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Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world–one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world’s most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick’s Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee’s five-hundred-year transformation from a mysterious Muslim ritual into an everyday necessity.
This story is one that few coffee drinkers know. It centers on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of Manchester, England, founded one of the world’s great coffee dynasties at the turn of the twentieth century. Adapting the innovations of the Industrial Revolution to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of extraordinary productivity, inequality, and violence.
Following coffee from Hill family plantations into supermarkets, kitchens, and workplaces across the United States, and finally into today’s ubiquitous cafés, Sedgewick reveals how coffee bred vast wealth and hard poverty, at once connecting and dividing the modern world. In the process, both El Salvador and the United States earned the nickname “Coffeeland,” but for starkly different reasons, and with consequences that reach into the present. This extraordinary history of coffee opens up a new perspective on how the globalized world works, ultimately provoking a reconsideration of what it means to be connected to faraway people and places through the familiar things that make up our day-to-day lives.