Grounds for Revolution: The Stimulating Story of How Coffee Shaped the World

About 400 years ago, a dark and mysterious stranger arrived in Europe and sent the jitters—really, shock waves—through society. That newcomer was the coffee bean, and it's hard to overstate its effects on the world. From its early days as a religious aid to its pivotal role in the founding of the London Stock Exchange, the first scientific society, and even one of the earliest forms of social media, this bitter brown beverage has democratized culture and sparked innovation, all while fueling capitalism and inequality. With the help of Gastropod's own founding godfather, Michael Pollan, as well as a crew of all-star historians, coffee growers, botanists, and coffee scientists, this episode we're telling the story of how coffee has changed everything it touched, from the humble workday to the fate of nations. This is the first of a two-part series on coffee, sponsored by Nespresso: listen now, and then come back in two weeks for the scientific secrets behind the perfect cup.

Nicky, in a gray cardigan, reaches to pick a green coffee berry.
Nicky goes in for a sample of a fresh coffee berry while visiting FRINJ in California. Photo by Geoff Manaugh.

Episode Notes

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is a journalist, author, and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. He’s also Gastropod's fairy godfather (or, as he puts it, "inadvertent midwife"), in his role as founder of the UC Berkeley - 11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship, where Cynthia and Nicky first met and, thus, where the seeds of what became Gastropod were sown. Michael is the author of many New York Times bestselling books, several of which have been adapted into television documentaries. He tells the story of coffee (among other drugs), and of his trials and tribulations without it, in his most recent book This Is Your Mind on Plants.

Jonathan Morris

Jonathan Morris is the author of Coffee: A Global History, and the host of the fascinating podcast series A History of Coffee. He is a historian of consumption, specializing in coffee, and a research professor at the University of Hertfordshire.

Augustine Sedgwick

Augustine Sedgwick is the author of Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug, and an award-winning researcher on the global history of food, work, and capitalism. He teaches at the City University of New York.

Sarada Krishnan

Sarada Krishnan is the director of horticulture at the Denver Botanic Gardens as well as the director of the International Women's Coffee Alliance, which recognizes women's role in coffee cultivation around the world and seeks to empower meaningful, sustainable participation by women growers. Her research has explored the genetics of the coffee plant, its vulnerability to climate change, and coffee conservation strategies, among other topics. She owns a coffee plantation in Jamaica.

Jay Ruskey and FRINJ Coffee

Jay Ruskey co-founded FRINJ Coffee with Mark Gaskell, who started wondering about growing coffee in California after working on introducing crops for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Panama. In 2002, Ruskey planted 40 coffee plants amongst his avocado, cherimoya, and dragon fruit trees at the farm he runs, Good Land Organics, in Santa Barbara, California.  FRINJ's co-founders now use their scientific backgrounds to grow coffee in California differently from anywhere else in the world, and produce some pretty delicious cups as a result. You can taste it for yourself by ordering from the FRINJ online store.

A Caucasian man in jeans, a dark blue polo, sunglasses and a floppy hat stands next to a coffee plant, covered in dark green leaves, about the same height as him. Rolling green hills and lush greenery fill the background.
Jay Ruskey with a coffee bush on his farm in Santa Barbara, California. Photo by Geoff Manaugh.
Rolling green hills, with the Pacific Ocean beyond, viewed over scrubby gray plants.
A view of the Pacific from Jay Ruskey's coffee farm in Santa Barbara, California. Photo by Geoff Manaugh.
A mans points at his palm holding two fresh coffee seeds, each a pale, creamy yellow and about the size of a cannellini bean.
Jay Ruskey holding fresh seeds from a coffee berry. Photo by Geoff Manaugh.


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.