“Mark Pendergrast is a good-natured, inquisitive and gifted narrator . . . A hands-on historian, he begins by going to a coffee plantation in Guatemala and picking…and he ends, after an exhausting account of every known relation into which coffee might conceivably have entered, with explicit advice on how to brew a cup of drinkable joe.”

Seattle Times

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World


The first comprehensive business and social history of coffee.



About the Book


From its discovery on an ancient Ethiopian hillside to its role as millennial elixir in the Age of Starbucks, coffee has dominated and molded the economies, politics, and social structures of entire countries. The second most valuable exported legal commodity on earth, coffee delivers the largest jolt of the world’s most widely taken psychoactive drug. Revolutions have been planned, romances sparked, business deals sealed, novels written, and friendships cemented over this potent brew.


Uncommon Grounds unfolds a panoramic story of epic proportions, a tale of how coffee trees came to girdle the globe between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Grown on tropical mountainsides by poor laborers, coffee beans travel half-way around the world to the coffee bars of the United States, Europe, and Japan, where cosmopolitan consumers pay half a day’s Third World wages for a good cup of coffee.


Coffee has been banned as a creator of revolutionary sedition, vilified as the worst health-destroyer on earth, and praised as the boon of mankind. Its history provides a window through which to view broader themes of colonialism and culture clash, the rise of mass production, modern-day media and marketing, women’s issues, and international commodity schemes. It also illustrates how an entire industry can lose focus, allowing upstart micro-roasters to reclaim quality and profits.


Mark Pendergrast enlivens his scrupulously researched history with anecdotes, eccentric characters, and period commentary that will give readers stories to share — over good cups of coffee — for years to come. An uncommon brew, Uncommon Grounds offers a coffee-flavored history of the modern world.



Paperback, 554 pages (April 25, 2000)

Basic Books; ISBN: 0465054676

Dimensions (in inches): 1.27 x 9.18 x 6.10

List price: $19.00



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What Reviewers say:


“With wit and humor, Pendergrast has served up a rich blend of anecdote, character study, market analysis and social history.” — New York Times Book Review


“Few coffee drinkers suspect that they are affecting American foreign policy, the domestic policies of Latin-American and African countries, and the habitat of migratory birds. Pendergrast shows how and why they are. He has taken on a huge subject, but he organizes the facts skillfully and puts personalities in the perspective of their times. This encyclopedic volume is the entertaining result.” — New Yorker


“An exhaustive, admirably ambitious examination of coffee’s global impact. Pendergrast explains almost everything we’d ever want to know about coffee…. Should be read by anyone curious about what goes into their daily cup of Java.” — Kirkus Reviews


“Pendergrast’s fast-paced narrative reads more like a novel. Uncommon Grounds is a focused and juicy history of our last legal and socially acceptable drug.” —Wall Street Journal


“This well-written work could be used as an excellent case study, or as collateral reading, in a number of academic courses…. Interesting and profitable reading for a wide audience — general readers, undergraduate and graduate students, and professionals.” — Choice Magazine


“Pendergrast’s account satisfies because of its thoroughness. He lets complex issues — coffee’s role in economic development, labor exploitation, and environmental degradation — remain complex as he explores the intricate relationships among farmers, governments, corporations, and consumers.” — Mother Jones


“Pendergrast’s sprightly, yet thoroughly scholarly, history of America’s favorite hot beverage packs the pleasurable punch of a double espresso.” — Booklist


“Mark Pendergrast‘s Uncommon Grounds is rich stuff, a Larousse Gastronomique of coffee. In addition to providing a history of coffee cultivation and marketing from the first millennium to the present, it offers an explanation of how the world accepted inferior robusta beans in mass-market coffee for most of this century, tells how vast coffee frauds have been perpetrated on supposedly expert coffee tasters, and offers an understandable explanation of the neuro-chemistry of caffeine. It’s scholarship made vivid by fine writing. It’s also fun.” — Toronto Globe & Mail


Uncommon Grounds is a far-ranging and finely detailed history of coffee as a business, and a way of life….[The book is] Mark Pendergrast‘s nearly encyclopedic account of how coffee has been cultivated, processed, prepared and marketed.” — Newsday


“Pendergrast’s broad vision, meticulous research and colloquial delivery combine aromatically, and he even throws in advice on how to brew the perfect cup.”
 — Publisher’s Weekly


“The best news for the [coffee] industry is that Pendergrast accomplishes all this in a user-friendly, lively manner, making Uncommon Grounds a terrific read for both coffee consumers and the trade. If you’re looking for a way to enlighten people that $1.50 for a cuppa is little in the grand scheme of coffee production, promote Uncommon Grounds to patrons. Display it next to your cash register and note its worth to customers.” — Fresh Cup Magazine


“This thoroughly researched effort is the first of its kind, documentation of coffee roasting and consumption in the United States. This history is especially valuable in the lessons it lends to the still-burgeoning specialty coffee industry. Pendergrast’s three years of research benefit greatly from having been an outsider to the business, giving an unusually clear-eyed objectivity to the work.” — Scott Reed, Coffee & Cuisine Magazine


Mark Pendergrast


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