Greetings, coffee comrades. I recently finished Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, a book chock-full of insights focused around the historical, economical, social, and regional aspects of the glorious green bean we love. I knew this book covered a myriad of topics covering centuries of time, but I felt it was a good prerequisite for future hyper-focused coffee readings I will later read.
Overall, I define the one-sentence synopsis of this book as: A comprehensive summary of both the discovery and history of coffee, and the social and cultural impacts the crop introduced and expanded over time.
Find below recap of what I enjoyed most about the book, and also the areas where I thought it lacked. Feel free to use as your guide for this book.
What I liked:
- Deep dives into economical impacts and history (including coffee production, region pioneers, and global ingenuity)
- Disclosure and awareness of the terrible global struggles and rebellion (I had no idea coffee as a crop incited so much conflict early on in its infancy - it was a real eye-opener)
- Emphasis on how coffee was perceived and consumed within different cultures and religions across the globe, over time
- Insights into how PR and marketing techniques depicted and transcended coffee
What I feel like it lacked:
- Certain sections felt long-winded, where it was difficult to retain my attention (Pendergrast deep-dives into extensive topics such as advertising, coffee law, coffee politics, and coffee pricing, where I personally thought could have been more limited). I have a similar gripe with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel
- I felt a section that highlighted general coffee and caffeine facts was missing from this book. Perhaps this section wouldn't cohesively gel too well with the rest of the content of the book, but topics such as regional coffee expertise, popular coffee drinks and how to produce them, caffeine details, and others would have been great to learn about high-level as well
- I thought it could go into more detail about the food engineering component of coffee production, and how that's changed over time (especially since there is a section toward the end of the book that illuminates third wave and specialty coffee). Education on the process of getting from cherry to roast to cup, the identification of defects and such during that process, what goes to in to farming coffee in general, and the like, would also be good to know!
Overall, I give the book a 8.1/10, and would definitely recommend for any coffee enthusiast. It's truly a journey through time about something I enjoy every single day, and it only propels my interest and passion for coffee forward.
Got any questions? Let me know!