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The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee

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In this captivating book, Stewart Lee Allen treks three-quarters of the way around the world on a caffeinated quest to answer these profound questions: Did the advent of coffee give birth to an enlightened western civilization? Is coffee, indeed, the substance that drives history? From the cliffhanging villages of Southern Yemen, where coffee beans were first cultivated ei In this captivating book, Stewart Lee Allen treks three-quarters of the way around the world on a caffeinated quest to answer these profound questions: Did the advent of coffee give birth to an enlightened western civilization? Is coffee, indeed, the substance that drives history? From the cliffhanging villages of Southern Yemen, where coffee beans were first cultivated eight hundred years ago, to a cavernous coffeehouse in Calcutta, the drinking spot for two of India s three Nobel Prize winners . . . from Parisian salons and cafes where the French Revolution was born, to the roadside diners and chain restaurants of the good ol U.S.A., where something resembling brown water passes for coffee, Allen wittily proves that the world was wired long before the Internet. And those who deny the power of coffee (namely tea-drinkers) do so at their own peril."


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In this captivating book, Stewart Lee Allen treks three-quarters of the way around the world on a caffeinated quest to answer these profound questions: Did the advent of coffee give birth to an enlightened western civilization? Is coffee, indeed, the substance that drives history? From the cliffhanging villages of Southern Yemen, where coffee beans were first cultivated ei In this captivating book, Stewart Lee Allen treks three-quarters of the way around the world on a caffeinated quest to answer these profound questions: Did the advent of coffee give birth to an enlightened western civilization? Is coffee, indeed, the substance that drives history? From the cliffhanging villages of Southern Yemen, where coffee beans were first cultivated eight hundred years ago, to a cavernous coffeehouse in Calcutta, the drinking spot for two of India s three Nobel Prize winners . . . from Parisian salons and cafes where the French Revolution was born, to the roadside diners and chain restaurants of the good ol U.S.A., where something resembling brown water passes for coffee, Allen wittily proves that the world was wired long before the Internet. And those who deny the power of coffee (namely tea-drinkers) do so at their own peril."

