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Uncommon Grounds: The History Of Coffee And How It Transformed Our World

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,450 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
Since its discovery in an Ethiopian rainforest centuries ago, coffee has brewed up a rich and troubled history, according to Uncommon Grounds, a sweeping book by business writer Mark Pendergrast. Over the years, the beverage has fomented revolution, spurred deforestation, enriched a few while impoverishing the many, and addicted millions with its psychoactive caffeine. Cof ...more
Kindle Edition, 504 pages
Published (first published 1999)
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Jan 08, 2016 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Years ago, I'd read a book called The Devil's Cup by Stewart Lee Allen, which functioned as a combination travelogue/history of coffee throughout the world, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author traveled throughout Africa and the Middle East meeting unsavory characters and having memorable misadventures (at one point finding himself an art smuggler) while retracing the path coffee took from Eastern Africa through Yemen and the Ottoman Empire through Europe and into the New World.

I'd worried when
Brent McCulley
Jun 27, 2015 Brent McCulley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
THE GOOD: Detailed accounts of the competitive marketing tactics used by coffee companies in America throughout the past hundred plus years, as well as the history of the bean as it influenced coffee producing countries and their export relationships with the United States.

THE BAD: Writing with a journalistic and not objective historical tone which means the text is replete with the authors anachronistic judgments on everything from what advertisements were sexist to what coffee blends and metho
Aug 04, 2008 KeTURah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: noone
I'm giving this book only 2 stars due to poor writing and even worse editing. It seems as if after the first 175 pages the editors (feeling the same as I did) got bored reading the manuscript and just sent it to the printers out of exhaustion. This is most evident when you get to the last 50 pages, when we finally learn the most basic facts about the thing we had been reading about for such a painfully long time: coffee's chemical composition, and the scientific facts about caffeine's affect on ...more
Aug 23, 2008 Dawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in the history of coffee.
If you want an in depth, detailed look at the history of coffee, this is a great book to pick up. From its discovery in Africa, to how it became the second largest export in the world (with oil being the first); from plantation to cup, and everything in between, this book covers it all. It even describes the evolution of brewing techniques and instant coffees, weaving the history of coffee in with the history of world.

I work in the coffee industry as mostly a barista. I picked up this book in t
Feb 20, 2009 Meg rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I have to give the author credit; it can't have been easy to make coffee soporific. But that's just what Mark Pendergrast has done with Uncommon Grounds!

"Coffee provides one fascinating thread, stitching together the disciplines of history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine, and business, and offering a way to follow the interactions that have formed a global economy," he states in the concluding chapter. I totally agree; I think that that would have been a fascinating book. But that
May 19, 2013 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book deserves 3.5 stars- just can't rate it that way. After being in the airport in Addis Abba Ethiopia and seeing a woman sell the best tasting cup of coffee ever drank, and knowing that coffee began in the area, this book recommended by NPR became a MUST read. It's got the beginnings, the spread of coffee around the world, the change in the US from bulk selling to packaged sales. One finds out about how the various companies grew from entrepreneurs to coffee barons and then morphed into t ...more
Mar 31, 2015 Hudson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just could not get in to this book. Abandoned at 50%.
Mike Han
Apr 06, 2016 Mike Han rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The book started out just fine with details of how coffee was found, the art of brewing perfected and goes on to describe the way it had affected lives of everyone.

