Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History
Intriguing Connections = How Products Shape and Change the World

Elaborate Description

Coffee is rife with controversy. From health concerns to the way its produced. Found in Ethiopia, it was initially used by monks to stay wake during prayers. Coffee for many is an everyday use which started to grow in importance in coffeehouses. Coffeehouses were not just for coffee, they were for conversations and inspirations. Coffee was a medium for which people got together. For this reason, some laws make coffeehouses illegal due to potentially dangerous ideas that people have when they congregate.

Demand for the coffee bean grew, with most of coffee consumption being in America. With increased demand came innovations to brewing techniques and coffee types. But the demand also inspired the production of fake coffee beans and producing the coffee with harmful additives. Government intervention in this market generally protected consumers from adulterated coffee.

Like any commodity, coffee producers wanted high prices while consumers wanted low prices. Most production occurred in Latin America, mainly Brazil, which created many problems. Massive production created so much surplus that it reduced the price of coffee. Initially, the surplus was withheld from market until a better price. Other times, the surplus was burned. The problem is that the soil gradually lost its nutrients. When demand increased further, coffee prices increased due to the lack of supply which was hampered by disease and monoculture. Coffee does not have many nutrients, while coffee producing countries did not produce the food their populations needed because most of the arable land was producing coffee.

The book contains many fierce advisement battles in the U.S. The creativity in coffee advisement set foundations for what all advertisers would try to do. Standardization of coffee created brand names which because the norm in all industries. The price battles of coffee were fierce as well. Coffee qualities changed over time with many years being of poor quality until coffee’s revival with the introduction of specialty coffees. As coffee became normalized, people became depended on it. So much so that coffee production increased during the World Wars to ensure soldiers moral and alertness.

This book is eloquently written but its focus is too narrow. Most of this book is about adverting coffee in the U.S. It is not a problem that part of the book focuses on the U.S. as it was a major consumer, but even when ideas came from other countries, the reason for those ideas was not explained. The secondary focus is on production in Latin America which was sporadic and although effected the production of coffee, the particular reasons were not explained. What is missing is a history of the various tasks needed in coffee production. The other tasks besides producing and selling coffee are mentioned, but they are sporadic and given little space. This book would have been much better if it included developments in international coffee consumption, and provided more detailed account on the coffee process.

Being a popular commodity, the way coffee was consumed and sold impacted social experiences. Many early coffee ads were antifeminist, and production was plagued by humanitarian problems. Problems of the past are being recognized and institutions were developed to rectify the environmental and human costs. As consumers became more health conscious, coffee’s health concerns are being studied more deliberately. Even with all the controversy, coffee remains vital for many people in their normal routine, and to stay awake.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780465018369
Pages to read:   390
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      1999
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          2
Overall           3