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The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee
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The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,626 ratings  ·  212 reviews
In this captivating book, Stewart Lee Allen treks three-quarters of the way around the world on a caffeinated quest to answer these profound questions: Did the advent of coffee give birth to an enlightened western civilization? Is coffee, indeed, the substance that drives history? From the cliffhanging villages of Southern Yemen, where coffee beans were first cultivated ei ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published October 1999)
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Recently, the Goodreads blog asked users to name their favorite nonfiction books. In addition to the usual bestsellers posted, a friend of mine suggested The Devil's Cup about the history of coffee consumption. I consider myself to a coffee drinker and slight caffeine addict, so I was intrigued by this concept for a book. In a part historical overview and part travelogue, Stewart Lee Allen enlightens his readers on how coffee emerged as the beverage it is today.

Allen's quest begins in Ethiopia.

When the sweet Poison of the treacherous Grape
Had acted on the world a general rape;...
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome liquor
That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker.
I have read this book this weekend for the third time. I never mentioned in my initial review that this is one of the most interesting travel journals I have read.


It was a review: ‘The Cream of the crop’ – by Neil Pendock - Sunday Time Lifestyle, Decem
Peter Tillman
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Peter by: Margitte
Entertaining account of the author's travels to explore the origins of coffee, starting in the Ethiopian highlands, where coffee bushes still grow wild. OK, since I knew almost nothing about the botany: . Holy cow, there are a LOT of species! But the main bean is Coffea arabica , the type species, which is what Allen's book is about: .

Anyway, Allen's factual info agrees with the Wikipedia info, which is reassuring, sin
Darya Conmigo


This is often my first immediate feeling about journalism and travelogue books. Dear author, you obviously did your research (as evidenced by lots of facts and by acknowledgements to a dozen libraries from different parts of the world - which as a librarian I really appreciated), you know a lot of stuff on the topic, so why on earth won't you share your sources with the rest of humanity, damn it?! You are telling me 90 per cent of the world coffee is coming from Mart
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'd lost track of this book. I knew I'd read a neat book about caffeine, but thought it was called Cafiends or something.

Get it? Cafe-Fiend? I'm pretty sure there was a great all-night coffee shop in Christchurch, New Zealand, somewhere near Cathedral Square, with this name, way back in 1992. I might have the name wrong. I'd just come down out of the mountains, practically running downhill with the thrill of being as healthy as I ever had after three months of on-and-off backpacking in the Sout
Apr 19, 2015 rated it liked it
If I had stopped at the 75% point of this book, I would have given it a 4. The intrepid and also dangerous travel, the witness, the history of coffee were more than interesting and intriguing, they were absolutely enthralling. Especially since it also educated me upon certain Middle-Eastern sects and divisions that I had almost entirely been confused upon before in my history reading. Especially in the 600 - 1500 A.D. components of Middle Eastern countries' histories as such. Like the Sufis as a ...more
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, book-club
Well, it's mostly about coffee, but coffee as a theme to unify a travel adventure story of the penniless backpacking variety. This is not a book I would have picked out for myself, but it was a book club selection and I'm glad now I read it.

Allen's off-handed and fantastical claims as to the importance and centrality of coffee in mankind's advancement are just that, off-handed and fantastical, but thought-provoking nonetheless (he talks, for example, about pre- and post-coffee humanity, with the
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you can handle a wild ride you'll love this book. Who'd have thought someone would put his life on a limb (more that once) to follow the coffee trail. Crossing dangerous borders, um....Yemen in general.

Then there's his interesting philosophy about coffee houses. When they start infiltrating a culture, more diverse opinions are debated within coffee shops resulting in a country less war loving and more intellectual. The last sentence doesn't do Allen's philosophy justice. He argues it much mo
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was the most alternately rollicking and terrifying memoir I have read in a long time. The author is a fearless adventurer who seems to think nothing of setting sail on the Red Sea with a bunch of Somali refugees, going into a rebel area of Ethiopia in search of coffee leaves (Ethiopians made a sort of coffee-tea with them before beans were ever ground), wandering through Yemen by crowded taxi and working as a "nurse" in Mother Theresa's Calcutta hospice. He does all of this in search of the ...more
Michael Jandrok
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Stewart Lee Allen's "The Devil's Cup" is one of those books that appear to suffer somewhat from a case of multiple personality syndrome. It's gonzo food journalism with a healthy dose of history and cultural anthropology carefully disguised as a travelogue. And honestly, that’s perfectly fine with me. Food and culture can’t be separated in my mind, and to really understand any aspect of food culture is to make some sort of an attempt to place the subject into its proper social context.