The premise is an intriguing subject, but the dry TMI way of delivery, political correctness syndrome that the author seem to suffer from and the expectation I had going in ruined it all for me. I stopped this book half-way Perhaps if I were more familar with the coffee brands that the author talked about, these businesses' nitty gri
More accurate title of this book could be USA Imperialistic Arrogance Told Over a Cup of Coffee. The "world" according to Pendergrast, stops where the US borders ends. This is a serious flaw for a book with such a pretentious title. More than 2/3 of the planet is blatantly ignored, and even giant countries such as Canada and Russia (or SSSR) are referenced in two sentiences each respectfully.
The author gives a good overview of the aggressive and in most cases, highly morally doubtful US busines
Oct 23, 2012 Matthew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
Uncommon Grounds is exactly what I was looking for. I had finished a similar commodity book (Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky) and was blown away. I was hoping for the same experience and am happy to say that I found something similar. The author goes into quite a lot of detail about the origin, trade, branding and questionable medicinal qualities of coffee in a relatively entertaining fashion. It gets a little bogged down at times but overall, Pendergrast succinctly digests coffee's hist ...more
Tso William
I rarely rated a book less than three stars but I made an exception for this book. The title, 'Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed our World', is totally misleading, not to say deceiving. It is better phrased as 'A History of Cheap Brands of Coffee in the United States of America'. I read this book with the expectation that coffee, as a healthily addictive drink, can unite people of different nationalities with its unique culture. What Mark Pendergrast wrote instead wa ...more
This is actually a really good book for the genre- I'm never sure if the stars are supposed to correlate to my internal satisfaction level entirely, or if some space is to be made for differences in genre. In any case, this book is a history of the advertising and economics of coffee and goes a long way to explaining the relative poverty of South America's coffee producing countries. It's also a fairly snobby history of how a cuppa joe's been brewed in this country since its inception- snobby in ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Jc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book interesting and informative.

As a coffee shop owner, I thought I should get some information about coffee in history. Many questions arose when I started reading this book such as how coffee has become so important in our everyday lives, and what direction coffee may be going towards in the future. Pendergrast does a great job in discussing all these topics and more.

I knew that there were a few global companies involved with coffee production worldwide but I was astonished by t
Apr 07, 2015 Surya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I have given this book 4 stars although I sometimes felt it deserved 4.5.

From the beginning(s) of Coffee to 2010, Mr. Pendergrast has covered it all*. He tells us the history of Coffee and of the Western world with it. The complicated commodities, slavery, rise and fall of Governments and indeed economies.

He has not spared US of A at all in this narrative and has clearly brought to the fore the consumerist society and it's accompanying ills. However, he also shines light on the greater people, t
Jun 10, 2014 B.C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the first book I read in regards to the craft that I am taking up. It was good. I enjoyed a lot of it. I also flipped through a lot of it.

The information was very thorough and I believe it to be well researched. I will say that some of the information presented carries a tone of guilt for the privileged. I will admit that it is difficult not to pull this information up without getting sucked into the pity of the third world.

I loved all of the information about the coffee houses and cu
Robert Hudder
This coffee book along with God in a Cup, has really solidified my feelings on Fair Trade vs Direct Trade. A history of the commerce part of coffee with the other bits thrown in. While there are some judgements in the book, it doesn't have the same currency bias that many books have on coffee or anything.

The current situation is not the best but rather the one that we got to. The last chapter about the current situation including the plethora of competing agri and agro social labels and the eff
Emir Haziq
Baca sebab nak buat artikel. Banyak maklumat baru, info tentang pemerdagangan komoditi dan lain-lain info yang dilupakan sejurus selepas menutup buku. Yang menarik tentang buku ni ialah sejarah asal dan penyebaran kopi ke seluruh dunia, dan yang lagi menarik betapa biji kopi ni dah banyak menghasilkan catatan-catatan yang hebat dalam sejarah. Secara langsung atau tidak.
Richard Ward
Jun 16, 2014 Richard Ward rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I seldom give up on a book, but I just couldn't finish this one, nor even get far into it. I love coffee, and I love quirky history books, so I was expecting to really enjoy this. Too often history consists of "and then this head of state did this, and then another head of state did that," as though humanity is government and nothing more. This book should have been none of that, right‽ Yet what I read of it was just more of the same as ever, treating political history as though it is the only h ...more
Dec 20, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting history of coffee with a good awareness of the social inequality of the coffee economy. I wasn't very impressed with the short "how to brew the perfect cup of coffee" section at the end, and the wasn't much info on brewing in general. But as a history book it was a great read.
Apr 26, 2010 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I confess that I tried; I tried to sit ddown and read the history of coffee, and it was just too much. Too much history, and too much information to absorb. It's a wonderful book, but overwhelming.
Jul 25, 2007 Sean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and exhaustive commodity history, with a sharp focus on the business aspect of everyone's favorite drink, especially from the nineteenth century forward.
Feb 28, 2016 H rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This is the first book about coffee that I have read and it was not bad for a "How coffee became what it is now" kind of book, and it is entertaining. It's a good book not a great book, which is why I gave it 3/5 stars. This book has it's pros and cons.