30 review for The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Recently, the Goodreads blog asked users to name their favorite nonfiction books. In addition to the usual bestsellers posted, a friend of mine suggested The Devil's Cup about the history of coffee consumption. I consider myself to a coffee drinker and slight caffeine addict, so I was intrigued by this concept for a book. In a part historical overview and part travelogue, Stewart Lee Allen enlightens his readers on how coffee emerged as the beverage it is today. Allen's quest begins in Ethiopia. Recently, the Goodreads blog asked users to name their favorite nonfiction books. In addition to the usual bestsellers posted, a friend of mine suggested The Devil's Cup about the history of coffee consumption. I consider myself to a coffee drinker and slight caffeine addict, so I was intrigued by this concept for a book. In a part historical overview and part travelogue, Stewart Lee Allen enlightens his readers on how coffee emerged as the beverage it is today. Allen's quest begins in Ethiopia. At each stop on his worldwide journey he enlists a native to assist him in finding out the cultural components of coffee drinking. Being the first stop on his trip, Allen details readers how originally coffee was not a drink but a nut first chewed by animals. When people realized that the animals had an extra energy surge after chewing these nuts or berries, they proceeded to find a way to make the beans fit for human consumption. Thus, the world's first coffee was born, although in the 1400s Africa it was more of a stew than a drink. Yet, eastern Africans had a leg up on the rest of the world in terms of instant energy and a commodity to trade. The coffee phenomenon had begun. Allen travels from Ethiopia to Yemen and later to Turkey, India, Europe, Brazil, and finally the United States. At each stop he updates how coffee drinking took root there. In Yemen, a short boat ride away from Africa, it was through trading. The trade winds eventually made it to Turkey and coffee became the drink of choice in the Ottoman Empire. Allen enjoyed his brew in the Bosporus most of all, mainly for its originality. He also details how an Ottoman invasion of Austria set up Viennese coffee houses in the early 1600s and how a group of monks both there and in Italy gave rise to the drink we know today as cappuccino. I found the European sections to be the most interesting as coffee transitioned from a primitive drink to the modern one consumers enjoy today. While I found the history portions of this book to be informative, the travelogue did not necessarily work for me. As Allen travels the world searching for a perfect cup of joe, he needs to finance his own journey. He tells readers how he is scammed in third world countries and travels as a ship hand between Italy and Brazil. Some of the sections are a little too detailed for my taste and divert me from the primary subject of the book, which is the history of coffee. While a lesson of what not to do while traveling the world, for me this personal information did not fit with the book as a whole. The Devil's Cup was an easy reading diversion for me as I took a brief respite from various reading challenges. I enjoyed learning the history and cultural components behind the drink I am dependent on for my morning energy today. Like any scientific discovery, how something evolves to where it is presently is a subject that piques my interest. The travelogue sections of the book aside, The Devil's Cup was an intriguing read and interesting for any coffee connoisseur, which I rate 3.25 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    EDIT: When the sweet Poison of the treacherous Grape Had acted on the world a general rape;... Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome liquor That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker. ~ ANONYMOUS PURITAN, 1674I have read this book this weekend for the third time. I never mentioned in my initial review that this is one of the most interesting travel journals I have read. -------------------------- It was a review: ‘The Cream of the crop’ – by Neil Pendock - Sunday Time Lifestyle, Decem EDIT: When the sweet Poison of the treacherous Grape Had acted on the world a general rape;... Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome liquor That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker. ~ ANONYMOUS PURITAN, 1674I have read this book this weekend for the third time. I never mentioned in my initial review that this is one of the most interesting travel journals I have read. -------------------------- It was a review: ‘The Cream of the crop’ – by Neil Pendock - Sunday Time Lifestyle, December 2, 2001, that got me hunting for this book. This book is actually a serious, but also a satirical view on important world history and the role coffee played in so-called intellectual development. If you constantly torture yourself with serious world history, often inspired by bad politics, wouldn't you like to read history from a totally different angle from to time? I do not want to write much more than Neil Pendock about the book.I have kept this review for so many years. It was like a maddening obsession to find this book some or other time, and when it happened I did do a pirouette on the moon and made a gymnastic roll right over it. Eccentric, I know! Neil Pendock: It was the coffee bean that civilized modern man, whatever alcohol you may add to it. The soil of Africa produced both mankind and coffee. It was in the Kenyan Rift Valley and the Sterkfontein caves (South Africa) where homo sapiens exchanged trees for caves, developed the coffee drinking culture and became street smart because of that! According to Alan, civilization was kept alive by the coffee-drinking Muslims of Arabia, while Western Europe held the mother of all parties during the Middle Ages. It was the coffee-drinkers who preserved the knowledge of Aristotle, even adding to it with inventions of their own, like algebra. Your average northern European – man, woman and child – drank three liters of beer a day, and that of a far higher alcoholic content than the thin gassy bevvies of today. One in every seven buildings in England was a tavern. In addition to this, the population was mostly stoned from the hallucinogenic fungus called ergot which contaminated the bread. One of Martin Luther’s main targets in his religious reformation of the 16th century was the excess of alcohol. The first temperance league was established in Luther’s native Germany contemporaneously with the hammering of his religious objections onto the door of his local cathedral. Members of the leagues solemnly undertook to limit their consumption of wine during meals to seven glasses. The rise of Britain as a super power coincided with the advent of a coffee culture. In 1652 there was one coffee house in Britain. Fifty years later there was 2 000! Two of the most important commercial ventures saw the light of day in coffee houses – The insurance brokers Lloyd’s of London and the British East India Company – one of the greatest trading companies in the world. Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope swopped witty couplets in Will’s Café. The famous painter, Hogarth hung out at Old Slaughter’s. Sartre and Camus nutted out existensialism in the Paris based Café Flore. Picasso doodled at Le Lapin Agile and the surrealists held court at the Rotonde. In fact, things got so bad that the owner of Café Momu complained: “Our waiter was reduced to an idiot in the prime of his life, as a result of the conversations he had to listen to.” At the time it was out of print, so I settled for this The History of the World in 6 Glasses . I thought it might be on par with the Devil's Cup. My interest in these kind of books stems from my Chappie bubblegum addiction as a kid. If you are a Chappie-wrapper fan like me, you will love this book! The Chappie wrapper contained the question 'DID YOU KNOW' on the inside, and introduced the young upcoming minds to fascinating information. So apart from the chewing gum often sticking in our hair when we accidentally fell asleep, the contained answers on the inside of the Chappie wrapper got us stuck to the wild and the wonderful, often hilarious idiocyncracies, of our world. It probably inspired me later in life to buy books such as "The Ultimate Loo Book" by Mitchell Symons which contained similar but even more fascinating tidbits of life. And you guess correctly, it is situated in the room it was intended for. There's method in the madness, though! My kids did not have access to Chappies and they did need all sorts of stimulation, right? I thought the above-mentioned books might be valuable additions to the room for great achievements in the house! For the record, the next addition to this throne-room collection will be "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Entertaining account of the author's travels to explore the origins of coffee, starting in the Ethiopian highlands, where coffee bushes still grow wild. OK, since I knew almost nothing about the botany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea . Holy cow, there are a LOT of species! But the main bean is Coffea arabica , the type species, which is what Allen's book is about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea_... . Anyway, Allen's factual info agrees with the Wikipedia info, which is reassuring, sin Entertaining account of the author's travels to explore the origins of coffee, starting in the Ethiopian highlands, where coffee bushes still grow wild. OK, since I knew almost nothing about the botany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea . Holy cow, there are a LOT of species! But the main bean is Coffea arabica , the type species, which is what Allen's book is about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea_... . Anyway, Allen's factual info agrees with the Wikipedia info, which is reassuring, since his, well, *attitude* is less than scholarly. But he had fun(?) on his travels: Trying to escape from al-Makkha (Mocha) in Yemen, he finds a taxi going to San'a. He crams in as the 12th passenger in a station wagon. "We go!" shouted the driver in English. "Bring those goats here! We put them in back with the American!" "Ha-ha! This is joke!" His beverage history stuff is interesting. Did you know that, as late as the 18th century, the average Northern European drank something like 3 liters of beer a day? Beer was the only affordable, safe beverage in those days --drinking water made you sick -- so when coffee (and tea) became popular and affordable, productivity at work perked right up. Sadly, past that, the book gets less interesting, and the last couple of chapters, a road trip in the US, were almost unreadable. Which is why the book sat unfinished for months. If you read it, I'd recommend stopping at Chapter 12, where he takes a ship to Brazil. 4 stars to there, so I'll rate it for that. Trust me on this. Thanks to Margitte for her enthusiastic review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I'd lost track of this book. I knew I'd read a neat book about caffeine, but thought it was called Cafiends or something. Get it? Cafe-Fiend? I'm pretty sure there was a great all-night coffee shop in Christchurch, New Zealand, somewhere near Cathedral Square, with this name, way back in 1992. I might have the name wrong. I'd just come down out of the mountains, practically running downhill with the thrill of being as healthy as I ever had after three months of on-and-off backpacking in the Sout I'd lost track of this book. I knew I'd read a neat book about caffeine, but thought it was called Cafiends or something. Get it? Cafe-Fiend? I'm pretty sure there was a great all-night coffee shop in Christchurch, New Zealand, somewhere near Cathedral Square, with this name, way back in 1992. I might have the name wrong. I'd just come down out of the mountains, practically running downhill with the thrill of being as healthy as I ever had after three months of on-and-off backpacking in the South Islands gorgeous mountains. But little did I know skipping down a mountain trail whilst wearing a 50lb pack can do nasty things to your knees. And immediately trying to catch up all night on all the coffee drinking I'd missed over the past six days looping around Arthur's Pass... well, that apparently is something that really makes irritated joints more angry. So the next morning I discovered I couldn't walk, or at least not without hobbling on the needles that unaccountably were inside my knees. A nice doctor in a local clinic asked some insightful questions, set me straight on joint stress and stimulants, gave me some pleasant drugs, and I was back in the hills a few days later, good as new. I've since bought a french press insert for a backcountry water bottle, so I don't have to go without the daily buzz anymore. Although it's a bit of a pain. I'm considering ordering pure caffeine crystals and mixing them into a batch of rice crispie treats, so each treat packs the punch of a big cuppa joe. But those treats take up a lot of room, and a bear cannister can't fit too many. Anyway, this book on coffee was pretty good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darya Conmigo

