to gain the most from the association.” *John Watson was not the only one who made such observations. In 1922 the novelist Sinclair Lewis created George Babbitt, the quintessential American consumer for whom “standard advertised wares… were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom.” Every morning the insecure Babbit “gulped a cup of coffee in the hope of pacifying his stomach and his soul.” (Pg. 156) “Coffee may be advertised just as coffee—a drink which pleases the palate,” wrote James Webb Young in a company memo. “[But] we know that beauty, romance and social prestige mean more than almost anything to a woman,” he continued. “The outstanding modern hotels are considered absolute arbiters of correct social usage, particularly with regards to foods.” (Pg. 157) The life of the Depression-era housewife clearly was not easy. On a popular 1932 radio show one commentator advised housewives to “keep a good big supply of coffee in the pantry. You'll find it something to cling to… Otherwise, the day will surely come when you'll sit down in the middle of the kitchen floor and scream and yell at the ghastly damnable futility of it all. (Pg. 186) During the rationing period, poet Phyllis McGinley penned an eloquent lament in which she spoke of the “riches my life used to boast”: Two cups of coffee to drink with my toast, The dear morning coffee, The soul-stirring coffee, The plenteous coffee I took with my toast. (Pg. 204) It also introduced the absurd slogan, “Flavor so unbeatable, it's reheatable!” (Pg.259) “I couldn't understand why in the richest country in the world they were drinking such poor quality coffee.” The public didn't seem to care. “People drank ten cups of that stuff a day. You knew it had to be weak. If you drink ten cups of strong coffee, you'd be floating against the ceiling.” (pg. 266) “Coffee has no nutritional value. For these peasants it is worth only as much as it can buy in food and clothing. And because it buys so little, it is a bitter brew, the taste of poverty and human suffering.” Penny Lernoux in The Nation. (Pg. 271) Caffeine is one of the alkaloids: organic (carbon-containing) compounds built around rings of nitrogen atoms. Alkaloids are the pharmacologically active chemicals produced by many tropical plants. Because they have no winter to provide relief from predators, tropical plants have evolved sophisticated methods to protect themselves. In other words, caffeine is a natural pesticide. It is quite likely that plants contain caffeine because it affects the nervous system of most would-be consumers, discouraging them from eating it. Of course, that is precisely the attraction for the human animal. (Pg. 375)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    From the start of coffee up through the turn of the millennium, this book covers coffee broadly, mainly from an American (North, Central and South) perspective. It goes into a lot of the economic history of coffee, how people in the US drank and prepared coffee (mostly terribly, until recently) and the economic impact on Central and South America. Overall, a great book but a smidge dry here and there. There's a lot to learn in here, and a lot of fun bits of trivia. I read an older edition loaned From the start of coffee up through the turn of the millennium, this book covers coffee broadly, mainly from an American (North, Central and South) perspective. It goes into a lot of the economic history of coffee, how people in the US drank and prepared coffee (mostly terribly, until recently) and the economic impact on Central and South America. Overall, a great book but a smidge dry here and there. There's a lot to learn in here, and a lot of fun bits of trivia. I read an older edition loaned to me by a friend that was written as Starbucks was really becoming globally dominant, and before the "innovation" of things like single-serving coffee machines and the hipster revolution that built upon the specialty revolution of the 1990's. I'd definitely recommend this if you are someone who enjoys coffee at all.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    This is actually a really good book for the genre- I'm never sure if the stars are supposed to correlate to my internal satisfaction level entirely, or if some space is to be made for differences in genre. In any case, this book is a history of the advertising and economics of coffee and goes a long way to explaining the relative poverty of South America's coffee producing countries. It's also a fairly snobby history of how a cuppa joe's been brewed in this country since its inception- snobby in This is actually a really good book for the genre- I'm never sure if the stars are supposed to correlate to my internal satisfaction level entirely, or if some space is to be made for differences in genre. In any case, this book is a history of the advertising and economics of coffee and goes a long way to explaining the relative poverty of South America's coffee producing countries. It's also a fairly snobby history of how a cuppa joe's been brewed in this country since its inception- snobby in a fun way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I enjoyed the book overall but had expected more content on the science aspects of coffee. It is mostly a historical account and an interesting one for sure. The amount of research and the number of people interviewed by the author is impressive and we see the results of that in his broad coverage of coffees past. In todays era of specialty coffee it is hard to imagine how the focus on a quality cup in the US was almost nonexistent before the 70s. I enjoyed the book overall but had expected more content on the science aspects of coffee. It is mostly a historical account and an interesting one for sure. The amount of research and the number of people interviewed by the author is impressive and we see the results of that in his broad coverage of coffee’s past. In today’s era of specialty coffee it is hard to imagine how the focus on a quality cup in the US was almost nonexistent before the 70s.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    An excellent and exhaustive commodity history, with a sharp focus on the business aspect of everyone's favorite drink, especially from the nineteenth century forward.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Monkfeesh

