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Craft Coffee: A Manual Review

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Craft Coffee: A Manual book sitting on a white table in front of a window and a collection of books

Craft Coffee: A Manual, written by Jessica Easto (who I’ll refer to as the author) with Andreas Willhoff, is the ideal guide for a home brewer who wants to level up their skills. Unlike many other coffee books, this one is written from the perspective of a home brewer. Many of the books I have read, such as Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, make reference to how their companies do things. This makes sense because I get the experience from the writer. Easto sticks with what she knows: home brewing.

This book starts, like many coffee books, with an introduction to how Easto got interested in coffee. She started drinking coffee black at a diner because she did not know anything else. She did not live near any cafes that offered manually brewed coffee. She only got interested in speciality coffee in graduate school. Then, Easto goes on to discuss what speciality coffee is. This is something a lot of books skip. I’ve read a lot about the origins of arabica and robusta but not so much about the different waves of coffee. Easto also calls out coffee jargon early on, foreshadowing her approach to writing about coffee.

In the first chapter, Easto discusses the science behind a cup of coffee. She does so in a way that makes the reader familiar with the science but not to the extent that you feel like you are reading a chemistry textbook. I learned that dry distillates impart upon a cup of coffee more bitter and ashy flavors. I learned that the flavor of coffee changes due to soluble gases that change as coffee cools. Easto talks about all of the main factors that influence a brew, from water to brew ratio. I must say that Easto’s description of brew ratio is one of the best I’ve read. She puts brew ratio in context using a table which makes it easy to understand the math behind how much coffee you should use in a cup.

Later, Easto talks about different brewing hardware. I liked this section because it was not full of recipes. Easto talked about what each popular brewing device is and shared, in detail, how each device works. I discovered that the Clever Dripper may be a good way for me to get into pour-over because it does not need a gooseneck kettle as much as, say, a V60 or a BeeHouse brewer. This section felt like a buying guide. I am not in the market for any new coffee equipment but I now feel I have a better sense of popular methods and what options are open to me.

Easto leaves the section on coffee theory until later but that does not mean it gets any less attention than any other section. Attention to detail is clear throughout this book. Craft Coffee: A Manual feels like the most dense book I’ve ever read on coffee. It took multiple sittings to read through. But the length of the book is necessary given how much Easto talks about. And she deliberately skips espresso because it is not as relevant for home brewers.

Like any coffee book, I’ve taken away a lot of random pieces of knowledge. I know that altitude is not as appropriate as saying “elevation” because altitude does not refer to meters above sea level, rather the height from the ground to a particular point. I learned that Kona coffee is not a varietal in itself. It refers to coffee grown in the Kona region of Hawaii. I learned this in the section on varietals which was incredibly interesting. I liked that the author did not go into too much detail on each varietal as I find this material can get quite dry.

Going with the theme of being a manual, this book has an entire chapter that addresses how to buy coffee. Do you know what to look for on a coffee bag? Do you know why blends take just as much, if not more, work to prepare than single origins? Do you know what certifications may appear on a bag and how relevant they are to speciality coffee? I do now, thanks to this chapter. This chapter comes with a graphic of a coffee bag, broken down by each piece of information displayed.

Toward the end of the book, the author talks about flavor. She breaks flavor down into acidity, mouthfeel, aroma, and other aspects that are important when you are tasting coffee. This section comes toward the end because the book first wants you to learn the basics of brewing. Once you know the science behind coffee, you’ll then learn about buying coffee, its origins, and flavor. The book ends with extensive guides on how to use all of the brewing methods discussed earlier in the book.

This book was a great read for me. I’ve been brewing speciality coffee for a few months but I wanted to learn more about how to brew and the factors that influence my cup. This book goes into just the right amount of detail. I appreciate the explanations of brewing variables because they relate to real changes I can make in my cup. I like that the author suggests experiments throughout the book to encourage me to see how different variables impact my brew.

Easto is very unassuming about what you need to do to make a cup of coffee. She gives you the theory you need to know – like how coffee does not extract as well at lower temperatures, unless it’s prepared using a cold brew method – and translates that theory into actionable recommendations. She shares some opinions from her own experience brewing but never at any point suggests there is a right way. Coffee is a matter of taste. This is the perspective from which Craft Coffee: A Manual, appears to be written. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn about speciality coffee. But, I’d say that this may be a difficult book to start with if you don’t like longer reads because there is a lot of material.

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