Synopses & Reviews
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.
From Ethiopia to Panama to Portland, journalist Weissman shadows todays 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 Esmeraldas 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 todays 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 todays specialty coffee scene, Weissman travels from the exotic to the expected to artfully deconstruct the connoisseurs cup of coffee. (May) (Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2008)
- 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.
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 Cup
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.
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.
About the Author
Michaele Weissman is a journalist and author who writes about food, families, business, and American culture. Her work appears frequently in publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. Her coffee blog can be found at michaeleweissmanwrites.com/godinacupofcoffee. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband.
Table of Contents
The Coffee Guys.
God in a Cup.
Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia.
Durham, North Carolina.
The Coffee Chain Explained.
Coffee Producers of the World.
Making Great Coffee at Home.