    Did not finish - A little too flat

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    People who know me, know that I love coffee. So this book was a natural. But, ultimately, I was disappointed. It is not bad, and there are a lot of interesting bits in the book. However, it gets bogged down at too many places. In particular, there is far too much focus on the intricacies of coffee businesses and international markets. Obviously, these are important aspects of coffee and its impact, but Pendergrast focuses a lot on the details that often just don't seem all that relevant. More to People who know me, know that I love coffee. So this book was a natural. But, ultimately, I was disappointed. It is not bad, and there are a lot of interesting bits in the book. However, it gets bogged down at too many places. In particular, there is far too much focus on the intricacies of coffee businesses and international markets. Obviously, these are important aspects of coffee and its impact, but Pendergrast focuses a lot on the details that often just don't seem all that relevant. More to the point, I was looking for much more of the ways that coffee transformed the world more broadly, per the subtitle. What the book is, is more of a history of the markets in coffee. That's fine, but not what the book is billed as. There is a lot of discussion, in general, of how these markets impacted the coffee growing countries. But even here, it veers too much to the "one damned thing after another" telling of history or makes broad generalizations about economics that, frankly, I am skeptical of. (why? they are rather general and conventional, and the author is not a trained economist). Now certainly the coffee market could be used to explore many themes (as suggested by the book description). But the book just doesn't pull this off well. The author knows (and loves) coffee and there is some good stuff here. But the book doesn't live up to what it could be.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I wanted so much to like this book, but I just couldn't do it. The topic itself is very interesting to be but the author couldn't have picked a worse possible way to present it. There is absolutely no organization. He presents very small sections of information that jump wildly between topics. Late 1800s coffee houses to the Martinique slave revolt to smuggling beans out of the middle east in the 1500s to the Boston tea party to child labor in Guatemala.......it read like the earliest drafts of I wanted so much to like this book, but I just couldn't do it. The topic itself is very interesting to be but the author couldn't have picked a worse possible way to present it. There is absolutely no organization. He presents very small sections of information that jump wildly between topics. Late 1800s coffee houses to the Martinique slave revolt to smuggling beans out of the middle east in the 1500s to the Boston tea party to child labor in Guatemala.......it read like the earliest drafts of a textbook. There was no narrative at all. I couldn't handle listening to 15 hours if it. As a side note - I do not rate books based on the audiobook reader, but this guy was BAD. he was speed reading!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Olivermagnus

    This book is the culmination of a thousand years of oral tradition, and I believe the first time these secrets have appeared in print. Enjoying coffee is a global phenomenon with its popularity exploding throughout the world. This book will appeal both to those who make their living from coffee and those who simply can't live without it. It's written for anyone who loves coffee. The book is quite nice, with lots of details. The book has an extensive bibliography and illustrations and serves as a This book is the culmination of a thousand years of oral tradition, and I believe the first time these secrets have appeared in print. Enjoying coffee is a global phenomenon with its popularity exploding throughout the world. This book will appeal both to those who make their living from coffee and those who simply can't live without it. It's written for anyone who loves coffee. The book is quite nice, with lots of details. The book has an extensive bibliography and illustrations and serves as a road map of the history of coffee and its development into one of the most traded commodities in the world. It's an excellent resource for anyone wishing to deepen their knowledge of coffee and coffee production.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    If you are a history buff, coffee lover or both, you will enjoy this book. This is the history of the world's most popular drug. Uncommon Grounds tells the story of coffee from its discovery on a hill in ancient Abyssinia to the advent of Starbucks. Sit back with a cup of java and enjoy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bill Walsh

    Quite fascinating, but much more on the business of coffee than I was anticipating or desiring.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gwyn