As such,
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was ok

Not what I thought it would be - basically just a travelogue padded out with some facts here and there - it needed more history and less on-the-go navel gazing.
Nicholas Marrone
Feb 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2009
I am a coffee drinker. I am also a world traveler and an amateur adventurist. Much of my reading takes place in a caffeine addled state in local cafes. This book provides an entertaining introduction to coffee culture around the world and one man's attempt to follow the historical path of coffee to its modern state.

While the prose is not beautiful, there are plenty of laughs and moments of insight during the story. I'm not sure I believe everything that happened but I don't really care. The boo
Jul 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: islamic-history
Allen's travels from Kenya to Ethiopia to Yemen to India to Turkey to Austria to Germany to France to Brazil are quite well written and fun to read as he traces how coffee was first discovered in Africa and then transmitted to the wider world. It kind of reads like ne'er-do-well wanders four continents in search of coffee and book deal. However when Allen gets to the United States he kind of turns into a 35 year old teenager who is still being hassled by THE MAN. I found myself both really likin ...more
Cole Schoolland
Mar 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
Very fascinating account of the historical journey of coffee and chalk-full of nice little tidbits about its impact on society. However, it is pretty horribly written. As a narrative it starts strong but slightly annoying: we get it, traveling is dangerous. You are a brave. Through the book it starts to disintegrate and by the end it leaves the reader confused as to the purpose of the last 50 or so pages. I would skip the book and just spend an hour or two checking out the history of coffee on w ...more
Apr 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: food
The author seems like the kind of jackass you meet in Northern California who says he's going to become a shaman in south america. Way too much personal digression in this book. ...more
May 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wild ride of a book from a wild man. Totally fun. The author makes choices that are mind-blowing but he tells a good story.
Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it
I really liked this book, but it is important to know what to expect. You will not find a history of coffee in the usual scholarly style.In fact, it is as much of a travelogue as it is a book on the history of coffee. The author follows the trail of coffee as it spread throughout the world. It tells the story in a lighthearted, trivia kind of way, but that does not diminish the value of the information, which is accurate. Rather, it is decidedly and intentionally non-scholarly and avoids any att ...more
Oct 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Part goofball travelogue, part anecdotal history of coffee. The author travels from Ethiopia to Yemen to Turkey to Vienna to Paris and finally to the US, tracing the major developments in the humble cup of joe. He has terrible judgment, continually involving , he becomes enmeshed in a con which involves shipping counterfeit paintings from Calcutta to Paris. He is stopped in rural Tennessee by police and has his car searched. The cops find a vial of pure caffeine ordered over the internet, which ...more
Jul 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I'll admit that I picked up this paperback because on the cover it says that Anthony Bourdain thought it was "Absolutely riveting." I do love Bourdain.

This is a light read, part history of coffee and part hilarious travelogue - I liked the travelogue parts better than the history parts, but on the whole it is entertaining. I think it fell quite short of proving its thesis that coffee enlightened humanity, but it is still a fun book for a coffee-lover such as myself.

