At 95 pages long Brian Williams’ The Philosophy of Coffee, as he points out at the start, is not a definitive history or guide to coffee. What it is is the perfect introduction to the subject. For over 5 years now Brian Williams’ has been writing on coffee on his blog Brian’s Coffee Spot building up and imparting a knowledge about coffee, its history, production, roasting and coffee shops that’s matched by very few.
Broken into 21 sections, each only a few pages long and focussed on a particular part of coffee’s history, development, culture and trade, the book is illustrated with 20 black and white images from the publisher’s, British Library’s, collection. Williams’ has a light, positive and engaging style that makes the book a fun and easy read, you’ll start it and next thing you know you’ll have finish.
The book unveils a fascinating history about the ebb and flow of coffee in the UK and globally to the point where it is now one of the most traded commodities and drunk more than any other drink. Compared to the likes of beer, coffee is a comparative new comer to the drinks scene (5000 years verses 2000 years). Its discovery is still disputed though it’s generally agreed that it was first discovered in Ethiopia.
Williams’ outlines the fascinating importance of Islam in its growth – coffeehouses grew up throughout the Islamic world in part due to the ban on alcohol. The Dutch East India Company, British and French Empires though explain the now vast breadth of places that coffee grows. Initially concentrated in Yemen, it moved to the territories of the empires, and now Brazil is the largest grower in the world while Yemen grows none. The culture of coffee and the related impact on politics and business is neatly outlined, especially the rise and fall of coffeehouses in London – both the original Georgian London ones and the espresso bars of Soho in the 1960s, and the subsequent rise of American and Antipodean coffee house styles.
Weaved though The Philosophy of Coffee are enlightening details of the global coffee trade, coffee production today and the threats it faces – the majority of coffee still comes from the strain grown in Yemen all those hundreds of years ago, and coffee rust can annihilate whole crops of it, making coffee and its future supply susceptible to destruction.
The Philosophy of Coffee tells you all you need to know about coffee and its development through history if your just curious, or for those that want to know more it’s the perfect place to start, pointing you to more detailed works worth checking out. It’s a superb read and one for any coffee lover.
The Philosophy of Coffee
Author: Brian Williams
Publisher: The British Library Publishing Division (25 Jan. 2018)