The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee is the latest addition to my growing collection of coffee books. This one was lesser mentioned than many other coffee books I have encountered. I wanted to give it a read because I like different perspectives on coffee. I find that every book has its own take on topics from roasting to processing and, after reading this book, I found that Craft of Coffee was no exception.
Craft of Coffee, authored by James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Duggan, is a half-recipe half-coffee knowledge book. I only read the chapters on coffee because I find cooking stressful and the “Eat” section devoted to food is more of a reference guide. So, this review will focus on the parts of the book about coffee. The chapters on coffee are at the start of the book.
This book begins with a detailed introduction to Blue Bottle. Blue Bottle was founded initially as a coffee cart. It was not until much later that the company secured a store in which to serve their coffee. I liked the introduction because it was almost a history of Blue Bottle combined with a retrospective on how the founder got so interested in coffee. James Freeman, who founded Blue Bottle, was previously a musician. He tells the story of how he moved from music into coffee and how he started roasting coffee.
James Freeman is very honest in his introduction. He talks about how he invented his own method of roasting coffee which he never brought to fruition because it would have violated health codes. Freeman clearly had a humble beginning in coffee.
I was thoroughly impressed with the introduction, clearly. But there is more to this book. Freeman goes on to talk about how coffee is grown and processed. I find that throughout this book there is more emphasis on text than diagrams. The chapter on growing featured very few diagrams which I can remember at the moment. That is not to say that diagrams were not used. The book mainly relies on pretty images to accompany the text.
I liked the “Grow” section because it did not do a detailed country-by-country analysis of each origin. I know this may be useful to some people but I’ve never been able to muster up the energy to read through one of these chapters in a coffee book. I’ll learn about each origin as I go. Freeman, instead, focused on three origins that Blue Bottle has extensive knowledge about. He then goes on to share profiles from two farms he works with. I learned that there is more to Hawaiian coffee than it just being “the only coffee grown in a state in the United States.” I loved reading the story about someone who operated a farm in Hawaii.
Following on from this chapter, Freeman goes on to discuss roasting. He talks about the mechanics of roasting, such as how temperature changes. Throughout, he makes reference to how Blue Bottle roasts their coffee. Unlike many other coffee books, Craft of Coffee gives steps on how to roast coffee at home. I felt almost jealous reading this recipe. I want to roast coffee at home. But, it generates a lot of smoke and I don’t have the right ventilation (this is of course only one of many reasons why I do not want to roast at home).
The final coffee-related section focuses on preparing the drink. Freeman, and by extent Blue Bottle, has been heavily influenced by Japanese culture. He talks quite a bit about how coffee is brewed in Japan. This is fascinating to read because, unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find many high-quality, detailed resources on Japanese coffee culture on the internet. That is not to say resources do not exist. I’ve just been unable to find them.
Freeman talks about the Nel Drip and Siphon Coffee, providing guides on how to brew coffee in each cup. These are featured among guides on pour-over, French press, Turkish coffee, and espresso. I found the guides for the non-Japanese methods somewhat dry because I do not brew with those methods. But, the Japanese brewing method highlights were interesting. I’ve not found any coffee book that yet talks about the Nel Drip. The Nel Drip, or “flannel drip,” is a method of brewing coffee using a flannel filter. The siphon, of which I was aware before reading this book, is like something that I would find in a chemistry laboratory.
In this section, Freeman spoke about Chatei Hatou, a cafe in Japan that has heavily influenced Blue Bottle. It was nice to learn about the ambience in a traditional Japanese cafe. The people in the cafe seemed to practice coffee with such artisan craft. I mention this section because it is illustrative of the broader writing philosophy of Freeman. He likes to write by telling stories (just like me!).
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is heavier than many other coffee books I’ve had. I got this impression as soon as the postie delivered the book. This is not a problem. I learned a lot through reading this book. A lot of the material, like the brew guides, cupping instructions, and home roasting guide is for reference. There is plenty of non-reference content in this book.
What I would say is that Freeman’s way of looking at coffee is only one way. I kept this in mind throughout the book. I find it is easy to take what someone says as gospel in a coffee book but there are so many ways of experimenting with coffee. Freeman talks a bit about this in the drinking section.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with a good understanding of coffee who wants to learn more about coffee growing and roasting. If you’re passionate about different methods of coffee, this book is also for you.