'Tis the season to read as many books about coffee as possible. I've found books are a great way to learn about coffee. I can easily get lost in a book about coffee, spending hours reading. I like how books can be read uninterrupted without the temptation of opening another tab to start reading another blog post. This year, I've read eight books about coffee, and I've liked each of them.
I recently posted a blog post where I talk about four of the shorter coffee books I've read. I am back to talk about the other four books I have read, most of which are slightly longer than those I have already discussed (at least by my observations). If you have some free time over the holiday season and want to learn about coffee, consider burying your head into one or more of the books I list below.
Craft Coffee: A Manual by Jessica Easto with Andreas Willhoff
I relate to Easto, the author of this book, in that we both did not live in an area with a lot of speciality coffee shops growing up. But we both found interest in coffee. This book reads as part-educational guide and part-buyer's guide. To start, Easto discusses the five variables that have the biggest effect on coffee extraction: brew ratio, grind size, water, temperature, and contact time. In this section, Easto not only discusses theory, but provides actionable advice on how to implement what you have learned in your brewing. She recommends brew ratios and how to calculate one. She talks about ideal contact times.
Later in the book, Easto goes through ten brewing devices and discusses their origins and how they are used. This section is separate from the recipes for each device, which comes at the end of the book. Easto also discusses various coffee gadgets such as grinders and scales and which gadgets will give you the best return on your money depending on your interest in brewing. I enjoyed the sections on coffee origins and flavor.
Easto devotes a chapter to navigating a coffee label, something I've not seen anywhere else, which I feel will help any beginner learn what they need to buy the best beans: the fundamental ingredient in any good cup of coffee. Although I said this book feels like a buyer's guide at times, I never felt like I was being sold a product. I felt I was being educated on the vast options for brewing devices and equipment.
The World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffman
I can only speak of the first section in The World Atlas of Coffee because I skipped the analysis of origin countries. I consider the second half of the book to be more of a reference to coffee origins, a place to go when I want to know more about a particular place, rather than material for an afternoon of reading. Despite this, I learned a lot from The World Atlas of Coffee.
This book was the first coffee book I purchased. As a beginner to coffee, I felt as though this book gave me a gradual introduction to the theory behind coffee and how it was produced. I learned about the coffee plant, varietals, and how coffee is grown. I learned about coffee trading and grading. I read about how coffee is farmed. Later in the book, Hoffman talks about storing coffee, grinding coffee, and brewing from home. This book makes heavy use of photography which I made me feel more connected to the concepts about which I was reading.
If I had to recommend a book for a complete beginner to the world of coffee who was just brewing their first cups, this would be the book.
Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee by James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Duggan
Like Real Fresh Coffee, this book was written by the founder of a famous coffee company. James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, and Caitlin Freeman and Tara Duggan all contribute to this book. The book starts with an interesting history of James Freeman and his journey into coffee. A former musician, Freeman became interested in the world of coffee. He first opened up a mobile coffee stand which later ended up at a major San Francisco market. He roasted his own beans and after years of work ended up opening a coffee store.
This book starts on the farm. Unlike many coffee books, you will not find a breakdown of every major coffee origin. Instead, Freeman talks about three regions with which he is most familiar. He uses examples from his career in coffee to illustrate how coffee is farmed. He even talks about Hawaiian coffee, which I did not know much about, which grows due to the unique microclimate in particular areas of Hawaii. Later, Freeman talks extensively about how coffee is roasted and paints a lovely picture of coffee roasting with reference to what goes on at Blue Bottle roasting facilities.
In the second half of the book, Freeman provides detailed recipes on seven brewing techniques. Caitlin Freeman then takes over and features dozens of recipes for food that you can enjoy with your coffee. I did not read the recipe section but many of the recipes look delicious.
Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast
Did you know that Brazil burned millions of pounds of beans in an attempt to handle an oversupply? Were you aware that U.S. coffee consumption was first measured in pounds and then was measured in cups to cover up the amount of coffee people were really consuming? Did you know coffee companies tried various techniques to make people think fewer coffee grounds would produce just as strong a brew as they were used to?
I didn't until I read this book. Uncommon Grounds analyses the history of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia and Latin and Central American countries, to how coffee was advertised to get people to drink the brew, to the Brazilian black frost which killed over one and a half billion trees in a few days. This book made me appreciate how many people have worked throughout history to turn coffee into what it is today. Advertisers sold coffee. People sold coffee in carts. Farmers had to grow coffee in the midst of civil war. If you want to learn more about the history of coffee, I cannot recommend this book enough.
I intend to read more books about coffee. I've enjoyed reading each and every one I have thus far listed. Every book I read makes me appreciate the cup of coffee I drink even more. I consider myself to be a better home brewer thanks to the advice I've picked up in books like Craft Coffee: A Manual. Although not all that I've read is applicable to me—such as how to roast from home—I've picked up a lot of knowledge which I'm sure will come up in the future. If you prefer to read blogs, check out my series on coffee blogs to read over the holidays.
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