    [image: http://xkcd.com/285/] This is often my first immediate feeling about journalism and travelogue books. Dear author, you obviously did your research (as evidenced by lots of facts and by acknowledgements to a dozen libraries from different parts of the world - which as a librarian I really appreciated), you know a lot of stuff on the topic, so why on earth won't you share your sources with the rest of humanity, damn it?! You are telling me 90 per cent of the world coffee is coming from Mart [image: http://xkcd.com/285/] This is often my first immediate feeling about journalism and travelogue books. Dear author, you obviously did your research (as evidenced by lots of facts and by acknowledgements to a dozen libraries from different parts of the world - which as a librarian I really appreciated), you know a lot of stuff on the topic, so why on earth won't you share your sources with the rest of humanity, damn it?! You are telling me 90 per cent of the world coffee is coming from Martinique, for instance, - how am I supposed to know it's true? I realize this is a popular book and should not look like an academic manuscript with Chicago style references, but a list of sources in the end, or something like this, would be tremendously helpful. Otherwise a lot of what I read feels like a gossip. That aside, The Devil's Cup is a fun and informative book about the origins of coffee and its impact on human civilization: from ancient Ethiopia, to al-Makka in the Middle East, to industrial London, Vienna, and Paris. And even to the worst American cup of coffee in the last chapter. One of the main arguments in this book that I found interesting is that coffee contributed to the rationalization and development of Europe once it essentially substituted beer in the European 18th century diet. Coffee houses also provided a place where people could meet and lead sober discussions on life and politics. Taverns were not the safest place to discuss politics or religion. Everybody was armed or drunk, usually both, and proprietors sensibly discouraged heated discussions. Coffeehouses, on the other hand, encouraged political debate, which was precisely why King Charles II banned them in 1675 9 (he withdrew the ban in eleven days)... Intelligent people discussing interesting things in an intelligible manner. Quite a concept. Also, did you know that Lloyds of London insurance company started as a coffee shop? Same with the Boston Stock Exchange. And a few other influential organizations. And the cubicle office layout comes from the coffee shop. And Tatler, Britain's first magazine, originated as a London coffee houses' collective newsletter. Told you it is an informative book (and since there are no citations, I will just hope all of these facts are true). The travel part of the book was equally interesting, and I thought the author was able to relate well the sheer absurdity of being somewhere absolutely foreign for the reasons no one - sometimes even the traveler himself - can't understand.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    If I had stopped at the 75% point of this book, I would have given it a 4. The intrepid and also dangerous travel, the witness, the history of coffee were more than interesting and intriguing, they were absolutely enthralling. Especially since it also educated me upon certain Middle-Eastern sects and divisions that I had almost entirely been confused upon before in my history reading. Especially in the 600 - 1500 A.D. components of Middle Eastern countries' histories as such. Like the Sufis as a If I had stopped at the 75% point of this book, I would have given it a 4. The intrepid and also dangerous travel, the witness, the history of coffee were more than interesting and intriguing, they were absolutely enthralling. Especially since it also educated me upon certain Middle-Eastern sects and divisions that I had almost entirely been confused upon before in my history reading. Especially in the 600 - 1500 A.D. components of Middle Eastern countries' histories as such. Like the Sufis as a sect population, for instance. Now I know, after this read, that the Sufis are to the Islamic early consolidation to dogma as the hippies were to 1960's California flower think. Or do I? The theories upon progression to material and exploratory development tied to coffee use and caffeine increase were 4 star. Proofs at times, 5. And the information upon the Middle ages and/or the 15-19th centuries ale and beer intakes per person were mind boggling. There were also 4 or 5 quotes per chapter or per country that were entirely thought and laugh worthy. But after he hit South America and especially in the cross country North American drive- the laughs, for me, completely stopped. Stewart's bitterness become more grounds on the bottom of the cup than I could easily swallow. Well worth the read. And if you are a big coffee fan- double that rec. Also have to add, as one who worked at a college for eons- the caffeine additive drinks are endemic. Way, way beyond coffee. And some of his other "facts" are absolutely not correct in his values of equating other substances of chemical composition. So do NOT take this extremely tongue in cheek humor or authoritative composite as science or accurate stats either.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Well, it's mostly about coffee, but coffee as a theme to unify a travel adventure story of the penniless backpacking variety. This is not a book I would have picked out for myself, but it was a book club selection and I'm glad now I read it. Allen's off-handed and fantastical claims as to the importance and centrality of coffee in mankind's advancement are just that, off-handed and fantastical, but thought-provoking nonetheless (he talks, for example, about pre- and post-coffee humanity, with the Well, it's mostly about coffee, but coffee as a theme to unify a travel adventure story of the penniless backpacking variety. This is not a book I would have picked out for myself, but it was a book club selection and I'm glad now I read it. Allen's off-handed and fantastical claims as to the importance and centrality of coffee in mankind's advancement are just that, off-handed and fantastical, but thought-provoking nonetheless (he talks, for example, about pre- and post-coffee humanity, with the former depicted as sluggish and stupid ... a facile observation, to be sure, but one most of us believe in). The anti-coffee restrictions and persecutions that followed the introduction of coffee around the world echo on today with certain religious groups, something I find amusing. Early in the narrative, Allen describes an art-fraud scam he manages to get himself involved in. The climax is to occur in Paris during a future visit. I read the Paris chapter twice and never did find out what happened. I probably missed it, but feel somewhat let down that I had to search so hard for it and then never managed to find it. My only criticism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mmars

