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The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony…
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The Various Flavours of Coffee (2008)

by Anthony Capella

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Too much poorly written smut, too little suffragism, but a good amount of coffee. ( )
  Jammies | Mar 31, 2013 |
Rating: 3.875* of five

The Book Report: The book description says:

From the internationally bestselling author of The Wedding Officer comes a novel whose stunning blend of exotic adventure and erotic passion will intoxicate every reader who tastes of its remarkable delights.

When a woman gives a man coffee, it is a way of showing her desire.
—Abyssinian proverb

It was a cup of coffee that changed Robert Wallis’s life—and a cup of very bad coffee at that. The impoverished poet is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets Samuel Pinker. The owner of Castle Coffee offers Wallace the very last thing a struggling young artiste in fin de siècle England could possibly want: a job.

But the job Wallis accepts—employing his palate and talent for words to compose a “vocabulary of coffee” based on its many subtle and elusive flavors—is only the beginning of an extraordinary adventure in which Wallis will experience the dizzying heights of desire and the excruciating pain of loss. As Wallis finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his coworker, Pinker’s spirited suffragette daughter Emily, both will discover that you cannot awaken one set of senses without affecting all the others.

Their love is tested when Wallis is dispatched on a journey to North Africa in search of the legendary Arab mocca. As he travels to coffee’s fabled birthplace—and learns the fiercely guarded secrets of the trade—Wallis meets Fikre, the defiant, seductive slave of a powerful coffee merchant, who serves him in the traditional Abyssinian coffee ceremony. And when Fikre dares to slip Wallis a single coffee bean, the mysteries of coffee and forbidden passion intermingle…and combine to change history and fate.

My Review: Um. Well. Uh. I have a problem here. I started reading one book, thinking I was getting one kind of thing, and I ended up getting rather another, and along the way I oscillated between irked and amused often enough that I thought I was on some sort of story-magneto, swinging from pole to pole.

There's a good deal of energy in this tale, no doubt about that. It's got a swinging pace, it's got an emotional charge from its characters' absurdities and failings, and it's set at a time of radical change which is always good for a sense of urgency.

The irked pole on the mageto, for me, was narrator Robert himself. His studied, dandyish pose of Oscar Wildean epigrammatic speech made me homicidal. That the conceit of the book is a tale told in retrospect prevented me from hurling the damn thing aside, as the narrator-Robert shared my amused, then annoyed response to character-Robert, is both a good and a bad thing. I got the sense that narrator-Robert and I were in cahoots, smiling with impatient indulgence on the emotional excesses and self-delusions of Those Young People. It also popped me out of the story a good deal, at least until I'd made my peace with its narrative drag on the pace.

Also on the irked pole of the swing was the romance Robert clearly has with himself, and extends to Emily, a Modern Girl (in the 1897 meaning of those words) working (!) in her father's firm before entering into marriage. As Robert is hired to create a coffee vocabulary with Emily's help, the story being told about coffee seemed to suffer from the superposition of A Romance. That the romance was doomed (not a spoiler, Robert says so) is no surprise whatsoever. No one's first love is his last. More to the point, Robert's constant use of prostitutes isn't gonna fly with a Modern Girl, and one can always rest assured that the secret one least wants revealed will be known by those one least wants to know it at the worst, most embarrassing moment. In fiction as in life. So the doomed-ness of the romance was crystal clear and left me waiting for the other shoe to drop, rather than being a sad case of readerly anticipation followed by a wistful sense of opportunity lost. It might be an inevitability of the retrospective structure used here. I would have thought, however, that the author would have expended more effort in making this Grand Passion more immediate, no matter the structure.

But the real annoyance to me was the occasional interpolation of present-tense bits into this review of the life and times of Robert, when the PoV shifts to others. If these aren't Robert's memories, why are they here? So annoying to have the rules the author himself chose broken with such complete, unexplained violence. So. Annoying.

