"The less you know,
the better you sleep."
-Russian proverb


Book Search


The Hippy Site

Rare Books

Seattle Book Fair



Coffee and nicotine: two things that for many, go hand in hand. Not only is coffee and tobacco a match seemingly made specifically with Parisian cafe' society in mind, they have many things in common. Tobacco-growing regions of the world, in general, are also coffee producing regions. Whereas tobacco is grown in rich fertile valleys, often in the shadow of volcanoes, Coffea arabica is grown on their slopes, taking advantage of nutrient-rich volcanic soils. Additionally, premium tobaccos and specialty coffees are graded in similar terms, and each have been catalysts for both political and cultural revolution.

The Complete Guide to Cigars: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Finest Cigars
by Steve Luck
Parragon Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4075-1604-2
176 pp

Steve Luck's The Complete Guide to Cigars: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Finest Cigars is a massive undertaking. Between its covers the author has endeavored to bring to light the history, successes, follies, trends and brands of the world's premium cigar industry. The result is a tome worthy of standing beside Guns, Germs, And Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond (Norton, $18.95), or Kenneth Davids' seminal work on specialty coffee, Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying (The Cole Group, $10.95).

In the Beginning
The practice of smoking tobacco, although common today, likely got its start as a medicinal and ceremonial ritual 5000 - 4000 BCE. By 300 CE the Mayan had adopted the practice and spread it through a network of established trade routes, reaching as far as the Mississippi Valley. The genie was out of the bottle.

Luck has a knack for peppering his writing with entertaining anecdotes. Whether writing on tabacco's ancient roots, or modern cultivation, he consistently comes through in keeping the subject matter lively and interesting.

Unfortunately, one can't write about tobacco without mentioning slavery. The two marched hand in hand throughout the Caribbean, establishing an international tobacco trade that remains vibrant today. Lucky handles the theme of forced labor deftly, acknowledging its injustice without flogging us for sins of the past. Though not exactly a fence-straddler, the author does exhibit a practiced gift for diplomacy, whether writing about something as thorny as slavery, or as geo-political as revolution.

Multi-national Industry
Cigars is a revealing - often surprising - look at the premium tobacco trade. While cultivation is almost entirely limited to tropic zones (the Carribbean, South America, Africa, Canary Islands, Micronesia) some of the best wrapping leaf (the outer shell of the cigar) is Connecticut Shade, a tobacco cultivated under shade, in the great state of its namesake. The result is a mild, unblemished, premium tobacco of high elasticity, desired by cigar makers the world over.

The practice - even with increasing Surgeon General Warnings - of smoking, is not going away anytime soon. Although there was a sharp decrease in cigar smoking following the U.S. embargo of Cuba, since then many former Cuban manufacturers have relocated to other parts of the Caribbean and beyond, for a share of the U.S. market. So successful have their in-roads been, that in the early nineties, sales were so good many cut corners to keep up with demand, creating a glut of lousy so-called premium cigars, which by 1997 had led to a near industry collapse. It's since recovered, growing steadily into an industry today with over $22 billion in annual sales.

While Cigars is a great reference tool for the cigar afficionado and student alike, it's also easy on the eyes. Its luxurious layout, and the use of thick paper, make it a delight to the senses. The back pages contain an exhaustive cigar directory (with the same keen eye for design) filled with industry info. intermixed with entertaining anecdotes that take it - as a directory - to a whole new level. That winning combination - of good writing and exceptional design - makes Cigars a delight to read, and one that's sure to garner the approval of even the most discerning reader.

Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying
by Kenneth Davids
The Cole Group, 1991
ISBN: 1-56426-500-5
$10.95, 254 pp

Kenneth Davids is the ultimate authority on coffee. Whether your interest lies in green beans, blending, roasting, brewing or serving, Davids has information you want. His mind is a search engine of coffee topics that predates Google. First published in 1976, Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying is Davids' manifesto on all things coffee, and is considered by many the holy grail of the specialty coffee world. Copies of his book are hoarded and jealously guarded by coffee afficionados and industry insiders alike. Among this hoard, there is a consensus that Davids, and Davids alone, can access the secrets behind the alchemy of the world's most popular cup of brew.