    If you can handle a wild ride you'll love this book. Who'd have thought someone would put his life on a limb (more that once) to follow the coffee trail. Crossing dangerous borders, um....Yemen in general. Then there's his interesting philosophy about coffee houses. When they start infiltrating a culture, more diverse opinions are debated within coffee shops resulting in a country less war loving and more intellectual. The last sentence doesn't do Allen's philosophy justice. He argues it much mo If you can handle a wild ride you'll love this book. Who'd have thought someone would put his life on a limb (more that once) to follow the coffee trail. Crossing dangerous borders, um....Yemen in general. Then there's his interesting philosophy about coffee houses. When they start infiltrating a culture, more diverse opinions are debated within coffee shops resulting in a country less war loving and more intellectual. The last sentence doesn't do Allen's philosophy justice. He argues it much more persuasively. Gotta love a thinker who thinks not just outside the box but beyond sight of it as well. And, for baristas he covers methods of making it and drinking it. He covers superstitions (its blackness) and positive and negative religious attitudes toward it. I loved this. Fully entertaining read. As a whole, quite unfocused. But think about it. You travel around the world on a shoestring budget - starting in the heart of Africa, drinking coffee. Drinking good coffee. Drinking [email protected] good!!! coffee!!! What kind if book would you WRITE?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    This was the most alternately rollicking and terrifying memoir I have read in a long time. The author is a fearless adventurer who seems to think nothing of setting sail on the Red Sea with a bunch of Somali refugees, going into a rebel area of Ethiopia in search of coffee leaves (Ethiopians made a sort of coffee-tea with them before beans were ever ground), wandering through Yemen by crowded taxi and working as a "nurse" in Mother Theresa's Calcutta hospice. He does all of this in search of the This was the most alternately rollicking and terrifying memoir I have read in a long time. The author is a fearless adventurer who seems to think nothing of setting sail on the Red Sea with a bunch of Somali refugees, going into a rebel area of Ethiopia in search of coffee leaves (Ethiopians made a sort of coffee-tea with them before beans were ever ground), wandering through Yemen by crowded taxi and working as a "nurse" in Mother Theresa's Calcutta hospice. He does all of this in search of the history of coffee and to drink as many varieties of the brew as he can find. Along the way we learn about a German sociologist's theory of expansionism based on coffee, about how goats may have been the first users and are led to speculate about how much coffee had to do with the Enlightenment! The author is chatty, sardonic and has eclectic taste in friends. Loved it!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Jandrok