Here are some memorable quote
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well it was interesting, that's for sure. As far as the completeness of the history, that's a bit questionable. The most authoritative history of coffee that I've come across (and still consider the best read on the subject) is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. This book was a lot of travelogue with a bit of coffee's history thrown in for good measure. I will have to say however that I did come away with two things, a new coffee drink* ...more
Roberto Macias
Oct 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
This one is fairly interesting. So perhaps this is not a list of chronologically ordered facts about coffee, but it does explore the myths that have gone with the beverage. It also follows the steps of coffee (at least geographically) and includes a long list of interesting subjects. If anything it might send you on a path of discovery like for example the origin of Candomble and the Orixas in African religion as a consequence of slaves in Brazil and of course how coffee played a role in the cul ...more
May 15, 2011 rated it liked it
I finished the book last night. What do I think of it? Well, the book is entertaining at times, but also rather boring at other times. Some of the author's theories were quite far-fetched and not very well founded, I thought. The author is an art smuggler among other things... But, hey if the book is entertaining, I suppose that doesn't really matter for the quality of the book. A few quotes: Page 111: "At this time to refuse or neglect to give coffee to their wives was a legitimate cause for di ...more
I am not super well-educated on coffee (translation: Sorry, I was raised with American coffee). With that in mind, I thought this book was an enjoyable read and journey for those who are interested in coffee. There are some discussions on entertaining and interesting stuff about the variety, cults, culture, and theories around coffee (how it got to where it is now, the social balance / injustice around the coffee production, how different cultures recognize/ dismiss it, etc). The author did spen ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A travel journal meets history, The Devil's Cup traces the history of coffee from a bush in Ethiopia to Yemen where it was first brewed to the Islamic world where it kept Muslims awake for their daily prayers to Europe where the French roasted it to serve as a laxative to Boston where colonists drank it after dumping tea and finally to the caffeine-addled drivers of Los Angeles.
Read and you'll discover how Lloyd's of London and the NYSE started out as coffee shops. You'll learn how the world's f
Kaitlyn Barrett
I love this mix of story, history and the subject matter. And the setting in Africa.

Overall, I like his story telling voice but the book is kind of an awkward blend of historical anecdotal information and travelogue. Parts of it worked better than others.

The latter part of the book where he’s traveling across the US looking for American coffee was pretty awful and it doesn’t feel real. I'm guessing the real story was prosaic and boring so he made things up to make it more exciting. It’s a stark
I wasn't much of a fan of this book. I was hoping for a microhistory about coffee (think Salt), but instead it was mostly a rambling, almost aimless journey by the author from one questionable location to another, with some coffee history factoids thrown in. I can understand the appeal if you're into travel memoirs, but I'm not usually a fan of those kinds of books. This author is clearly more well-traveled and spontaneous than I will ever be, and good for him ... but I still wish I'd learned mo ...more
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Overall, I found the history fascinating and most of the travelogue parts entertaining and informative in their own right. However, the part about the U.S. bogged me down. It seemed like he lost track of where to go with the narrative since it was the end of the spread of coffee (at least what the book covers), and wraps up the book with a long-winded, pointless road trip story. I did find it interesting to read about coffee in the U.S. in a book published in 1999, when coffee shops were present ...more
Oct 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
While entertaining, I found myself doubting Allen's candor more often than I would have liked. Also, our philosophies on coffee differ radically--he seems to feel the most important quality of coffee is that it is a stimulant and has apparently no interest in enjoying it simply as a beverage. Of course, I, coffee snob that I am, find this blasphemous. ...more
Dec 05, 2015 rated it liked it
For the most part the books was quite interesting. Part travelogue, part historic narrative but it petered out in later chapters. The writer redeemed the book in the last chapter but the "characters" it ended w were an awkward pairing. Maybe I read too much into the character relations, but for the historic part, learning about coffee's origins was fascinating. ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best and lightest and most interesting readings I've ever did..

Really funny too but full of knowledge *sometimes shocking* about the history of the drug or the addiction or whatever you call it (dpending on how serious about it you are haha)..
Enjoyed every bit of it..
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The last five years of world history have been nothing if not...eventful. When living in interesting times, there's nothing better for...
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“Beer for breakfast, ale for lunch, stout with dinner and a few mugs in between. The average Northern European, including women and children drank three liters of beer a day. That's almost two six-packs, but often the beer had a much higher alcoholic content. People in positions of power, like the police, drank much more. Finnish soldiers were given a ration of five liters of strong ale a day (about as much as seven six-packs). Monks in Sussex made do with 12 cans worth.” 4 likes
“At this time to refuse or neglect to give coffee to their wives was a legitimate cause for divorce among the Turks." William H. Ukers (1873-1945).” 3 likes
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