But there were positive pole-swings, too, and really good ones. The author has narrator-Robert decrying the change from Victorian to Edwardian worlds, from hidden, gaslit Vices to unforgiving, electrically lit Morality...a point I found really interesting. The backdrop of Africa was also deeply felt and wonderfully evocative. I have no gauge to measure its accuracy, as I've never been to East Africa, but it felt wonderful and enfolding and right to me. The author, I will note, was born in Uganda. This makes me inclined to trust his evocation of place.

But the main pleasure the book afforded me was coffee. The smell, the taste, the politics, the essence of the world in these pages is coffee. The vocabulary character-Robert develops with Emily, the first of its kind, is delightful. The descriptions of the coffees, their differences, their quirks, all superbly rendered and skillfully deployed to avoid both the dreaded info-dump and the (inexplicably, to me) less-dreaded light garnish or inadequate gilding of fact on a wodge of story that could be anywhere, anywhen, about anything and/or nothing.

And while I've mentioned in positive terms the pace the author sets in the book, I can't overlook the sheer length of the opus. Over 500 pages. Oh dear. One hundred fewer, with the simple alteration of no annoying PoV switches, and I think this would have been a more exciting, more fully enfolding book.

It's a good read that could have been excellent. *sigh* ( )
1 vote richardderus | Aug 28, 2012 |
The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella is full of life, scents, and adventures. It tells the story of Robert Wallis, a prolifigate and wannabe poet who gets sent down from Oxford in 1896. He finds employment with the coffee merchant, Mr. Pinker, working with the eldest daughter, Emily, to develop a Coffee Tasting Guide. He falls in love with her. Her father sends him to Africa to establish a coffee plantation. To say more would create too many spoilers.

This book is quite marvelous. It is told from Robert’s point of view almost exclusively and is crisply and cleanly written. Each chapter starts off with a description of a scent that applies to coffee. It makes me want to pay more attention to my coffee and to learn more about what I'm putting in my cup. There is quite a bit of information about coffee, coffee markets and manipulations, and the popularization of coffee during the 1890s and early 1900s. The characters are well drawn and one in particular, Emily Pinker, is an extremely strong and principled person who I came to admire more and more as I read the book.

I was very interested in the details of Robert’s visit to Africa and, later, on his visit to Brazil. There is quite a bit about the early efforts of the Suffragists in England, too. All fascinating stuff.

I am definitely going to read more by Anthony Capella. ( )
1 vote karenmarie | May 15, 2012 |
It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee. Robert finds himself working with Pinker's daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other. However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation. While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert's journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey - from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues. It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book). There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again! It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading.

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book. At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London. Despite all of this, it's hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him. Emily herself was one of my favourite characters - her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all. It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me. The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages!

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly. This was the first book I've ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more. I'd definitely recommend this book. ( )
  Ruth72 | Jun 10, 2011 |
Attracted by both an interesting title and a beautiful cover, I had high expectations for The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella as I had so enjoyed The Wedding Officer previously. Unfortunately I was in for a letdown. At slightly over 700 pages, this was a big mess of a story that dealt with love, sex, coffee, slavery, Africa, the suffragette movement, business and ultimately loss. The main character, who at the beginning of the book warns you that you won’t like him, starts off as a dilettante fop who would rather spend his time in a whorehouse than learning to be a responsible grown up. By the end of the book he has come full circle, but by that time I hardly cared.

Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of this book that were very readable and interesting. It just went off on too many tangents and he seemed to write himself into a corner more than once. He used sex and earthy descriptions to advance the story, which after a couple of times got rather silly and boring. If he had perhaps narrowed his focus to one or two of the above mentioned subjects he may have produced a more cohesive story.