    Stewart Lee Allen's "The Devil's Cup" is one of those books that appear to suffer somewhat from a case of multiple personality syndrome. It's gonzo food journalism with a healthy dose of history and cultural anthropology carefully disguised as a travelogue. And honestly, that’s perfectly fine with me. Food and culture can’t be separated in my mind, and to really understand any aspect of food culture is to make some sort of an attempt to place the subject into its proper social context. As such, Stewart Lee Allen's "The Devil's Cup" is one of those books that appear to suffer somewhat from a case of multiple personality syndrome. It's gonzo food journalism with a healthy dose of history and cultural anthropology carefully disguised as a travelogue. And honestly, that’s perfectly fine with me. Food and culture can’t be separated in my mind, and to really understand any aspect of food culture is to make some sort of an attempt to place the subject into its proper social context. As such, coffee in my experience is a true cultural touchstone. I grew up in a house of coffee drinkers. My parents came from a generation that always seemed to have a pot brewing. Coffee wasn’t just a breakfast drink. There was the obligatory afternoon mug, often coupled with a cigarette, and more often than not the pouring of the dessert cup after dinner. I was allowed to sample coffee at an early age, and once hooked I have never abandoned the habit, save for a period of time during my cancer treatment when the bean and the chemo just didn’t make good mates. Allen treats his subject with Hunter S. Thompson-esque flair as he traces the history of the divine bean from it's African origins all the way to the Texas Panhandle. I'm still a little skeptical as to how much of the text was real experience as opposed to caffeine-induced delusion, but in the end it really doesn't matter much. It's an entertaining and informative read, and that's what really counts. You certainly can't fault the author on his research and sources. Allen has good footnotes and his stories hold up well under the scrutiny of a good many Google searches. Allen is accompanied on his quest for javalightenment by a revolving door of unusual and interesting characters, all helping to drive the narrative forward with lightning speed as Allen travels from one locale and adventure to another. Allen begins his quest in Ethiopia, where coffee was first cultivated. He moves quickly along the traditional trade routes to trace how the bean migrated through Arab and Muslim lands to Europe, the New World, and beyond. "The Devil's Cup" is too short to provide a holistic picture of the sacred bean, and I'd recommend pairing it up with one of the more traditionally written histories on the subject such as Mark Pendergrast’s excellent "Uncommon Grounds". That said, this is a great compliment to other coffee-related books and it should sit on your shelf if you have even a passing interest in learning more about the magic drink. I should also mention that this book does indeed cover the history of the notorious “civet cat coffee.” “Civet cat coffee” is often described as the most expensive cup of coffee in the world, and is mostly marketed under the name Kopi-Luwak. The first thing that you need to know is that civet cats are not really cats. They are small, nocturnal mammals common to tropical areas of Asia and Africa that have a taste for coffee beans as a food source. The second thing that you need to know is that “civet cat coffee” is….ummmm...processed, yes that’s the word...through the bowels of said nocturnal mammals. The beans are then harvested from the scat of the animals, then roasted and prepared much like any other coffee bean. The civet cat has a reputation for choosing only the most robust beans for its diet, thus the coffee is sold with the impression that it is one of the highest-quality brews in the world. I should add that you should only buy this coffee if you are willing to risk never again kissing any of the significant others in your life. I personally have never had it, so I can’t speak to it beyond that. You pays your money, you takes your chances. Happy grinding.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    Not what I thought it would be - basically just a travelogue padded out with some facts here and there - it needed more history and less on-the-go navel gazing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Marrone

    I am a coffee drinker. I am also a world traveler and an amateur adventurist. Much of my reading takes place in a caffeine addled state in local cafes. This book provides an entertaining introduction to coffee culture around the world and one man's attempt to follow the historical path of coffee to its modern state. While the prose is not beautiful, there are plenty of laughs and moments of insight during the story. I'm not sure I believe everything that happened but I don't really care. The boo I am a coffee drinker. I am also a world traveler and an amateur adventurist. Much of my reading takes place in a caffeine addled state in local cafes. This book provides an entertaining introduction to coffee culture around the world and one man's attempt to follow the historical path of coffee to its modern state. While the prose is not beautiful, there are plenty of laughs and moments of insight during the story. I'm not sure I believe everything that happened but I don't really care. The book is short and I was able to read it in a only a few days. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel books. This book falls short if you are interested in the history of coffee. While it provides some stories about the mythical origins of coffee and how coffee traveled from Ethiopa, through the Middle East and Turkey to Europe and finally to America, this book is essentially a travel book about Mr. Allen's adventures in foreign cultures. I hope the next book about coffee I read

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Allen's travels from Kenya to Ethiopia to Yemen to India to Turkey to Austria to Germany to France to Brazil are quite well written and fun to read as he traces how coffee was first discovered in Africa and then transmitted to the wider world. It kind of reads like ne'er-do-well wanders four continents in search of coffee and book deal. However when Allen gets to the United States he kind of turns into a 35 year old teenager who is still being hassled by THE MAN. I found myself both really likin Allen's travels from Kenya to Ethiopia to Yemen to India to Turkey to Austria to Germany to France to Brazil are quite well written and fun to read as he traces how coffee was first discovered in Africa and then transmitted to the wider world. It kind of reads like ne'er-do-well wanders four continents in search of coffee and book deal. However when Allen gets to the United States he kind of turns into a 35 year old teenager who is still being hassled by THE MAN. I found myself both really liking Allen and his ruminations about coffee as a type of narcotic but then not being so excited about him when Allen confesses to taking large amounts of ephedrine, "a legal speed", while driving across the Mid-West. Overall, if you like travel narratives about exotic places Allen does a good job as a travel-writer or if you some interest in the history of coffee this is decent book to pick up.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cole Schoolland

