Imagine, if you will, an afternoon in the Garden of Eden. You’re kicked back on a La-Z-Boy-shaped hunk of moss trying to collect your thoughts after a hard day’s work naming animals. There are so many, after all, and having spent the better part of a day ruminating over a curious duck-billed, web-footed, furry critter that — good grief! just happens to lay eggs — you must need a break. (I mean, platypus? That’s the best you could do?)

Enter, stage left, your winsome companion. Wearing nothing (of course) but her long, auburn tresses and a particularly knowing smile she offers you a ripe, red fruit. You hesitate. You raise an eyebrow.

“This isn’t an apple,” you say, suggesting somehow that Eve’s gone a bit off-script.

“No,” she purrs, “it’s better. It’s refreshing. It’s engaging. It’s consciousness-raising. And it’s lovely dried, roasted, brewed and served with danish.”

It doesn’t take a leap of faith to believe the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge might have been something more potent than a Red Delicious. Nor does it particularly stretch the imagination to place the Garden somewhere in the lush highlands of Ethiopia, which is — after all– not merely the cradle of civilization, but the cradle of Coffea arabica, as well.

Such is one of the more intriguing memes offered by Antony Wild’s Coffee: A Dark History. This isn’t a caffeinated romp through history, however. Wild wastes little time but comes straight to his point: coffee has a dark side. It’s ever been a vehicle for, “poverty, violence, exploitation, environmental devastation, political oppression, and corruption” even while it’s helped to bring about the evolution of “Coffee House Man: energetic, self-motivated, political, practical, reformist, well-connected, cultured, and philanthropic.”

Every bit as sweeping in its scope as Mark Pendergrast’s Uncommon Grounds, Wild’s effort is less focused on the ad men and marketers of yore, and more on the social change brought about by the consumption of the world’s most wakeful commodity, and the bitter price paid — still — by those who grow and process it at origin.


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