Coffee Talk: The Stimulating Story of the World’s Most Popular Brew
by Morton Satin
Published by Prometheus Books November 2010
What is it about coffee that makes it so popular across so many different cultures? Can it be the caffeine or is there something else about coffee that makes it so alluring?
No beverage has broader worldwide appeal. In North America and Europe, the annual amount of coffee consumed is overwhelming. And in China and even in India, the traditional stronghold of tea drinking, the coffee business has grown by leaps and bounds.
In this entertaining yet comprehensive book, food expert Morton Satin describes how, in recent times, coffee has become the magnet that draws people together for spirited interchanges of information and ideas. In the intellectual capitals of the world, coffeehouses have been and continue to be the venues where the great minds flock to discuss the latest developments in the arts, sciences, and social philosophies.
Satin, moreover, traces the rich and intriguing history of coffee, showing how coffee consumption evolved to fit the social and economic needs of different times. His fascinating narrative dispels common myths and conveys such little-known facts as: the dark coffee bean originated in Africa, not South America, as many believe.
Today, of course, it is the indispensable wake-up beverage in most households throughout the West and the East. It is also the mainstay of the Starbucks phenomenon—a chain of coffeehouses whose popularity continues to soar. Satin even goes on to reveal the best techniques for home brewing. And he enlivens his narrative with stories of the fine art of the barista, which includes the World Barista Championship where rival barmen from around the globe display the highest artistry of coffee brewing.
Lavishly illustrated, this delightful and informative book is the perfect complement for your next coffee break.
I had intended to write this piece last week while sitting in my favorite Austin coffee shop, Epoch, but they were having network issues and so it just didn’t happen as planned. But it would have been awesome to have a piping hot raspberry mocha to sip while writing a review all about coffee.
This book falls into the non-fiction that I love to read. I love reading the history of things, how they came to be a part of life today, where the small things related to them originally sprung up, some things I’ve read about have been banned and so I learned why and any myriad of other tidbits about an item.
Coffee, holds a very dear place in my heart. But it has to be really good coffee. The best I’d ever had was in college a neighbor in the next room over would invite me over for his specialty while we played chess or cards. (I think I miss his coffee as much as I miss playing chess and cards on a regular basis.) He would slowly warm the milk up to just below boiling, hand grind the coffee beans (I wish I could remember what they were specifically) then measure out the grounds into his french press, add the milk, set his timer and then press it when finished. Amazing! I’ve tried to replicate it, but haven’t been successful. Apparently his attention to detail and the painstaking time he spent perfecting his technique was well worth it, almost a trade secret.
Learning about the rise of coffee, how it made its way into the heart of the American culture, and its spread around the world was quite enjoyable. I learned about the rise of coffee shops and how several rulers tried to control their public by banning coffee, thankfully without much success. Satin even tells how coffee is raised, harvested, and readied for roasting. I learned some things I didn’t know, but having been a coffee fan for a number of years now, there was a lot of the information such as the difference between a bean that is sun-dried with its skin versus those that are dried with the skin on during the process, and of course thanks to modern movies, I even knew about the super-expensive, super-elite coffee that comes from the droppings of a wild cat. If you haven’t seen The Bucket List I suggest you at least watch the bit about the coffee. It’s very entertaining.
All in all I found this book to be a good read. I did find it to lose some of its cohesion towards the last half as Satin seemed to jump around a bit from quotes about coffee to how to make coffee, and then going back to some of the history of it. However, it did not distract enough from the whole to make me not suggest this book.
There is another book on my wishlist that also covers the history of coffee, and it will be interesting to compare the two when I finally get around to getting a copy of the other. Perhaps my next non-fiction should be about sugar, or something that is somehow linked to coffee. We shall see.