    Very fascinating account of the historical journey of coffee and chalk-full of nice little tidbits about its impact on society. However, it is pretty horribly written. As a narrative it starts strong but slightly annoying: we get it, traveling is dangerous. You are a brave. Through the book it starts to disintegrate and by the end it leaves the reader confused as to the purpose of the last 50 or so pages. I would skip the book and just spend an hour or two checking out the history of coffee on w Very fascinating account of the historical journey of coffee and chalk-full of nice little tidbits about its impact on society. However, it is pretty horribly written. As a narrative it starts strong but slightly annoying: we get it, traveling is dangerous. You are a brave. Through the book it starts to disintegrate and by the end it leaves the reader confused as to the purpose of the last 50 or so pages. I would skip the book and just spend an hour or two checking out the history of coffee on wikipedia.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    The author seems like the kind of jackass you meet in Northern California who says he's going to become a shaman in south america. Way too much personal digression in this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    A wild ride of a book from a wild man. Totally fun. The author makes choices that are mind-blowing but he tells a good story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kmorgenstern

    I really liked this book, but it is important to know what to expect. You will not find a history of coffee in the usual scholarly style.In fact, it is as much of a travelogue as it is a book on the history of coffee. The author follows the trail of coffee as it spread throughout the world. It tells the story in a lighthearted, trivia kind of way, but that does not diminish the value of the information, which is accurate. Rather, it is decidedly and intentionally non-scholarly and avoids any att I really liked this book, but it is important to know what to expect. You will not find a history of coffee in the usual scholarly style.In fact, it is as much of a travelogue as it is a book on the history of coffee. The author follows the trail of coffee as it spread throughout the world. It tells the story in a lighthearted, trivia kind of way, but that does not diminish the value of the information, which is accurate. Rather, it is decidedly and intentionally non-scholarly and avoids any attempt at serious verbosity. The journey is fun to follow - probably more so as an armchair traveler than it would be in real life. I thought it was funny, well written and a good, easy yet informative read, although at times his conjectures and postulations are a bit over the top, to put it mildly. The proverbial kernel of truth may be present, but is buried under a layer of exaggeration that naturally arise when one deliberately puts on extremely blinkered glasses in order to examine a certain issue from a specific point of view. In the end the story fizzles out a bit as the search for coffee tales turns into a somewhat frenzied hunt for a caffeine kick - not quite the same thing. But still, it does illustrate well how a simple herbal concoction of a rural backwater (could be anywhere) slowly, over time evolves into something much more potent and potentially lethal, as preparations become more refined and the search for ever stronger kicks is taken up by laboratory scientists who seek to isolate the 'active ingredient' of a plant. This story has been repeated with different 'herbs-turned-drugs' so many times throughout history - one could say it is the history of pharmacy. And so, this book tells us as much about the human mind, set in pursuit of that ever more powerful punch, as it does about the actual plant and its round-about journey to conquer the world. Despite the lightheartedness of this book, it does raise a lot of questions and is excellent food for thought.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Part goofball travelogue, part anecdotal history of coffee. The author travels from Ethiopia to Yemen to Turkey to Vienna to Paris and finally to the US, tracing the major developments in the humble cup of joe. He has terrible judgment, continually involving , he becomes enmeshed in a con which involves shipping counterfeit paintings from Calcutta to Paris. He is stopped in rural Tennessee by police and has his car searched. The cops find a vial of pure caffeine ordered over the internet, which Part goofball travelogue, part anecdotal history of coffee. The author travels from Ethiopia to Yemen to Turkey to Vienna to Paris and finally to the US, tracing the major developments in the humble cup of joe. He has terrible judgment, continually involving , he becomes enmeshed in a con which involves shipping counterfeit paintings from Calcutta to Paris. He is stopped in rural Tennessee by police and has his car searched. The cops find a vial of pure caffeine ordered over the internet, which they immediately assume is cocaine. It's one ridiculous mishap after another, with breaks for discussion of the colorful history of coffee. My favorite part, perhaps because it makes me feel better about my wine with dinner habit, proposes that the switch from alcohol to coffee made the enlightenment possible, since people were not always stumbling around drunk, as in medieval times. He writes: "Beer for breakfast, ale for lunch, stout with dinner and a few mugs in between. The average Northern European, including women and children drank three liters of beer a day. That's almost two six-packs, but often the beer had a much higher alcoholic content. People in positions of power, like the police, drank much more. Finnish soldiers were given a ration of five liters of strong ale a day (about as much as seven six-packs). Monks in Sussex made do with 12 cans worth." Sounds like Dartmouth. Anyway...silly but fun.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    I'll admit that I picked up this paperback because on the cover it says that Anthony Bourdain thought it was "Absolutely riveting." I do love Bourdain. This is a light read, part history of coffee and part hilarious travelogue - I liked the travelogue parts better than the history parts, but on the whole it is entertaining. I think it fell quite short of proving its thesis that coffee enlightened humanity, but it is still a fun book for a coffee-lover such as myself. Here are some memorable quote I'll admit that I picked up this paperback because on the cover it says that Anthony Bourdain thought it was "Absolutely riveting." I do love Bourdain. This is a light read, part history of coffee and part hilarious travelogue - I liked the travelogue parts better than the history parts, but on the whole it is entertaining. I think it fell quite short of proving its thesis that coffee enlightened humanity, but it is still a fun book for a coffee-lover such as myself. Here are some memorable quotes: "Drugs directly alter human behavior, productivity, and even reason. I'm not saying that medieval man was stupider than his modern cousin. He was merely decaffeinated and much like you or me before our first cup: grouchy and muddleheaded." (p. 133) "Coffee and humanity both sprang from the same area in eastern Africa. What if some of those early ape-men nibbled on the bright red berries? What if the resulting mental stimulation opened them up to a new way of looking at old problems, much as it did Europeans? Could this group of berry nibblers be the Missing Link, and that memory of the bright but bitter-tasting fruit be the archetype for the story of the Garden of Eden?" (p. 133-134) "We [Americans] became a nation of java junkies, wired from dawn to dusk intent on running faster, getting richer, dancing harder, playing longer and getting higher than anybody else." (p. 199) Recommended, but don't take it too seriously.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Well it was interesting, that's for sure. As far as the completeness of the history, that's a bit questionable. The most authoritative history of coffee that I've come across (and still consider the best read on the subject) is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. This book was a lot of travelogue with a bit of coffee's history thrown in for good measure. I will have to say however that I did come away with two things, a new coffee drink* Well it was interesting, that's for sure. As far as the completeness of the history, that's a bit questionable. The most authoritative history of coffee that I've come across (and still consider the best read on the subject) is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. This book was a lot of travelogue with a bit of coffee's history thrown in for good measure. I will have to say however that I did come away with two things, a new coffee drink* and an appreciation for western standards of hygiene. Still it was amusing and I don't regret the read at all. One of my favorite quotes was this: "Sleep? Isn't that some inadequate substitute for caffeine?" This is a good book if you aren't looking for a detailed history but want a bit of adventure over-dyed with coffee lore. Cheers! *One small cup of very dark, strong french press coffee with a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of blended spice (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, etc). I never drink my coffee black but I could get used to this lovely concoction.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Roberto Macias

