I have written reviews for the last few coffee books I have read. I’ve enjoyed reflecting on what parts of a book I like. Writing reviews has pushed me to recall some of the knowledge I’ve read about in each book. So, I’m going to continue writing these reviews.
How to Make Coffee, authored by Lani Kingston, is my most recent book purchase. I read about this book online and saw it recommended in some of the other books I have read. The title of this book did make me think that it would be more focused on the actual brewing of coffee, which I’ve already read about a lot. But, I decided to buy the book anyway. I enjoy reading different perspectives about how coffee goes from bean to cup.
How to Make Coffee starts with a detailed introduction to the coffee bean itself. The author explores the anatomy of coffee and how it is grown in depth. Unlike all the other books I’ve read, this book had a short section on liberica coffee. This is a third type of the Coffea plant which is cultivated. It only accounts for one percent of global production and is mainly used as a filler but it was still nice to read about liberica.
The inclusion of liberica coffee is worth noting because the author explores coffee in this level of detail throughout the book. For instance, the author mentions that there was a point where Turkish law stated that a woman could divorce their husband if they were not supplied a daily quote of coffee. The book talks about the different layers of both the inside of a coffee bean and the outside. I have only ever read about the outside of the bean.
This book has an entire section devoted to the chemistry of coffee. I must admit that this section, on my first reading of the book, discouraged me from reading further. I decided to persist because the chemistry section was early on and there was still a lot of the book to read. The author talks about the chemical components of milk and how they influence foam. The author discusses the top chemicals like antioxidants in a coffee bean and how they progress after roasting. I would recommend skipping the chemistry of coffee section and reading it at the end if you’re someone who gives up on books easily.
In the chemistry section, the author spoke about how caffeine influences the human body. Caffeine molecules bind to the adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a chemical that tells our body when we are tired. The higher our adenosine levels are, the more fatigued we feel. But, caffeine can block the brain from recognizing adenosine for a few hours. This is what makes us feel alert after drinking a cup of coffee. I really enjoyed reading about the chemical effects of caffeine. It may be a white, odorless powder in its pure form but it sure is an interesting chemical.
The author continues to take a scientific approach to the rest of the book. They talk about extraction and solubility in depth. While many coffee books I’ve read cover these topics, none have done so as extensively as How to Make Coffee. This book, for example, teaches that both Total Dissolved Solids and extraction yield are used to determine the strength of coffee. I’ve only seen both methods referenced in the online Blue Bottle course I took.
Later in the book, Kingston moves her focus to the technology behind coffee. Did you know that the term “pulling a shot” comes from the old piston espresso machines which involved manually pulling a level down? These machines were manufactured heavily by Gaggia, which I think is still a big name in espresso to this day. Kingston talks about all the technologies used in coffee brewing. No other coffee book I’ve read distinguishes coffee by technologies. I’ve never read specifically about piston-power and why a Turkish coffee pot is shaped like it is. (The shape of a Turkish coffee post aids pouring and the narrowed neck helps the coffee bubble, an essential part of Turkish coffee brewing.)
Toward the end of the book, Kingston talks about different brewing methods. This section comes up in most coffee books I’ve read but I read them anyway. I’m glad I read this section because Kingston taught me a few things. First, this book contains instructions on how to brew cowboy coffee. I had no idea how cowboy coffee was brewed until now. I am not saying I could brew a cup but I have a better idea of how it works. I also read an interesting Aeropress recipe where you should pour in water equal to the number of scoops of coffee you use. I have not tried it but this is definitely a more unique recipe than I’ve read in books.
Overall, How to Make Coffee is an excellent analysis of coffee. The author demonstrates a clear understanding of the science behind coffee, imparting upon the reader useful tips which help them brew a better cup of coffee. I don’t think a lot of the heavy chemistry I read about will be useful. But, what I read about extraction, the roasting process, and how milk is frothed, among other topics, is definitely interesting to me.
I would recommend this book to anyone with a good understanding of coffee who wants to extend that understanding. The book does go into levels of depth I haven’t seen in other books and as a new coffee brewer I probably wouldn’t want to read words like endocarp before I’ve actually brewed a cup. I am presently rereading this book because I feel there is so much to learn.