Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: S » A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola


From the illustrator of Go the F*** to Sleep comes a history of coffee, Coca-Cola, caffeine, cocaine, secret formulas, special flavors, special favors, Harry J. Anslinger, and Prohibition.

*While supplies last, books ordered through the website will be SIGNED by Ricardo Cortés.

$17.95 $13.46

Available as an e-book for:

What people are saying…

The Marginalian named A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola a “Best Graphic Nonfiction Book of 2012” & a “Favorite Food Book of 2012”

Very Short List selected A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola for the #1 Spot in their November 16 Food e-mail

Listed in Columbia College Today‘s Bookshelf section

“A straight forward and accessible text . . . Cortés’ highly detailed paintings call up concomitant issues and famous faces as well . . . In dense passages describing political payments between corporate interests and federal narcotics officials, the reproduction–in Cortés’ deft watercolors–of memos, official letters, and newspaper articles serves as an indictment of the rule of law with loopholes for the profit minded. This is an excellent introduction to the complexities of ‘American interests,’ the realities of corrupt rationale invoked in the pursuit of world health, and the need to take a longer view than the immediate to see how substance and substance abuse both share space and operate on different planes. Right and wrong are not black and white but form a gray of varying shades.”
Library Journal

“This fascinating and beautifully illustrated piece of visual journalism, six years in the making, traces the little-known interwoven histories of coffee, the coca leaf and kola nut, Coca-Cola, caffeine, and cocaine, within a larger subtext of the role of prohibition in modern culture . . . A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is as thoroughly researched and absorbingly narrated as it is charmingly illustrated.”
The Marginalian

“Cortes’ presentation is not the typical dense, non-fiction work, but a highly illustrated one, where emotions and impact are present in brief graphical terms, dancing with the harder history, and with a meticulous bibliography.”
North Adams Transcript

“Astonishingly addictive and intoxicatingly revelatory, …Coffee, Coca & Cola offers an impressively open-minded history lesson and an incredible look at the dark underbelly of American Capitalism . . . A stunning, hard cover coffee-table book for concerned adults, this captivating chronicle is a true treasure.”
Comics Review (UK)

“It’s impressive how much information Cortés is able to include . . . His illustrations are beautiful, detail-rich colored pencil and pen drawings, and his hand-lettering of typed documents is fantastic.”
Persephone Magazine

“Cortes’ latest, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola, uses a combination of gritty, mural-like illustrations and painstaking investigative research to explore the relationship between three of the most famous stimulants of all time: coffee, coca leaves (from which cocaine is an alkaloid derivative) and Coca-Cola.”

“If you hate the War on Drugs, Ricardo Cortés should be one of your favorite illustrators.”

“If you have ever wondered about the coca in Coca-Cola, the caffeine in coffee, or the irrational pharmacological prejudices in our drug laws, this charmingly eccentric combination of detailed historical research and child-friendly drawings is worth your attention. [A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola] is easily digested and full of interesting details about how psychoactive substance come to be accepted or rejected.”
Reason Magazine

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola . . . is actually a serious and measured chronology of the storied history of these human beverages, accessible to readers of all ages . . . A sober, serious, yet eminently readable examination of thorny social issues surrounding everyday beverages, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is highly recommended.
Midwest Book Review (Library Bookwatch)

“Any food and culinary history holding will find this a lively survey!”
The Midwest Book Review (California Bookwatch)

“Cortés gained popular stature last year with his sweetly counterpoint art in satiric Go the F**k to Sleep. That’s part of his genius: giving the eye important information barely hinted at in the text…[T]he paintings themselves delve more deeply into the facts that the nonfiction text addresses.”
School Library Journal blog

“This book is an incredible work of artistic journalism. Armed with color pencils and an eye for detail, Cortés has produced a beautiful and subversive history of how that bottle of Coke ended up in your fridge. Cortés weaves his people’s history with meticulously and gorgeously crafted drawings—many of them recreations of the primary documents he uses to tell his story. The end product is a damning, epic tale of hypocrisy: while the US government leads the charge to criminalize the 10 million people who chew coca, it has simultaneously conspired with a multinational beverage giant to ensure an endless supply of coca to fuel its profits.”
—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

“Ricardo Cortés has unearthed documentation of the astonishingly cozy historical relationship between Coca-Cola executives and antidrug czars, along with coverage of the expensive and unwinnable war on drugs.”
—Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country & Coca-Cola and Uncommon Grounds

“As works of art, Cortés’s illustrations are stunning and intricate. As reportage, the book is obsessive in all the right ways, nailing down hidden facts to reveal a truth I never would have expected. It is rare to find serious reportage that reads like a novel; Cortés has pulled off the mind-boggling trick of making it read like a children’s book.”
—Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating

“A nicely illustrated bit of history about three plants and the fascinating story of people’s relationships with them.”
—Dr. Andrew Weil, author of From Chocolate to Morphine and The Natural Mind


Read Ricardo Cortés’s Akashic Insider feature, “Calculating the Price Per Pound of an Incarcerated Black Man’s Flesh,” inspired by A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola.

*While supplies last, books ordered through the website will be SIGNED by Ricardo Cortés.

Written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, illustrator of Go the Fuck to Sleep and Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is an illustrated book disclosing new research in the coca leaf trade conducted by The Coca-Cola Company. 2011 marked the 125th anniversary of its iconic beverage, and the fiftieth anniversary of the international drug control treaty that allows Coca-Cola exclusive access to the coca plant. Most people are familiar with tales of cocaine being an early ingredient of “Coke” tonic; it’s an era the company makes every effort to bury. Yet coca leaf, the source of cocaine which has been banned in the US since 1914, has been part of Coca-Cola’s secret formula for over one hundred years.

This is a history that spans from cocaine factories in Peru, to secret experiments at the University of Hawaii, to the personal files of US Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger (infamous for his “Reefer Madness” campaign against marijuana, lesser known as a long-time collaborator of The Coca-Cola Company).

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola tells how one of the biggest companies in the world bypasses an international ban on coca. The book also explores histories of three of the most consumed substances on earth, revealing connections between seemingly disparate icons of modern culture: caffeine, cocaine, and Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola is the most popular soft drink on earth, and soft drinks are the number one food consumed in the American diet. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance. Cocaine . . . well, people seem to like reading about cocaine. An illustrated chronicle that will appeal to fans of food and drink histories (e.g., Mark Kurlansky’s Salt and Cod; Mark Pendergrast’s For God, Country & Coca-Cola), graphic novel enthusiasts, and people interested in drug prohibition and international narcopolitics, the book follows in the footsteps of successful pop-history books such as Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation—but has a unique style that blends such histories with narrative illustration and influences from Norman Rockwell to Art Spiegelman.

Read Ricardo Cortés’s op-ed on the coca leaf in the New York Daily News.

Read an article on the panel “A Singular Passion” at the LA Times.

Click here to listen to an interview with Ricardo Cortés on KUCI 88.9.

Book Details

  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Published: 12/4/12
  • IBSN: 9781617751349
  • e-IBSN: 9781617751479


RICARDO CORTÉS is the #1 New York Times best-selling illustrator of Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, and Party: A Mystery, by the acclaimed author Jamaica Kincaid. Cortés has written and illustrated books including Sea Creatures from the Sky and A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, and on CNN, Fox News, and the Late Show with David Letterman. You can see his work at Rmcortes.com, or on Twitter and Instagram at @Rmcortes. His latest work is the updated edition of It’s Just a Plant.

More info »