Monday, December 10, 2012

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola - by Ricard Cortés

Several years ago my husband James decided to teach a new course about coffee. His idea was to teach students about everything that went into making their daily cup, from the plant, to the labor, to the processing and roasting, to the grinding and brewing. He asked me if I had any ideas for what to call the course. I suggested the provocative title "The Secret Life of Coffee". It has become a rather popular course offering here at Bridgewater State University. Of course, the title of this book immediately caught my eye when I noticed its review come across my desk. Cortés makes connections between the three title plants explaining how and why each has been forbidden in different times and places. The last part of the book explains about Coca-Cola's secret ingredient - "Merchandise No.5" and how Harry J. Anslinger, commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, in the 1930s  helped Coca-Cola  maintain its access to the coca plant, even as it was banned in the rest of the country. Using incredible reproductions of letters and other documents (Cortés recreated them all with his own pen and pencil illustrations) the author shows some remarkable correspondence demonstrating some rather corrupt practices.

Although this work has the look of a child's picture book, it is anything but. Heavily researched with extensive references, Cortés could not have made the book "without the help of librarians, especially of the New York Public Libraries; the National Archives at College Park, Maryland; the Special Collections Library of Pennsylvania State University; the New York Academy of Medicine Library; the Drug Policy Alliance; the Horticultural Society of New York; and the Brooklyn Public Library."

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