Can a cup of coffee reveal the face of god? Can it become the holy grail of modern-day knights errant who brave hardship and peril in a relentless quest for perfection? Can it change the world? These questions are not rhetorical. When highly prized coffee beans sell at auction for $50, $100, or $150 a pound wholesale (and potentially twice that at retail), anything can happen.
In God in a Cup, journalist and late-blooming adventurer Michaele Weissman treks into an exotic and paradoxical realm of specialty coffee where the successful traveler must be part passionate coffee connoisseur, part ambitious entrepreneur, part activist, and part Indiana Jones. Her guides on the journey are the nation's most heralded coffee business hotshots-Counter Culture's Peter Giuliano, Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts, and Stump-town's Duane Sorenson. Weissman tells the absorbing tale of an odyssey she shares with these and other brash visionaries who devote themselves to coffee with near-religious fervor, unquenchable energy, and geek-like attention to detail. This journey through the rituals and rivalries of today's ultra-premium coffee business begins in a sweltering Central American hotel, where "cupping" competition judges sniff and spit their way through hundreds of cups, detecting tobacco, chocolate, and blueberry in the brews. Then, visiting remote farms in Nicaragua, Panama, and Burundi, the buyers encourage growers to improve coffee quality, offering fabulous prices for exquisite beans, and in so doing, they unwittingly upend existing markets. Dealing directly with farmers, the buyers sometimes run afoul of governments, the Fair Trade movement, cooperatives, and the farmers themselves. In Ethiopia-the mother ship of the coffee universe-the young coffee guys search for the birthplace of the legendary Geisha coffee, presumed genetic parent of the coveted, prize-winning Hacienda La Esmeralda Special. Instead, they discover a world of coffee not yet known-thousands of varieties never cultivated, never catalogued, never cupped. Back home, Weissman examines how specialty roasters tap into a growing consumer fascination with premium coffee. She visits Stumptown in Portland, the rock-and-roll coffee roaster some consider the most cutting edge in the world; tracks the progress of Chicago's Intelligentsia, which will go anywhere and spend any amount to acquire the best beans and is now engaged in a high-stakes gamble to conquer the Los Angeles market; and explores Counter Culture's approach of teaching students, chefs, and foodies the secrets of high-end coffee while wholesaling beans to the hottest coffee bars and restaurants up and down the East Coast. With their obsessive standards and fiercely competitive baristas, these roasters are creating a new culture of coffee connoisseurship in America-a culture in which $10 lattes are both a purist's pleasure and a way to improve the lives of third-world farmers. If you love a good cup of coffee-or a great adventure story-you'll love this unprecedented look up close at the people and passions behind today's best beans.Weissman goes behind the scenes of the coffee business and coffee culture, traveling with two coffee buyers to Ethiopia, Burundi, Nicaragua, and Seattle, and shares anecdotes from her adventures looking for a now-legendary coffee varietal called Geisha. Not just a narrative, she also reports what the best coffees in the world are and why, where they are from, and how they should be brewed. She brings to life personalities of the coffee business, from the "coffee guys"-buyers, roasters, and retailers who trek the globe in search of "perfect coffee"-to the competition judges ("cuppers") who each have signature slurps; to the coffee growers in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia.A fascinating inside look at the high-stakes world of specialty coffee In 2007, La Esmeralda Special, a crop of Geisha-variety coffee beans from the hills of western Panama, set an auction record when it sold for $130 a pound wholesale. What made this coffee so special? And just who were the bidders who drove the price so high, who "saw God" in a cup of joe? Journalist Michaele Weissman decided to find out. Tagging along with coffee buyers from two of the country's most renowned specialty roasters, she embarked on an odyssey that would take her all the way to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, and deep inside today's coffee-geek culture. Along the way, she attends a coffee cupping competition in Nicaragua, where judges detect flavors like tobacco and blueberry as they sniff, slurp, and spit. She visits remote coffee plantations and describes how direct coffee-buying deals are helping growers improve their lives. And she introduces us to a celebrity barista who scoffs at Starbucks and serves $12 lattes. For anyone who loves coffee, God in a Cup provides an unprecedented close-up look at the people, passions, and obsessions behind today's super-premium coffee culture. Michaele Weissman (Chevy Chase, MD) is a journalist and author whose work appears frequently in publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.God in a Cup "When Geoff Watts, the buyer for Intelligentsia, tasted Hacienda La Esmeralda Special at the Panama coffee competition, the coffee was so aromatic he said he felt as if streams of light were pouring out of it. But the remark that got the coffee world's attention came from Don Holly, quality control manager for Green Mountain Coffee in Vermont. When Dontasted Esmeralda Special for the first time, he said the coffee was so transporting that when he tasted it, he 'saw the face of god in the cup.' "From the first moment the judges leaned over the small white porcelain 'cupping' bowls and sniffed, Esmeralda Special demanded their attention. The coffee hit them over their heads with a crazy perfume bath of floral and citrus. Within this heady brew, they detected fragrances no one had ever smelled in Panamanian coffee: ginger, blackberry, ripe mango, citrus blossom, and exotic bergamot. Many commented that Esmeralda Special was bursting with the kind of good acidity-coffee buyers call it brightness-that is rare in Latin America, but common in the best coffees from East Africa. "Esmeralda Special quickly became one the biggest things to happen in the specialty coffee world. Soon high-end retail customers were spending crazy amounts of money for this rare little bean." -From God in a CupFrom Ethiopia to Panama to Portland, journalist Weissman shadows today's vanguard "coffee guys" in their pursuit of the perfect, caffeinated beverage. With increased demand for specialty roasts superior to the mass-marketed offerings at Starbucks, Weissman illustrates how the origin, flavor compounds and socioeconomic impact of a cup of coffee are relevant now more than ever. Alongside industry leaders from some of the U.S.'s top roasters-Counter Culture, Intelligentsia and Stumptown-Weismann treks to the birthplace of coffee, remote plantations, and international competitions where the best coffees in the world are cupped (or tasted), scored and where winners like Panamanian grower Hacienda La Esmeralda's revered "Geisha" coffee earn $130 per pound. Visiting both ends of the producer-consumer spectrum, she sheds light on the partnership between those who sell premium coffee and the impoverished who farm it-examining how specialty standards enable improved production, exceptional beans, fair prices and fatter pockets across the board. On the imbibing end, Weissman penetrates today's amped-up coffee culture: its sleek coffee bars, tattooed coffee-geeks behind the counters, fiercely competitive roasters working alongside champion baristas. Tagging along behind the main characters in today's specialty coffee scene, Weissman travels from the exotic to the expected to artfully deconstruct the connoisseur's cup of coffee. (May) (Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2008)"In God in a Cup, journalist and late-blooming adventurer Michaele Weissman treks into an exotic and paradoxical realm of specialty coffee where the successful traveler must be part passionate coffee connoisseur, part ambitious entrepreneur, part activist, and part Indiana Jones. Her guides on the journey are the nation's most heralded coffee business hotshots - Counter Culture's Peter Giuliano, Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts, and Stumptown's Duane Sorenson." "Weissman tells the tale of an odyssey she shares with these and other brash visionaries who devote themselves to coffee with near-religious fervor, unquenchable energy, and geek-like attention to detail. This journey through the rituals and rivalries of today's ultra-premium coffee business begins in a sweltering Central American hotel, where "cupping" competition judges sniff and spit their way through hundreds of cups, detecting tobacco, chocolate, and blueberry in the brews."--BOOK JACKET.
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