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Caffeine: How coffee and tea created the modern world
I had forgotten about Michael Pollan.
Years ago, I read Botany of Desire and fell completely in love with his writing. The way he took the reader, me, around the world and into the garden was a magic carpet ride into nature.
“Plants are nature’s alchemists, expert at transforming water, soil and sunlight into an array of precious substances, many of them beyond the ability of human beings to conceive, much less manufacture.”
― Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
I was smitten.
Like most relationships that begin hot and infatuous, my love for his writing was kicked to the curb by another. I won’t name any names, but it was all Bill Bryson’s fault.
Anyway, I was listening to the back catalog of the Diary of a CEO podcast when I heard a familiar voice saying, “Mental disorders that have a rigidity of thought- What psychedelics appear to do is break that habit of thought.” Then, I heard the host, “One of the 100 most influential people in the world, please welcome Michael Pollan.”
Memories of sensory-igniting vocabulary flooded back to me. While I have no interest in psychedelics, I continued listening, and I’m glad I did. Michael Pollan was there to talk about not only his writing and experiences with psychedelics, but he was also there to discuss his most recent book (at the time the episode aired), called Caffeine.
I was so intrigued. I think I downloaded the book before the interview was over. Being a regular coffee drinker, I was interested in reading a book about caffeine written by someone whom I trusted not to vilify coffee and tea for the sake of more book sales.
The book begins in classic Pollan form with him questioning his own dependence on caffeine. As the book goes on, he tells us about how goats may have discovered this magical fruit and how coffee farmers are turning the gourmet coffee market on its head. He also introduces us to sleep scientists who won’t touch anything with caffeine in it. We do all this while Pollan is going through caffeine withdrawal.
The thing I love most about this book is the way we are able to explore caffeine from start to finish without malice. We get the author’s personal experience, history, lore, and facts. How we feel about caffeine at end is entirely up to us.
As for my affair with Pollan’s writing, it’s back on. I’m currently reading Food Rules: An Eaters Manual, and This is Your Mind on Plants is next. Things are looking pretty solid, but I do hear the The History of Christmas by Bill Bryson is pretty good.