    This one is fairly interesting. So perhaps this is not a list of chronologically ordered facts about coffee, but it does explore the myths that have gone with the beverage. It also follows the steps of coffee (at least geographically) and includes a long list of interesting subjects. If anything it might send you on a path of discovery like for example the origin of Candomble and the Orixas in African religion as a consequence of slaves in Brazil and of course how coffee played a role in the cul This one is fairly interesting. So perhaps this is not a list of chronologically ordered facts about coffee, but it does explore the myths that have gone with the beverage. It also follows the steps of coffee (at least geographically) and includes a long list of interesting subjects. If anything it might send you on a path of discovery like for example the origin of Candomble and the Orixas in African religion as a consequence of slaves in Brazil and of course how coffee played a role in the cultural and racial mixture that the country became. Or perhaps get you interested on the influence of coffee in history as a trade product and as the buzz of choice. A few important things though, the route coffee followed to Scandinavia and the strong coffee culture in Sweden are not mentioned. Also the grains arrival in Venice is just slightly mentioned while the more colorful myth of the Turkish Ottoman invasion of Venice is explored. This is not a reference book, but rather a fun companion for your morning coffee. To relax and have fun reading it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I finished the book last night. What do I think of it? Well, the book is entertaining at times, but also rather boring at other times. Some of the author's theories were quite far-fetched and not very well founded, I thought. The author is an art smuggler among other things... But, hey if the book is entertaining, I suppose that doesn't really matter for the quality of the book. A few quotes: Page 111: "At this time to refuse or neglect to give coffee to their wives was a legitimate cause for di I finished the book last night. What do I think of it? Well, the book is entertaining at times, but also rather boring at other times. Some of the author's theories were quite far-fetched and not very well founded, I thought. The author is an art smuggler among other things... But, hey if the book is entertaining, I suppose that doesn't really matter for the quality of the book. A few quotes: Page 111: "At this time to refuse or neglect to give coffee to their wives was a legitimate cause for divorce among the Turks." William H. Ukers (1873-1945). Page 134: "We all know how it went when Europe changed from a culture addicted to depressants to one high on stimulants [...] Within two hundred years of Europe's first cup, famine and the plague were historical footnotes. Governments became more democratic, slavery vanished, and the standards of living and literacy went through the roof. War became less frequent and more horrible." An interesting, yet far-fetched conclusion.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    I am not super well-educated on coffee (translation: Sorry, I was raised with American coffee). With that in mind, I thought this book was an enjoyable read and journey for those who are interested in coffee. There are some discussions on entertaining and interesting stuff about the variety, cults, culture, and theories around coffee (how it got to where it is now, the social balance / injustice around the coffee production, how different cultures recognize/ dismiss it, etc). The author did spen I am not super well-educated on coffee (translation: Sorry, I was raised with American coffee). With that in mind, I thought this book was an enjoyable read and journey for those who are interested in coffee. There are some discussions on entertaining and interesting stuff about the variety, cults, culture, and theories around coffee (how it got to where it is now, the social balance / injustice around the coffee production, how different cultures recognize/ dismiss it, etc). The author did spend some time talking about his travelling plans, which may seem off-topic (ie, the smuggling bits), but I felt it was mentioned to let the reader experience the road coffee had travel to get to where it is. The ending left me craving for more. I'd recommend the book to someone who wants to go on a journey. PS, Book is mildly offensive to a tea drinker.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    A travel journal meets history, The Devil's Cup traces the history of coffee from a bush in Ethiopia to Yemen where it was first brewed to the Islamic world where it kept Muslims awake for their daily prayers to Europe where the French roasted it to serve as a laxative to Boston where colonists drank it after dumping tea and finally to the caffeine-addled drivers of Los Angeles. Read and you'll discover how Lloyd's of London and the NYSE started out as coffee shops. You'll learn how the world's f A travel journal meets history, The Devil's Cup traces the history of coffee from a bush in Ethiopia to Yemen where it was first brewed to the Islamic world where it kept Muslims awake for their daily prayers to Europe where the French roasted it to serve as a laxative to Boston where colonists drank it after dumping tea and finally to the caffeine-addled drivers of Los Angeles. Read and you'll discover how Lloyd's of London and the NYSE started out as coffee shops. You'll learn how the world's first magazine, the Tattler, was a coffee-house newsletter. Read and you'll learn the origins of the the words "Mocha" and "Cappuccino." Enjoy this book over a cup of coffee.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Barrett