Farm to Table
Davids has divided Coffee into chapters that clearly drive home specific subjects. He covers everything from the history of coffee (and corrects some misinformation out there about its orgins) to roasting your own beans and creating tried and true coffee concoctions that are meant to satisfy the connoisseur in us. That our friends will be impressed with our agility (after some practice) is just an added bonus. He also covers coffee growing, rather late in the game, which feels out of sync. It would have made more sense to start with that, creating a natural progression from growing to harvesting to drying, etc.

      "[Coffee] is one of the few widely consumed modern foods that contains no multisyllabic preservatives, additives, or other adulterants."

Aware of the growing environmental - and health - consciousness of specialty coffee consumers, Davids includes a chapter on the subject. He points out that if organic coffee is unavailable in your market area, you can mail-order it. And while mail-order sounds like a guarantee of stale beans, he assures us it is not. These days, companies of all sizes offer overnight and next day freight. To this end, the author offers a list of dependable vendors - at least dependable by 1991 standards when my copy was last updated - who offer their products (both coffee and equipment) via the US Post. Some offer straight up organically grown coffee. Others, coffee that has traditionally been grown - and continues to be - without chemicals. Coffees from Yemen and Ethiopia are two such candidates. If, as consumers, we are still not satisfied with the safety of consuming coffee which has been treated in the field, Davids points out that the intense heat of roasting coffee burns off any trace chemicals it may contain, and reminds us "[Coffee] is one of the few widely consumed modern foods that contains no multisyllabic preservatives, additives, or other adulterants." Still not satisfied? Mail-order may be for you.

Pony Express Prime
While the term "mail-order" may sound like something from the era of the Pony Express, it's how millions of online shoppers receive their goods each day. Mail-ordering has been retooled with a modern lexicon of "standing orders," "product clubs" and "subscriptions." While these services offer automatic deliveries of recurring orders, freeing the consumer from the chore of placing weekly orders themselves, in their brass tacks they remain unchanged: good old-fashioned mail-order. The same service our parents and grandparents enjoyed.

When Kenneth Davids first compiled Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying in 1975, there were only six specialty coffee shops in Berkeley, California; only three offering a decent cappuccino. By 1987, the city boasted thirty cafes on just one side of the University of California campus alone. The specialty coffee boom had arrived, introduced in no small part by Davids' book. Considered by many a coffee manifesto - the coffee manifesto - Coffee has been the go-to guide of coffee professionals and coffee lovers alike, going on nearly fifty years now. If you're a lover of coffee and the myriad processes that go along with it, and you appreciate reliable, clear, accurate information on the subject, you'd do well - as many have - to make Davids' manifesto your own. Includes a helpful glossary of terms.

Coffee: A Connoisseur's View of Coffee, Its Lore, Varieties, Brewing Methods, Equipment & Companion Foods to Perfect Your Taste
by Charles and Violet Schafer
Taylor & Ng, 1977
ISBN: 0-91273-808-1
$4.95, 124 pp

If Kenneth Davids' Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying (The Cole Group, $10.95) is the last word on coffee, then Charles and Violet Schafer's Coffee: A Connoisseur's View of Coffee, Its Lore, Varieties, Brewing Methods, Equipment & Companion Foods to Perfect Your Taste is the first. Whereas Davids focuses his expertise on the subtle technicalities of specialty coffee, The Schafers lend theirs to the social aspects of it.

No novices to the food and beverage industry, they have between them more than fifty years sharing their gastronomical adventures with the world. Hyper-inquisitive, they infuse their writing with lore, history, anecdotes and practical advice. While others write for the industry, the Schafer's audience is clearly outside the business of coffee. They write (and do it well) for people not too dissimilar from themselves; curious readers looking to enrich the social experience around their daily cup.

To that end, they offer advice on brewing, along with a slew of different apparatus for creating the ritual that's right for you. Not all of us have time to hover over a coffee pot to see that it's removed at precisely the right moment; for them, an automatic drip pot's a likely fit. Those of us who do have the time and a desire for ritual may want to try a stovetop espresso maker.

The Schafers also share ideas for coffee parties. Like Davids, they offer coffee concoctions that are sure to impress, along with recipes for traditional breads and sweets that reads like a dessert menu for the U.N.

Coffee is the sixth title in a series on foodcraft the Schafers have written for Taylor & Ng showcasing their passion for food and adventure. Although its audience is slightly askew of Davids', its no less relevant. Rather, as it speaks to the layman, it may be more.

posted 02/22/23