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The Philosophy of Coffee Book Review

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A copy of The Philosophy of Coffee sitting on a white table next to the bottom of a lamp

I have never written a review of a book before. I was reading the Caffeine Galore blog and I saw a review of a coffee book that was short and eloquent. I wondered whether, instead of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs about a book I’ve read, I could write a short summary in this vein.

I bought The Philosophy of Coffee at least a month ago. I read it as soon as it came to me. I have been actively on the lookout for coffee books to expand my knowledge. I find that blogs are informative but books go into so much more depth. Seeing as how I’d read Brian Williams’ blog, I thought that it would be worth giving his book a shot. If you have not already, I recommend taking a look at his book, A Philosophy of Coffee.

The Philosophy of Coffee is mostly a historical retrospective of coffee, unlike many other coffee books that focus a bit on history and then on brewing. I like this because most of the resources I’ve read give a brief summary of coffee plants and how they came to be alongside some information on the third wave of coffee.

The book starts with the origins of coffee, making reference to its initial discovery in Ethopia. WIlliams then discusses coffee and its association with Islam. I found out that while Islam prohibits drinking wine, a popular beverage when coffee was on the rise, coffee is acceptable. Coffee, unlike alcohol, was not seen to harm the human body.

Throughout history, rulers have had issues with coffee. All of the attempts to thwart the growth of coffee have not come to fruition. Some bans, like one proposed on coffee houses in England, were never enacted. Other bans slowly phased out.

I liked Brian’s chapters on how coffee came to be in Britain and the USA. In the US, coffee became a patriotic drink because of the association with tea and the Brits. Americans waned themselves off tea and took great pride in drinking coffee. The book features a poster with the lettering “Uncle Sam’s Coffee,” which made it clear how culturally significant coffee was.

Coffee is firmly rooted in our society and speciality coffee is gaining a foothold. But, coffee still has a few big challenges in front of it. Toward the end of the book, Williams talks about a few challenges the coffee industry will face. One of these is genetic diversity. 70% of coffee is Arabica and all Arabica varieties and varietals derive from the same genetic sequence. This presents a problem because one disease can decimate a crop. This happened in Sri Lanka at some point in history where within ten years the coffee leaf rust rendered the entire country’s coffee industry economically unviable.

Coffee also faces a labor problem. Farming coffee is not the most attractive job, especially if the prices of coffee are unfair. Farmers are being pushed out of the work by low prices. Young people don’t want to get into farming coffee because, in many cases, it does not pay off. Speciality coffee and its focus on adding a premium on price in exchange for traceability is a step in the right direction but we are far away from solving this problem.

If you would like a brief primer on the history of coffee, I’d highly recommend The Philosophy of Coffee. The book itself, excluding appendices, is 86 pages. I like the length of the book because I never found myself feeling like I should stop reading the book. I was always interested in the next chapter.

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