From Publishers Weekly
In this appealingly offbeat "coffeecentric history of humanity," Allen brews up a highly personal tribute to everyone's favorite legal recreational drug. Made of equal parts inspired travel writing and savvy cultural criticism, the book describes Allen's pilgrimages to coffee's major sites of interest. From the drink's origins in Harrar, Ethiopia, to its arguable demise at a place called Adrien's Coffeeshop somewhere along Route 66, Allen's espresso-powered peregrinations offer a lively study of coffee's role in world history. By turns worshiped and scorned for its psychoactive effects, the beverage has spawned legends almost as fabulous and seductive as the drink itself. It inspired the Islamic Whirling Dervishes, who slurped the stuff as a prelude to their bouts of religious ecstasy, and is thought to have precipitated the French Revolution, when citizens stormed the Bastille in part to liberate a coffee-deprived Marquis de Sade. To his credit, Allen, who claims he can tell in a sip that the coffee in a particular Ethiopian town is adulterated with smuggled Zairian Robusta beans, wisely avoids the overworked topic of Starbucks and its bid for a global latte empire. Mark Prendergast's social history, Uncommon Grounds (Forecasts, May 17), is more of an omnibus survey of the bean, but Allen's quirky insights more than make up for any scholarly shortcomings. Call it gonzo gastronomy: the work strikes just the right balance between the frenetic praise of a bug-eyed caffeine freak and the informed observations of a true connoisseur. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Chef-turned-journalist Allens 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 weekendchurch 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) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.