canada.com -- As they contemplate that bracing cup of hot java every morning, probably few people reflect on the history of their favourite drink.
That's a shame because, even though coffee came on the scene relatively recently compared to beverages such as beer and wine, its story is fascinating.
In his book Coffee: A Dark History, Antony Wild offers a torrent of fact and fable about his topic and, true to the title, takes a decidedly dark approach to the tale.
Rather than coddle readers by drawing them in with some history or anecdotes, Wild charges forth in Chapter 1 to detail the plight of the underpaid and exploited millions whose livelihood depends on raising coffee beans while large marketers reap huge profits.
Only then does he turn to the history of coffee, its first appearances in Ethiopia and Yemen -- where the city of Mocha gave its name to the beverage -- and its growth as a popular drink in the 16th century.
Wild offers fascinating tales of coffee's history on the remote island of St. Helena, where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his final years in exile; reports that German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe inspired Swiss chemist Gustav von Runge's discovery of caffeine; and tells of Franz Georg Kolschitsky, who is said to have used beans left behind by a retreating Turkish army to open the first coffeehouse in Vienna.
But the dark side is never far below the surface as Wild stresses how coffee followed sugar in promoting the international slave trade. And he ends up back where the book started, stressing the poverty of today's coffee farmer and the Fair Trade effort to guarantee the small grower at least a decent price, an effort he deems "laudable but ultimately inadequate."
Coffee: A Dark History, by Antony Wild (Norton)