Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Various Flavors of Coffee

It was a cup of coffee that changed Robert Wallis’s life—and a cup of very bad coffee at that. The impoverished poet is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets Samuel Pinker. The owner of Castle Coffee offers Wallace the very last thing a struggling young artiste in fin de siècle England could possibly want: a job. But the job Wallis accepts—employing his palate and talent for words to compose a “vocabulary of coffee” based on its many subtle and elusive flavors—is only the beginning of an extraordinary adventure in which Wallis will experience the dizzying heights of desire and the excruciating pain of loss. As Wallis finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his coworker, Pinker’s spirited suffragette daughter Emily, both will discover that you cannot awaken one set of senses without affecting all the others. Their love is tested when Wallis is dispatched on a journey to North Africa in search of the legendary Arab mocca. As he travels to coffee’s fabled birthplace—and learns the fiercely guarded secrets of the trade—Wallis meets Fikre, the defiant, seductive slave of a powerful coffee merchant, who serves him in the traditional Abyssinian coffee ceremony. And when Fikre dares to slip Wallis a single coffee bean, the mysteries of coffee and forbidden passion intermingle…and combine to change history and fate.

I was instantly charmed by the cover of this book, and by its promising resume. Not only was it cheap - which in my opinion quite doesn't typify the quality of the book - but it also was about the unconventional matter that is coffee. In the end it ended not being only about roasted beans, but also love and passion, women's suffrage, foreign travel, slavery and economics, all delivered in a nicely flavored Victorian London.

I think I could go on babbling about how good this book was, because I can't find anything grandly negative to state about it. I found the main character, Robert, eccentric and quite silly but lovable in the end. Then there was Emily who worked for her father as an employee and who portrayed the entire feminine strength in her role as a suffragette afterwards, and Fikre the exotic but fierce slave. All of the characters were really interesting and different, each having their own stories and plots and each them a big in influence in Robert's life.

I really liked how much odors and flavors were in the descriptions. It was as if you could smell everything the same way Robert did, and the writing was very rich and smooth.

I learned so much about coffee in this book. About all it's flavors, how it is grown in Africa and Brazil, about its trade back in London. I also got to learn more about the first big coffee brands. It made me want to taste all those types of coffee myself. It's really surprising to see how much these beans had an important role back in the XIX century. I would never had thought such a complex industry was related to them. In any case, this book was very instructive both on the matter of coffee but of London in this fin-de-siècle period.

So in conclusion this is a very good read. Some may not like Robert's foolish character but I enjoyed it quite. I think it's a book worth to read if you are interested in coffee and what to know everything about it. There's also a fair amount of drama, twists and surprises, and a very good amount of politics and suffrage in London.

I do warn younger readers; it is quite an erotic book, and there's a lot of love-making. ;)

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella
Rating: 9,4/10

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