"I don't read books." - a book review.
Today, I tore through God In A Cup in about 3.5 hours, coupled with a beautiful cup (or two) of Kenya Kangocho Peaberry auction lot #4602. Having that coffee today deserves its own blog post... maybe I will some time.
For now, I have to share my thoughts on this book by Michaele Weissman, food-writer and author of a book she almost called, "On The Road With The Coffee Guys." Thank God someone talked her out of it.
Now I have to make a disclaimer: I'm in the book. Michaele wrote an article for the New York Times a couple-or-three years ago, and interviewed me for it. The prologue of the book includes a recounting of my making for her what Michaele says is her first cup of "real coffee," a 12-ounce cappuccino (yes, 12 ounces... it's on the menu... and yes, we have a 6 oz "real" capp too!), and that it sent her "down the rabbit hole into coffee land." What follows, I can only say that I'm deeply humbled and honored to have played the tiniest of roles in.
Michaele spent the next couple of years working on this book, where she travels to locales as exotic as Burundi and Ethiopia, and as familiar as NYC and Los Angeles, to chronicle the personalities and work of the Third Wave coffee professionals. There are, most who have read the book will tell you, four main characters in the book: Peter Giuliano (Counter Culture), Geoff Watts (Intelligentsia), Duane Sorenson (Stumptown) and a coffee known as Hacienda La Esmeralda Special.
The thing that's striking about reading the book, knowing these folks so well, is how much she "gets it." As affable and bright as they come, Michaele is really easy to talk to, and she approaches things with a wonder and twinkle in her eye in a way that I've mentioned more than once that she is like a teacher at Hogwart's, and you could totally see her schooling Harry Potter and his friends in some sort of hocus-pocus of writing and wizardry.
Starting with introductions of the four main characters, God In A Cup takes us along for Michaele's coffee education. From her first trip to origin, observing a Nicaragua Cup of Excellence competition, to not knowing where her passport is in Burundi, to being awestruck by the beauty of Boquete, Panama, to watching the US Western Regional Barista Competition in California, we read page after page of the sorts of stories that we coffee professionals have heard passed around through our oral tradition, but never in print like this.
There's some amazing stuff in here, that had me grinning from ear to ear. Michaele's description of the discussions during the Nicaragua COE that she attended, are the most "I felt like I was there" depiction of those legendary events that I've ever experienced. Her exposition on Peter and Geoff's dealings with coffee producers and a certain cooperative get into more detail than we're ever normally privy to. Her adventures in Africa made me clench my fists in that, "Dang... that sounds so AWESOME!" sort of way.
There is some stuff that will make folks wince, and might be hard to read for some. Personal stuff that you may not have known about certain people. Stories about rivalries and tiffs between folks. Baristas hatin' on other baristas, and looking kinda stupid in the process.
But none of that detracts from the book, and in fact, it made it all the more real to me. Michaele really does "get it," in a way that I've never read before from an "outsider" to the industry.
It will be interesting to see how our industry reacts to this book. Already, there is some degree of jealousy on the part of certain coffee professionals who feel that Peter, Geoff, and Duane are extolled more than they should be. That some coffee professionals are out there proclaiming this and that without acknowledging their predecessors, who actually pioneered the stuff that newer folks are being credited with. I hope people don't get too distracted with their own bullshit to be able to see and read clearly.
However, it begs the question that anyone on the "inside," will likely ask themselves after reading the book, "Will anyone out there really care about this book? Will it be interesting to non-coffee people?"
To me, the fact that there's a big cup of deep, almost black coffee on the cover, is where the answer lies. As coffee professionals, we can wonder whether or not our customers will be able to tell how great a coffee like Esmeralda Especial is. Some won't, frankly. Some may ridicule, and think it's pointless. But some... and I think in both the book's case and in coffee's case more than we'd think... some are going to read this book and be captivated by it.
Congrats Michaele, our friend and our scribe, on your book. Thank you for capturing the moment that is coffee today in such a special way. God In A Cup is available at Amazon.com, and at your local Barnes and Nobles (you can check stock at a store near you).