THE DEVIL'S CUP by Stewart Lee Allen


Coffee, the Driving Force in History
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Chef-turned-journalist Allen’s debut book is a thoroughly entertaining, absorbing, and often hilarious jaunt through the history and geography of coffee. Allen retraces the spread of coffee, searching the globe for its historical and cultural significance. He begins in Harrar, Ethiopia, where coffee is profoundly embedded in tribal religious practices and local legends. Allen’s method of research is delightfully seat-of-the- pants. When he hears of a religious ceremony in Harrar in which serving coffee is a sacred ritual, he bribes his way inside. Next he follows the dissemination of coffee north to Yemen, putting himself on board a merchant ship carrying liquor, AK-47 rifles, and an unforgettable cast of characters. Allen is the perfect traveler: curious, persistent, resourceful, fun-loving, with a nose for adventure, and a deep understanding of human motivation. One of the book’s highlights takes place in a coffeehouse in Calcutta, where Allen befriends a glassy-eyed hash addict named Yangi. The two men hatch a plot to export forged artwork to France. Needless to say, the whole thing becomes an international comedy of errors. Allen is an elegant prose stylist, providing countless insights about people and his beloved brew: “Turkish coffee is like a clenched fist in a cup, tight, bitter, and black. The Yemen version, which comes glowing golden in a large glass tumbler, is a lighter, whimsical brew, deliciously sweet.” In Vienna, Allen discovers how the invading Ottoman Turks brought coffee to Europe, transforming the whole continent. The author describes precaffeinated Europe as deadly dull, “a lot like Nebraska on a slow weekend—church or beer.” Coffee was a harbinger for European political reform, especially in England and France. He summarizes a number of quirky yet strangely convincing theories about how coffee triggered revolution, colonialism, slavery, and economic inequality. Allen enjoys his cup to the last drop, and there’s nothing decaffeinated about his wonderfully tasty brew. A must for both Java junkies and travel lovers. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56947-174-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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