Why I wrote Uncommon Grounds
So, am I really some kind of caffeine junky? That's one of the first questions I get, since I have written histories of coffee and Coca-Cola. No, though I do love good coffee and I enjoy an ice-cold Coke on a hot summer day. The fact is, however, I only drink one or two cups of coffee a day, in the morning, and I drink more Sprite than Coke. I wrote the books because I am fascinated by how relatively nonessential items can have such an amazing meaning and influence upon our lives and cultures. Coffee is, after all, just the pit of a berry growing on a small tree native to the rainforests of Ethiopia. Coca-Cola is 99% flavored sugar water. Yet coffee is the second most valuable legal traded commodity on earth (after oil, another black energizing liquid), and Coca-Cola is the second best-known word on earth and the world's most widely-distributed branded product. How these things came to be turns out to be fascinating history, with quirky characters, high drama, tragedy, comedy, and inter-disciplinary contributions to anthropology, history, sociology, marketing, and management theory.
One of my frustations is that many people assume they must be coffee fiends in order to enjoy Uncommon Grounds, or Cokaholics to read For God, Country and Coca-Cola. That's why I was so pleased when Matthew Budman, a reviewer in a New Jersey newspaper, revealed that he has never drunk a cup of coffee in his life, then wrote: "So the fact that I stayed engrossed throughout Mark Pendergrast's history of coffee is an unmistakable sign: This is a wonderful book. No love of cappuccino or decaf lates is necessary to find Uncommon Grounds a fascinating read."
The book is garnering many glowing reviews such as that one. Like most authors, however, I obsess on any negative critique. The NYC Amazon reader (posted here) who said the book "doesn't deliver on its title on how coffee transformed our world" is offering an unfair critique, since the little bean has indeed prompted major environmental, social, and political changes. Read the book and you'll see what I mean. The same reader objects to my "moralizing," when in fact I simply stated the facts and allowed readers to form their own conclusions, until the last chapter, when I figured I had earned the right to state a few measured opinions. Finally, I did answer the question of why France uses so many inferior beans. It's a matter of history and habit. Napoleon's "Continental System" of the early 19th century forced chicory on the French, and they got used to it. Later, French colonies such as the Ivory Coast grew huge amounts of inferior robusta beans, which the French drank.
But of course I cannot please everyone. It is gratifying to know that so many people are enjoying the book, often along with some really fine coffee.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.