    I love this mix of story, history and the subject matter. And the setting in Africa. Overall, I like his story telling voice but the book is kind of an awkward blend of historical anecdotal information and travelogue. Parts of it worked better than others. The latter part of the book where he’s traveling across the US looking for American coffee was pretty awful and it doesn’t feel real. I'm guessing the real story was prosaic and boring so he made things up to make it more exciting. It’s a stark I love this mix of story, history and the subject matter. And the setting in Africa. Overall, I like his story telling voice but the book is kind of an awkward blend of historical anecdotal information and travelogue. Parts of it worked better than others. The latter part of the book where he’s traveling across the US looking for American coffee was pretty awful and it doesn’t feel real. I'm guessing the real story was prosaic and boring so he made things up to make it more exciting. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the book, which feels legitimate. But, I’d read another book by him and I’d definitely travel with him.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I wasn't much of a fan of this book. I was hoping for a microhistory about coffee (think Salt), but instead it was mostly a rambling, almost aimless journey by the author from one questionable location to another, with some coffee history factoids thrown in. I can understand the appeal if you're into travel memoirs, but I'm not usually a fan of those kinds of books. This author is clearly more well-traveled and spontaneous than I will ever be, and good for him ... but I still wish I'd learned mo I wasn't much of a fan of this book. I was hoping for a microhistory about coffee (think Salt), but instead it was mostly a rambling, almost aimless journey by the author from one questionable location to another, with some coffee history factoids thrown in. I can understand the appeal if you're into travel memoirs, but I'm not usually a fan of those kinds of books. This author is clearly more well-traveled and spontaneous than I will ever be, and good for him ... but I still wish I'd learned more about coffee from a book about coffee. I wish I'd just reread Uncommon Grounds by Mark Prendergrast.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Micah

    Overall, I found the history fascinating and most of the travelogue parts entertaining and informative in their own right. However, the part about the U.S. bogged me down. It seemed like he lost track of where to go with the narrative since it was the end of the spread of coffee (at least what the book covers), and wraps up the book with a long-winded, pointless road trip story. I did find it interesting to read about coffee in the U.S. in a book published in 1999, when coffee shops were present Overall, I found the history fascinating and most of the travelogue parts entertaining and informative in their own right. However, the part about the U.S. bogged me down. It seemed like he lost track of where to go with the narrative since it was the end of the spread of coffee (at least what the book covers), and wraps up the book with a long-winded, pointless road trip story. I did find it interesting to read about coffee in the U.S. in a book published in 1999, when coffee shops were present, but less of the norm.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    While entertaining, I found myself doubting Allen's candor more often than I would have liked. Also, our philosophies on coffee differ radically--he seems to feel the most important quality of coffee is that it is a stimulant and has apparently no interest in enjoying it simply as a beverage. Of course, I, coffee snob that I am, find this blasphemous.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rich

    For the most part the books was quite interesting. Part travelogue, part historic narrative but it petered out in later chapters. The writer redeemed the book in the last chapter but the "characters" it ended w were an awkward pairing. Maybe I read too much into the character relations, but for the historic part, learning about coffee's origins was fascinating.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abdulrahman

    One of the best and lightest and most interesting readings I've ever did.. Really funny too but full of knowledge *sometimes shocking* about the history of the drug or the addiction or whatever you call it (dpending on how serious about it you are haha).. Enjoyed every bit of it..

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