A bracing natural history of coffee.
Barcelona-based journalist Koehler, who has published previously about tea (Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea, 2015) and contributed to such publications as Saveur, Food & Wine, and the Washington Post, returns with a work about tea’s stimulating cousin. This is no dull deed by a dull writer from a dusty archive—though the author certainly knows his way around an archive—but rather an informative, lively history informed by the author’s visits to key sites, especially in Ethiopia, which, as we learn, is the true home of the Arabica to which so many in the world are devoted. Koehler chronicles his journeys through hazy forests; visits with pickers, growers, brewers, and scientists; the fascinating history of the spread of coffee around the world; the story of the birth and growth of Starbucks and Peet’s; and the connections between failing coffee crops in Central America and the immigration crisis in the United States. Readers will come to understand the deleterious effects of climate change on coffee crops, especially the vulnerability of coffee to the diseases it faces—principally, coffee rust, a fungus. A consistently agile writer, Koehler knows when we’ve had enough of history—and the history of coffee goes way back—and are ready for some time in the woods, a few odd facts, or some sinuous science. We learn, for example, that coffee began as a food rather than drink, that the poet Rimbaud worked on a coffee plantation, and that it takes about 4,000 beans to produce a pound of coffee. Koehler also educates us on genetic mutations—the good, the bad, the ugly—that have affected and likely will affect the nature of our dark liquid companion.
Both an informative work for general readers and a page-turning seminar for would-be writers of narrative nonfiction.