A nice cuppa javaThis springtime coffee is being celebrated in a number of different formats. Here are some of the offerings. Fortune in a Coffee Cup: Divination with Coffee Grounds is ideal fodder for the novelty item shelf in a bookstore, coffee shop, or New Age store. The author has worked up a sizable semiology of meanings to the patterns of swirling leftover coffee grounds.
Apparently this practice is nothing new: This book is the culmination of a thousand years of oral tradition, and I believe the first time these secrets have appeared in print. If you see a padlock in the bottom of your coffee cup, it means you are feeling that too many decisions in your life are being made by others. But if you see a padlock in the middle of your cup, it's not a good time to be readjusting your life patterns. The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry from Crop to the Last Drop (The New Press, $14.95, 1565845080) presents a concise overview of the history and diversification of the coffee industry. Heavily illustrated, The Coffee Book is a pocket-size pop culture reference manual, offering bite-size infobits on international trading policies, specialty coffee roasters, even the effects of caffeine in the brain. While not in-depth analysis, this little book is nevertheless a good source for quick facts on the coffee business and its potential future, particularly in its discussion of modern coffee cultivation and environmental policy.
The presence of a number of graphs and charts helps accelerate the flow of the text. By far the most informative and satisfying book in the basket is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World (Basic Books, $27.50, 0465036317), the product of intensive research combined with light-hearted and enthusiastic writing. The author (whose previous work was a history of Coca-Cola) traces the bean from its obscure origins in Ethiopia through its dispersal via Islamic traders, from Reformation Europe's coffee-klatch craze to the establishment of coffee as the American drink during the Civil War, and beyond through the complex (and often bloody) intertwining of coffee cultivation with Latin American governments. The book has an extensive bibliography and pointed illustrations (several images clearly illustrate the racism inherent in early American advertising), and is a fine road map of the history of coffee and its development into one of the most traded commodities in the world.