To advance my knowledge of coffee, I have turned to books. There are plenty of blogs online devoted to coffee and it was blog posts and videos that helped me learn the basics of home brewing. But I found myself spending a lot of time looking for articles to read on home brewing and I thought there may be a better way for me to learn. I discovered that hundreds of books have been written about brewing coffee, the history of coffee, and cafes.
I have read eight books on coffee this year, all of which have opened my eyes to different perspectives on coffee. Reading about brewing devices has helped me learn how my Aeropress compares to the other methods of brewing. I’ve learned about the science of extraction and solubility and how these two concepts translate to different tastes in the cups of coffee I enjoy. I’ve read about the history of coffee.
This holiday season, you may be looking for a book to read on coffee, or motivation to pick up a book you’ve already purchased. Or you may be looking for a book to gift someone in your life who loves coffee. I thought, in the spirit of sharing the places from which I’ve learned about coffee, I would talk about the books I’ve read that I would recommend to coffee lovers. This post discusses the shorter books I’ve read. I’ll write a part two for the longer books.
How to Make Coffee by Lani Kingston
How to Make Coffee is the best book I have read so far on the science behind a cup of coffee. In this book, Kingston discusses the chemistry behind coffee, which includes topics such as how caffeine affects the nervous system to what chemicals contribute to the various flavors I can detect in coffee. I learned about dry distillates, soluble compounds, insoluble oils, and other types of chemicals that appear in my coffee.
This book, which took me a few hours to read, applies the principles of chemistry in context, giving the reader actionable advice on how to brew a better cup of coffee. The chapter on brewing and balance helped me learn how factors such as extraction affect the resultant brew. I learned about brew ratios and balance. To top off this excellent analysis on the chemistry of coffee, Kingston talks about various brewing methods throughout history, and provides recipes for each of these brewing methods.
The Philosophy of Coffee by Brian Williams
Brian Williams, the owner of the Brian’s Coffee Spot blog, wrote this book as a brief introduction to the history of coffee. This book starts by talking about the origins of coffee in Ethiopia and makes a link between the rise of Islam and coffee, a link of which I was previously not aware. Later in the book, Brian talks about various attempts to suppress the coffeehouse throughout history, as it was seen to be a place that fuelled political uprisings. I learned about various attempts to ban coffee, none of which were as successful as they were supposed to be. People love coffee; no ban could stop its rise.
Williams covers a lot of ground in this book, which can be easily read in a morning. He goes on to talk about espresso and the rise of the espresso bar in Italy as well as how coffee became part of our modern culture. He talks about how Friends and Starbucks contributed to coffee. I’d never thought that Friends had much of an impact on coffee but it did: the popular television show demonstrated that coffee shops were a cool place to meet up with friends. Toward the end of the book, Brian speculates on where the coffee industry may go in the future, with a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
Coffee: A Modern Field Guide by Mat North
Written by Mat North, this book is a pocket-sized (literally) reference guide to coffee. I am not going out to many cafes at the moment but when I do finally get to explore speciality coffee shops I can see myself carrying around this book. North explores the journey from plant to cup with the help of useful graphics. This book helped me learn how coffee is roasted through its excellent roasting diagram. I learned about processing methods.
Although this book is less than 100 pages long – and again it is pocket-sized – North manages to fit in some brewing guides. I like this book because it is easy to navigate. I have come back to this book a few times if I’m trying to remember a fact about coffee processing or if I am looking for a word to describe something I am tasting. This book made me aware of how coffee beans of different varietals have their own shapes, a fact of which I was not aware.
Real Fresh Coffee by Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia
Real Fresh Coffee was written by the founders of Union Hand-roasted, a major speciality coffee firm in the United Kingdom. This book starts by talking about the coffee seed and explores coffee all the way to its modern culture.
I like this book because the founders make reference to coffee concepts using their expertise from owning a roasting business. Indeed, the authors of this book do a good job of sharing opinions while still presenting balanced information on how coffee is processed. I learned more about the roasting process through the visuals of this book. The authors also discuss ethical trading with reference to their own Union Direct Trade program and other initiatives such as the Cup of Excellence, Fair Trade, and direct trade throughout the industry,.
Where this book really shines is in the Brewing chapter, which talks about how to brew coffee and what you need to know to brew a delicious cup. This was one of the earlier books I read and I obtained a lot useful information about labels, tasting, and the role of cupping in coffee.
I have written individual reviews of the first three books I have discussed, which you can find below:
This holiday season, if you have the time, consider reading a book about coffee. There are books out there to suit all interests. The Philosophy of Coffee introduced me to the history of coffee in a way that did not make me feel at any point like I was reading a textbook. How to Make Coffee gave me actionable tips on how to improve my brewing. But, even though reading books is great, it is no substitute for drinking a cup yourself and practising your brewing.