RENDER

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BOOK REVIEW | Longberry: An Occasional Journal of Coffee

Book ReviewsJes Gearing

When does a cup of coffee become more than just a cup coffee? Longberry, a self-proclaimed “occasional journal of coffee,” answers this question in a thousand ways. Edited by James Hoffman, the 2007 World Barista Champion and cofounder of Square Mile Coffee, the journal’s first issue covers quite a bit of territory in addressing the cultural, political, historical, ethical, and artistic elements of coffee – all with full awareness of the intrinsically personal and place-based nature of the cup.

Each essay and interview in the journal touches on the concept of place in some way, and its role in the production and enjoyment of coffee.  Hoffman (and his creative partners Ben Szobody and Jacob Forrest) position an environmental consciousness in the very beginning of the journal with Stephen Wade’s “Terroirism,” an essay that investigates the terroir – the mix of characteristics like geography, climate, and soil, that define a product or placeof the coffee house.  Wade explores the coffee house’s former designation as a third space in which communities gathered (think early 90s poetry slams, book clubs, and knitting groups), and notes that a café or coffee shop is now just a brand – a carefully, if not coldly, designed experience that promotes the bottom line.  For coffee culture to flourish, Wade writes, “it is imperative that the people who sell it look beyond the terroir of the coffees they promote to the terroir of the places where they live” (41).  In other words, the coffee house must move away from being a simple combination of cohesive design and quality coffee back toward the model of a third space; a place that fosters hygge, a Danish word meaning physical and emotional closeness of all.

Other articles focus more on coffee production. Ben Szobody’s “Under Duress: Herrera/Caballero” tells the story of a couple growing coffee beans above 1,550 meters, a high-risk elevation resulting in a loss of one-third of their trees per year.  Why plant somewhere so inhospitable?  “If we didn’t get to look at something beautiful, I don’t believe we would enjoy working on the farm as much,” said Herrera (60).  The place, the coffee’s terroir, gives the couple motivation to move forward.  And that terroir, in turn, gives consumers a fruity, crisp coffee that sells for $16.25 per twelve ounces in the United States.  Like wine, the environment in which coffee originates defines its flavor above all else.

Longberry really hits its stride towards the end of the journal with a socio-political critique of the fetishization of otherness in coffee’s rising popularity.  In “Coffee, Soap & Empire: Exoticism vs. Purity,” Robert Thurston explores the co-rise of coffee and soap and posits that the advertising of coffee and soap throughout the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries reveal two sides of an imperialized coin.  Historically, soap represents the superior ethics, religion and cultural identity of the colonizing western nations; coffee, on the other hand, embodies the exotic savage.  As consumers, we take the resources of the other, but the other must necessarily be sanitized in the process.  (This point is driven home with contrasting examples of coffee advertisements depicting dark “savages” and soap advertisements depicting Caucasian women and children sometimes literally attempting to scrub away darker skin.)

For a first publication from a group of friends with little-to-no publishing experience, Longberry is an aesthetically beautiful and well-curated journal.  Hoffman wonders in his opening essay if “We come for [coffee’s] usefulness, staying it’s for love[?] Or maybe we come for love, because it is useful” (15). Is coffee a commodity or is it something more artistic and therefore more politically, culturally, and environmentally charged?  And if we drink coffee, what is our commitment to understanding these underlying charges?  As a magazine, Longberry commits us to just that by raising awareness of the lifecycle of coffee and inviting you into the conversation – a vibrant discussion fueled by bottomless cups of coffee, of course.

 

Jes Gearing is a freelance writer & photographer based in Roanoke, Virginia.  She has yet to meet a donut she’ll turn down.  You can find more of her writing at JesGearing.com.