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Good Grind

The real coffee culture

The gourmet-coffee craze may conjure images of dot-com execs sipping overpriced espresso, but our nation's java jones has had an ironic side effect: The agrarian way of life that brought coffee to the world in the first place is slowly disappearing.

Painstaking handpicking of beans may one day give way to mechanization, but a South Florida couple has preserved a record of current coffee-growing cultures in The Birth of Coffee. This handsome coffee-table book features more than 100 striking black-and-white photographs of life on coffee farms throughout the world, each shot accompanied by explanatory text.

Photographer Daniel Lorenzetti and his wife, author Linda Rice Lorenzetti, collaborated on the book as part of the couple's larger Image Expedition project, which they began in 1990. The idea was to create what Daniel calls "visual artifacts, images of people doing things that are ceasing in our culture: a man selling crickets at the bird market in Beijing; people herding ducks in Burma." Daniel's photographs of such scenes hang in prestigious international museums.

During one photography trip about three years ago to the island of Java, he and Linda visited a coffee farm. "We were blown away by how labor-intensive it was," she recalls. "It captured Daniel's imagination because it was visually stunning."

The duo gathered material for the book and accompanying photo exhibition on subsequent trips to eight countries. A small-scale show will be on view in West Palm Beach during book-signings next week, but a full exhibit won't be mounted until 2002. Until then the book is available, and a portion of proceeds goes to Habitat For Humanity in an effort to better the lives of people in coffee-producing countries.

"We try to be as conscious as possible of the fact that, when you create a project like this, you are taking something," offers Daniel. "And we wanted to give something back."

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