How to Make Coffee, written by Lani Kingston, was one of the first books I read about speciality coffee. The book gave me a good understanding of various aspects of coffee and covered some basic coffee science in a way that was approachable to me as a beginner.
I wanted to learn more about what went into writing How to Make Coffee so I reached out to the author, Lani Kingston. In addition to being an author, Lani has written about food for magazines, newspapers, and online. I chatted with Lani about the stages she went through writing How to Make Coffee, her advice to those who want to start a career in coffee, and more. I hope you enjoy the interview.
For my readers who have not read any of your books, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
From Melbourne, Australia, I now work across the food industry in a number of capacities - as a writer, a consultant and a business developer. I started out working in film and television, and quickly fell in love with food media. I studied my Masters of Food Studies, majoring in food writing, and trained as a chef, and from there started to travel the world writing culinary travel pieces and working with artisanal food businesses in London, New York and Singapore.
You wrote an entire book on coffee, How to Make Coffee. What made you decide to write this book?
When I moved to London, I had just come off the tail end of an assignment writing culinary travel pieces across North America for a Canadian print magazine. A commissioning editor from Ivy Press in London came across some of my writing and reached out to see if I would be interested in writing a book about coffee for them. I didn’t have much experience as a barista (a couple of jobs here in there through University), but I was an experienced food researcher. I thought I could take on the challenge!
I spent the next year on a crash course, learning about coffee roasting with the team at Climpson & Sons in London, brewing with Matthew Perger - a respected barista back in Australia - and with coffee scientists across Europe. I visited botanic gardens in Amsterdam where descendants of coffee plants that the Dutch brought around the world and spoke with scientists from the Kew Gardens coffee research program.
What is your background in coffee?
As mentioned, I didn’t know much on a professional level prior to 2014. After that, the book really allowed me to meet and befriend some coffee greats. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really excellent coffee industry folks on some amazing projects. I’ve continued writing about coffee and have been able to explore different aspects of the industry - consulting and content for green coffee exporters, through to developing unique coffee brands in Asia.
A big part of your book is about the science of coffee and there seems to be so much to discuss in the world of coffee science. How did you decide what scientific concepts to include?
This was tricky, for sure. As a novice myself when I began research, it was difficult to sort through all of the science and determine what was of key importance to communicate - and how I could communicate that in a way that was easy to understand. Initially, I gathered as much research as I possibly could, and then I went back to the section on how to brew coffee. I looked at what scientific principles were important for your average coffee brewer to understand to get a good, daily cup - and that is what I included. The book could have been ten times as long, but its intent was to be an accessible introduction for those who had just begun their coffee journey.
Can you walk me through the stages you have gone through in writing your books, from ideation to completion?
For How to Make Coffee, the first step was actually initiated by the publishers. Previously, I had worked as a culinary travel writer and researcher, and the commissioning editor had come across my work in a magazine somewhere. I was asked if I was interesting in learning everything there was to know about coffee.
After the contract was signed, I was given a loose brief: an accessible introduction to coffee along with recipes on how to make a few basic brews. I set about researching, and was lucky enough to be introduced to a few influential people in the London coffee world who helped me a lot with the book. From coffee scientists through to barista champions, I found the industry very welcoming and open to helping others gain knowledge too. Big shout out to Dan Dunne, previously at Climpsons, who spent more hours than I’d care to admit patiently teaching me to steam milk properly (and putting up with my constant questions of “why?”). After many months of researching and collecting information, I sat down at my computer and didn’t stand up again for 4 months! I went through everything I had learned and broke it down into bitesize chunks, narrowing it down to the key information necessary to communicate the full coffee story. While there are many books that go into much more detail, my book was designed to be a “next step” for new baristas or coffee lovers, who wanted to get a little more into the science, or as a quick reference book for the more experienced.
What I discovered in this first foray into coffee was a community interested in sharing and collaborating, and I was sucked in. This brought me to my second book, London Coffee. I wanted to share stories of this wonderful collaborative community, beyond the “where to drink coffee” or “how to make it”. After discovering London’s rich history in coffee spanning hundreds of years, I decided to pitch a book to a local publisher who created other “celebrations of London” in book form: Hoxton Mini Press. I brought on a friend who is a wonderful photographer and former owner of a coffee shop, and we spent a blissful few months together exploring London’s greatest hits – not just in specialty, but the old timers and specialist milk suppliers and equipment repairmen – so we could paint a picture of every aspect of the industry. We worked collaboratively with the publishers who determined a layout, and then we selected the top stories, photographs and layouts together.
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in coffee?
Coffee is one of those things that goes as deep as you want to dive. I find the easiest way to get started is to begin with the coffee you know - the cup you consume. It can be completely fulfilling to just learn to perfect one brewing method and that’s all - but my bet is you’ll get hooked and want to learn more! Take it step by step - work your way back down the supply chain. There’s so much to learn about brewing, roasting, harvesting, growing, regions - and that’s before you even get into the science.
What’s your favourite coffee brewing method?
I love my espressos, but I’m really into experimenting with my Vietnamese phin filter which I picked up at a market in Hanoi at the moment. Call it research for my next book, which is coming out end of this year!
What coffee are you drinking at the moment?
I’ve just moved to Portland, Oregon, so I’m grabbing most of my coffee at Stumptown as I’ve moved into a place right near their original location. I’m drinking their Hair Bender blend which is a direct trade blend of Indonesian, Latin American and African coffees.
You can learn more about Lani Kingston on her Instagram page @lanikingston or on her website www.lanikingston.com.
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