Coffee, tea and me? A brace of beverage books

Friends of the Lincoln Library column
By: Lora Finnegan Special to The News Messenger
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Remember that kitschy book from the 1960s called “Coffee, tea, or me?” Written by a couple of what we then called stewardesses , it detailed their careers in the airline biz, dispensing beverages with one hand while fending off (mostly) unwanted advances from tipsy businessmen with the other. That title came to mind as I wondered how to discuss two fun and insightful books from the library that I recently read back to back. Here’s how it all started: A friend gifted me with a lovely teak box, divided into compartments and emblazoned with the word “tea” on the front. I immediately fill it with expensive loose teas, then realize I don’t really know about proper British tea-brewing techniques (should I warm the cup first, exactly how long do I brew loose tea and so forth). The library to the rescue! I check out: “For All the Tea in China” by Sara Rose. Its subtitle: “How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.” I learn not only great tea-making tips but also how a Scotsman named Robert Fortune — on an undercover mission for the British East India Company — stole plants, seeds and secret processing techniques by smuggling them out of rural China in the 1800s. The Scotsman made a fortune (pun intended) for his company and helped make tea the second-most-guzzled liquid in the world (of course, water is the first). Inferior varieties of Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) were already cultivated in British-controlled India at that time but the best came from within the tightly controlled borders of interior China. Gardeners as well as tea sippers owe Robert Fortune a debt: while searching for tea, the explorer “discovered” and introduced to the Western world dozens of lovely ornamental plants — citrus, winter jasmine, tree peonies and the Japanese anemone. “All the Tea” makes a great armchair adventure read. Fortune’s single-minded quest for the perfect tea plant had elements of a spy mission: peril, secrecy, betrayal and two nations with a great deal at stake— and author Rose brings the reader along on the dangerous journeys. Having covered tea, I then start pondering what I really know about coffee. At a Friends of the Lincoln Library book sale (an ongoing sale is inside the library whenever the library is open —hardbacks cost $1), I buy “Uncommon Grounds: The History Of Coffee And How It Transformed Our World” by Mark Pendergrast. It proves to be another great read (and it, too, includes brewing tips)! The book traces the roots of coffee to Ethiopia, then follows the travel of Arabica and Robusta across the globe. I’m shocked to read how caffeine was, in earlier days, demonized as a dangerous substance and blamed for social ills and medical disorders (including “nervous depression”), as well as praised as a miracle cure for conditions such as “neuritis and neuralgia.” Of course, today, we know caffeine is a compound that can be, ahem, somewhat habit-forming. I love flipping past some of the vintage coffee ads in the book. You probably recall the “Good to the last drop” ad slogan but did you know President Theodore Roosevelt said it first, after enjoying a cup of Maxwell House? In 1921, ads promoted coffee as an aid to factory efficiency and thus led to the advent of the coffee break. Not all ads were benign: in the 1930s, ad illustrations portrayed husbands smacking their spouses when she served a bad cup of joe. The business of coffee in America had more ups and downs than the java in a percolator, until Starbucks arrived. Now, there’s no stopping coffee. Any day now, it may overtake tea as the second most-consumed beverage on Earth. That’s OK. Either way, I’m ready to brew a perfect cup — thanks to the books on loan from the library and for sale at the Friends of the Lincoln Library’s ongoing book sale (inside the library). Thanks for the magazines! The Lincoln Public Library at Twelve Bridges has lots of good nooks — quiet, well-lighted spaces equipped with comfy reading chairs — that are so handy when you want to read your fave magazine right there. Now, thanks to donations by local groups, Lincolnites can rest assured some specialty periodicals will continue to be available. Friends of the Lincoln Library volunteer Phyllis Brown tells us about several groups which have generously donated magazine subscriptions. Lincoln’s Rods & Relics group has donated “Street Rodder.” Sun City Lincoln Hills groups have been especially thoughtful. From the astronomy group comes the heavenly “Sky & Telescope Magazine.” The Needle Arts group pitches in to offer “Threads” and “Quiltmaker” periodicals and the Mac user group will provide subscriptions to “Mac Life” and “Mac World” magazines. If your group would like to offer a subscription, please call the Friends at 434-2404. On the calendar Free Family Movie Night this Saturday: Dr, Seuss’ “The Lorax;” doors open 5:30 p.m. at Lincoln Public Library at Twelve Bridges. Sponsored by Friends of the Lincoln Library. This column is part of a Friends of the Lincoln Library series. Have a question? Contact the Friends at 434-2404, at or e-mail Lora Finnegan is a Friends of the Lincoln Library member. This column may or may not necessarily express the opinions of The Lincoln News Messenger.