    An interesting book, but not at all what I was expecting. A better title might be The History of Coffee in America: a Case Study in Capitalism. Where I was looking for something like Salt: A World History, which looks at the big picture and really connects how a simple commodity both influences and is influenced by major events, Pendergrast delivers what is essentially a fine-grain description of the nuts and bolts of coffee importing, roasting, and advertising in the USA from 1850-2000. About An interesting book, but not at all what I was expecting. A better title might be The History of Coffee in America: a Case Study in Capitalism. Where I was looking for something like Salt: A World History, which looks at the big picture and really connects how a simple commodity both influences and is influenced by major events, Pendergrast delivers what is essentially a fine-grain description of the nuts and bolts of coffee importing, roasting, and advertising in the USA from 1850-2000. About half this book would be better represented as a series of infographics, as when Pendergrast details, for year after year, the millions of bags of coffee produced by different countries, how this relates to quotas and cost, and how many bags were imported to which continent; or gives the readers the minutiae of which coffee roasters spent how many millions of dollars in advertising for a given year, which ad agency they spent it with, how it compared with previous years' ad spending, and how it impacted sales; or... well, you see what I mean. Wading through the numbers and statistics does provide some interesting insights into the coffee trade, but again, almost exclusively in America. When Pendergrast does venture to other countries, the link between the events described and coffee is tenuous at best, often consisting of a quick, tacked-on statement like "... and coffee prices no doubt exacerbated the unrest." What he covers, he covers well and thoroughly, but this is hardly the global history of coffee is purports to be.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    A very detailed history of the coffee plant from Ethiopia into the Middle East to Europe to the Caribbean to South America, Brazil and Central America. Admittedly, there is serious bias since the writer focuses on how the coffee growth and import impacted the United States and the development of the large coffee empires from the late 19th century well into the late 20th. Massive amount of oppression, revolution, confiscation of land from natives in order that the more fertile regions can be used A very detailed history of the coffee plant from Ethiopia into the Middle East to Europe to the Caribbean to South America, Brazil and Central America. Admittedly, there is serious bias since the writer focuses on how the coffee growth and import impacted the United States and the development of the large coffee empires from the late 19th century well into the late 20th. Massive amount of oppression, revolution, confiscation of land from natives in order that the more fertile regions can be used for coffee plant growth be it Costa Rica, Sumatra or Ceylon. With some countries where the entire economy was dependent on coffee exports, revolutions in Central and South America focused on installing government leaders who were 'friendly' with the coffee oligarchies within their nations. Even as Brazil tried to control the coffee growing industry, other countries came on-line from other parts of South America, Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia. There is basic information on the development of various brewing systems, alternatives to coffee (Postum), the creation of decaf and instants, the rise of specialty coffee roasters, and return of the coffeehouses. Fair Trade, Shade Grown, Bird Friendly certifications with their founding organizations. Also some practically flippant mention of the variations favored by different parts of the world. As I go over my review, it seems disjointed and that may be due to the massive amount of information contained within these pages. But in the end - even as I write this review - I am looking at a commercial for cold brew coffee with new knowledge and insight. And that is why I gave this book 5 stars.

  30. 5 out of 5

    B.C.

    This was the first book I read in regards to the craft that I am taking up. It was good. I enjoyed a lot of it. I also flipped through a lot of it. The information was very thorough and I believe it to be well researched. I will say that some of the information presented carries a tone of guilt for the privileged. I will admit that it is difficult not to pull this information up without getting sucked into the pity of the third world. I loved all of the information about the coffee houses and This was the first book I read in regards to the craft that I am taking up. It was good. I enjoyed a lot of it. I also flipped through a lot of it. The information was very thorough and I believe it to be well researched. I will say that some of the information presented carries a tone of guilt for the privileged. I will admit that it is difficult not to pull this information up without getting sucked into the pity of the third world. I loved all of the information about the coffee houses and cultural influences. I learned a lot about the role coffee has played in the history of man throughout the last 400 hears. And yes, it has played a role. To say coffee has not played a role would be similar to saying oil has not played a role in the history of man. There were probably about 200 pages of this 500 page monster that I just flipped through. They could have all been summed up as “Market went up, market went down. Market went back up again, market went back down again.” For a research paper, this is great. For someone wanting to learn about coffee, it gets old. I would say that if you are interested in coffee, check this book out. It is a good read. I would also encourage you to not feel bad about skipping the parts you don’t care about. I care about coffee shops so I flipped through a lot of the commodity trading parts. If you care about commodity trading, economic impacts, import/export, sociology, etc.

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