The Devil's Cup: An Interview with Stewart Lee Allen

The Resonance Project - Spring 2000

With The Devil's Cup, Stewart Lee Allen brought into being an amazing travelogue tracing the origins of coffee and its centuries-long relationship with mankind. But he said Starbucks wouldn't touch it. 

That's what I remember most about my discussion with him. I was flabbergasted. The company credited with modern coffee culture. The company brazen enough to open a coffee shop in Beijing's Forbidden City (a year after Allen's tome was published, no less). Coffee is their thing. Yet they wouldn't touch this book that so eloquently told the history of the bean for which they owe their existence. Why? Because the book was honest, that coffee is a drug delivery system. This struck me as censorship or revisionist history via commercial might. "Oh dear Lord, imagine how this dreadful tract would damage our brand in the global marketplace?"

By the year 1999, the masses had long been aware of the addictive nature of caffeine. Sure, coffee's not a syringe or a glass pipe, but it delivers a drug. It's not evil, it just is. Corporate denial doesn't change that scientific fact.

The Devil's Cup should have been a bestseller, available at every Starbucks during the company's heyday. Instead, it remains a jewel in ethnographic travel writing about a consumable of which millions of people are addicted, yet ignorant to the history.