What this author did produce is a rather readable, well researched historical soap opera that was a little too full of drama and florid language to be taken seriously. Too bad, as I think this could have been an extraordinary story. ( )
2 vote DeltaQueen50 | Apr 21, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Yesterday
a drop of semen,
tomorrow
a handful of spice
or ashes
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Dedication
First words
Who is he, this young man who strolls toward us down Regent Street, a carnation in his collar and a cane in his hand?
Quotations
Oh, that smell . . . The building held over a thousand sacks of coffee, and Pinker kept his big drum roasters going day and night. It was a smell halfway between mouth-watering and eye-watering, a smell as dark as burning pitch; a bitter, black, beguiling perfume that caught at the back of the throat, filling the nostrils and the brain. A man could become addicted to that smell, as quick as any opium.
Day by day I became more confident in my judgments, more precise in my terms. I seemed to enter a state of synaethesia, that condition in which all the senses become interlinked, so that scents become colors, tastes become pictures, and all the stimuli of the physical world are felt as strongly as emotions.
The only consolation are the sunsets, the most glorious I have ever seen. The moon rises first, through a bank of mist that covers the mangroves like a layer of tracing paper: a blood-orange orb that seems to change shape as it rises, elongating as it separates from its reflection in the oil-black river. On the other side, the sun sinks down into the mist, touches the water and bursts. Flushes of gold, amethyst, carmine and violet color the sky,and then those, too, fade into the darkness, leaving only the dazzling frost of the moonlight and the utter blackness of the swamp . . . Oh, and a million small flying creatures that instantly come and bite your skin with all the ferocity of piranhas.
Sometimes he referred to stocks and shares, and other more esoteric forms of contract, as financial instruments. It was an apt description: he was like nothing so much as a musician, or a conductor, beckoning great symphonies of cash flow into existence with a perfectly timed wave of his hand.
The juncture of her legs was the altar at which I knelt, the cup at which I made my communion.
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Book description
Robert Wallis is een berooide levensgenieter in het 19e-eeuwse Londen. Hij wordt verliefd op Emily Pinker, de dochter van een steenrijke koffie-importeur. Hoewel Robert een natuurlijke affiniteit met koffie lijkt te hebben, vertrouwt Samuel Pinker hem niet helemaal. Hij stuurt Robert naar het donkere hart van Afrika om de meest zeldzame koffiesoort ter wereld te vinden. Pas als hij deze opdracht vervult, mag hij met Emily trouwen. Al snel laat Robert Emily achter in Londen en dompelt hij zich onder in een levensgevaarlijke wereld van onvoorstelbare duistere schoonheid. Het slaven meisje Fikre zal uiteindelijk zijn toekomst bepalen en de vraag beantwoorden of de prijs van koffie soms niet veel te hoog is...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553807323, Hardcover)

From the internationally bestselling author of The Wedding Officer comes a novel whose stunning blend of exotic adventure and erotic passion will intoxicate every reader who tastes of its remarkable delights.


When a woman gives a man coffee, it is a way of showing her desire.
—Abyssinian proverb

It was a cup of coffee that changed Robert Wallis’s life—and a cup of very bad coffee at that. The impoverished poet is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets Samuel Pinker. The owner of Castle Coffee offers Wallace the very last thing a struggling young artiste in fin de siècle England could possibly want: a job.

But the job Wallis accepts—employing his palate and talent for words to compose a “vocabulary of coffee” based on its many subtle and elusive flavors—is only the beginning of an extraordinary adventure in which Wallis will experience the dizzying heights of desire and the excruciating pain of loss. As Wallis finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his coworker, Pinker’s spirited suffragette daughter Emily, both will discover that you cannot awaken one set of senses without affecting all the others.

Their love is tested when Wallis is dispatched on a journey to North Africa in search of the legendary Arab mocca. As he travels to coffee’s fabled birthplace—and learns the fiercely guarded secrets of the trade—Wallis meets Fikre, the defiant, seductive slave of a powerful coffee merchant, who serves him in the traditional Abyssinian coffee ceremony. And when Fikre dares to slip Wallis a single coffee bean, the mysteries of coffee and forbidden passion intermingle…and combine to change history and fate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:00 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

1895. Robert Wallis, would-be poet, bohemian & dandy, accepts a commission from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to categorise the different tastes of coffee & encounters Pinker's free-thinking daughters, Philomenia, Ada & Emily. As romance blossoms with Emily, Robert realises that the muse & marriage may not be incompatible after all.… (more)

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