cover image Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

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

Mark Pendergrast. Basic Books, $30 (522pp) ISBN 978-0-465-03631-8

Caffeinated beverage enthusiast Pendergrast (For God, Country and Coca-Cola) approaches this history of the green bean with the zeal of an addict. His wide-ranging narrative takes readers from the legends about coffee's discovery--the most appealing of which, Pendergast writes, concerns an Ethiopian goatherd who wonders why his goats are dancing on their hind legs and butting one another--to the corporatization of the specialty cafe. Pendergrast focuses on the influence of the American coffee trade on the world's economies and cultures, further zeroing in on the political and economic history of Latin America. Coffee advertising, he shows, played a major role in expanding the American market. In 1952, a campaign by the Pan American Coffee Bureau helped institutionalize the coffee break in America. And the invention of the still ubiquitous Juan Valdez in a 1960 ad campaign caused name recognition for Colombian coffee to skyrocket within months of its introduction. The Valdez character romanticizes a very real phenomenon--the painstaking process of tending and harvesting a coffee crop. Yet the price of a tall latte in America, Pendergrast notes, is a day's wage for many of the people who harvest it on South American hillsides. Pendergrast does not shy away from exploring such issues in his cogent histories of Starbucks and other firms. Throughout the book, asides like the coffee jones of health-food tycoon C.W. Post--who raged against the evils of coffee and developed Postum as a substitute for regular brew--provide welcome diversions. Pendergrast's broad vision, meticulous research and colloquial delivery combine aromatically, and he even throws in advice on how to brew the perfect cup. 76 duotones. Author tour. (June)