Coffeeland: exploring the mucky residue of exploitation in your coffee cup
Book review: In El Salvador, nearly every aspect of existence centred around coffee production
Sedgewick anchors his coffee story in the overarching contexts of an expanding global marketplace and early US imperialism. Photograph: Tom Honan
Coffee: there have been more books written about the black stuff than you’d imagine. They range from Jonathan Morris’s recent espresso-sized Coffee: A Global History to William H. Uker’s 1922 extra-tall-long-shot-double-cupped epic All About Coffee. Few, however, have captured the mucky residue of exploitation resting in your cup of joe as effectively as Augustine Sedgewick’s Coffeeland.
The book is essentially a modern history of El Salvador. Lacking an Atlantic coastline, the Central American territory was something of a backwater when it won independence from Spain in 1821. What El Salvador did possess, though, was rich soil. Accordingly, within two generations the tiny republic was transformed into one of the most intensive monocultures in modern history: a violent and unequal place of white-skinned capitalist “haves” and an indigenous mass of “have nots” where nearly every aspect of existence centred around coffee production.