- It gives a detailed account of the history of coffee
- It's informative
- At some parts it's entertaining

- When Pendergrast uses too many numbers in a row it kind of loses it's value (ironically) and therefore loses the point of the par
Justin Hall
Apr 10, 2014 Justin Hall rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book for coffee lovers and gives a very detailed history of coffee. I just could not really stay focused on it and it was a bit dry at times. Being a barista and coffee shop owner I would definitely suggest it to staff members and customers to give them a good grasp on how important coffee is to the world and what it means to do it right. I think the only thing I have against this book is that I felt like I was reading it for a college class and not for pleasure and if you know me I am all ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fairly thorough history of coffee and its impact on those who grow it, those who market it and those who sell it. At times preachy and rife with proper names of people and places that gets confusing at times (he lists all the people he interviewed for the book but why? To impress us?). Just because he talked to someone doesn't mean he has to include that specific name instead of something more general such as "a grower in Guatemala," for example. Doing so slows down the story and annoys the read ...more
Feb 20, 2014 Ana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
As many other reviewers have mentioned, the book title is rather misleading. Or perhaps I chose to misconstrue it: when I think "our world" I think not just 100 pages of everyone else, and the rest of the United States.

I have been looking for a definitive read on the history of coffee, and this one seemed promising at first. It does take a very brief tour around the world, looking at some of the more scandalous tidbits of coffee's history. This book is not meant to be a scholarly text, and it d
Jan 01, 2009 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who are serious about their coffee and want to know more about it.
If you ever wanted to know the full and total history of the bewitching brew so many of us drink, otherwise known as "coffee", then you can't go wrong with this book.

It talks about everything for coffee - the origins, the history, the long and bloody history of the bean and its dominance for so long of Brazilian crops. How it was there to take the place of tea after the Boston Tea Party, how it was made and marketed in the early days, and all the companies that have been involved in coffee sinc
May 05, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Man this book was more interesting than I anticipated! The history of coffee as a commodity wasn't particularly gripping but I found the social and cultural aspects of coffee crazy interesting. Also it is difficult to get your head around the wild and often bloody ride that a pound of beans takes to get to your pantry.

In no particular order here are some interesting tidbits:
* Switching people's after-work drinks from a depressant (pubs) to a stimulant (coffeehouses) caused people to stop singin
May 31, 2015 Genna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Pendergrast’s succinct yet extensive text offers a comprehensive look at coffee’s birth and progression to a beverage with global significance. Covering centuries of coffee production and consumption, Uncommon Grounds leads the reader through the turbulent history of a product rife with bloodshed, economic strife, and cutthroat politics. At times heavy on the economic side of the coffee industry, this text still offers an unintimidating glimpse into the complexities of the coffee world.
I agree that this book is "the history of coffee," but I'm not sure I understand how coffee "transformed our world" after reading it. I enjoyed some of the detailed history, including harvesting and pricing issues for farmers, and the competition among early to mid 20th Century USA coffee brands. I would have appreciated some of the political and other details of shifting power from a few landowners to the farmers in coffee-growing countries. I didn't really get a sense of what needs to be done, ...more
Nov 09, 2014 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much while reading this, and it made me crave coffee the entire time!

Like other reviewers have said, this book definitely spends most of its time in America, and most of its time talking about business like Folgers and Maxwell House. However, he does touch on an extremely wide variety of topics.

My one star comes off because, ultimately, the book can be quite boring in parts. It just runs on and on and on and on. At times it feels more like a textbook than a pop history book.

I would
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Mark Pendergrast was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, the fourth of seven children in a family that valued civil rights, the environment, sailing, reading, and games of chase and charades. He earned a B.A. in English literature from Harvard, taught high school and elementary school, then went back to Simmons College for a masters in library science and worked as an academic librarian—all the w ...more
More about Mark Pendergrast...

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