You’d be a fool to pay full-price for coffee this Saturday, as September 29 marks International Coffee Day, a day when countless vendors across the nation (Dunkin’ Donuts, among others) offer free or steeply discounted cups of joe. These books pay tribute to the history, industry and culture of coffee.
“Uncommon Grounds,” by Mark Pendergrast
Coffee was first discovered in the hills of ancient Abyssinia—now Ethiopia—sometime before 800 B. C., with one popular legend crediting a farmer who noticed that his goats would become jittery after eating the berries of an unknown plant. Today, it’s “one of the world’s most valuable agricultural commodities,” providing a livelihood “for some 125 million human beings,” says Mark Pendergrast in “Uncommon Grounds.” Pendergrast, who previously wrote a history of Coke (“For God, Country, and Coca Cola”), investigates coffee’s long and controversial history. Chronicling its early cultivation in southern Arabia to its economically precarious mass production in Latin America, as well as the rise of Starbucks and the emergence of specialty coffee culture, Pendergrast exalts what many of us consider a simple daily caffeine fix by revealing its political and economic influence through the centuries.
“The Coffee Book,” by Gregory Dicum and Nina Luttinger
Serving up an amalgam of facts, profiles, histories and statistics, travel writer Gregory Dicum and coffee industry consultant Nina Luttinger show readers every step of the bean-to-brew journey, with chapters on farming, production and marketing, as well as illuminating coffee’s health benefits. The authors also offer insights into the future of the coffee industry, as a focus on eco-friendliness and sustainability takes center stage.
“God in a Cup,” by Michaele Weissman
Ever wanted to take a walk in the world of specialty coffee without forking over $10 for a latté or bidding upwards of $100 for a pound bag of beans at a wholesale auction? In “God in a Cup,” Michaele Weissman ventures to the epicenters of coffee culture, from Portland to New York, as well as to plantations in Africa and South America where the elevated standards of the specialty coffee industry have led to improved production methods and better livelihoods for farmers. Guiding Weissman on her journey are three of the most prominent figures in high-end coffee—Peter Guliano of Counter Culture, Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia and Duane Sorenson of Stumptown—along with a number of the eccentric, perfection-seeking baristas and connoisseurs who are carving out a subculture of rarefied java.
“The Coffee Companion,” by Jon Thorn
If International Coffee Day inspires you to branch out beyond your usual Mr. Coffee sludge (as it should), you’d do well to consult food columnist Jon Thorn’s guide, “The Coffee Companion.” He spotlights over 150 coffees from around the globe, offers tips on selecting, roasting and grinding beans, explains the delicate art of coffee tasting and shares recipes for classic coffee drinks.
“The Healing Powers of Coffee,” by Cal Orey
While coffee consumption has previously been linked to heart disease and cancer (not to mention more obvious ailments, such as stress and sleeping trouble), recent studies have downplayed the beverage’s risks, while turning up evidence of its lesser-known health benefits. Popular nutrition author Cal Orey (who has written books on the health benefits of honey, olive oil and vinegar) enumerates hundreds of coffee’s advantages in “The Healing Powers of Coffee.” According to Orey, the bean packs more antioxidants than tea or blueberries, and it’s also been shown to accelerate weight loss, boost creativity and decrease the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia.