Recommended Coffee Reading…

August 18th, 2006

I’ve collected a fair amount of books on coffee.  Some are excellent, whilst others deeply embarrassing.

I thought I’d put together a little list of the ones that I would recommend to other people wanting to learn more.  I’ve split them into two sections – one for books that one should have no trouble tracking down, and a second section for books that require a bit more effort/money!

Readily Available books:

Black Gold by Antony Wild

This is a serious book, both in content and tone.  It gives what I believe to be the best researched account of coffee’s history, more interested in fact that the further propagation of myths.  It reads as if Wild developed a deeper love and understanding for coffee as he researched, but all the while becoming more and more outraged and disillusioned by the darker side of the trade.  At the time of its writing the market was not in a good way so some of his comments are not as relevent today.  Espresso coffee is not heavily featured in this book, and Wild doesn’t think much of it.

Can be a bit of a struggle to wade through in places, but very worthwhile.

Espresso Coffee – The Science of Quality by Illy, Viani and Liverani

Unique in its depth of focus on espresso, specifically its chemistry.  More a book for reference than anything you are likely to read cover to cover and whilst much of the information is fascinating it is not terribly practical.  You are unlikely to make a better shot having read it, though it does leave you to marvel at the complexity of the brew.  The new edition is vastly superior to the previous one, with more detailed references for each chapter should you want to explore one aspect further.  No better starting point for anyone interested in moving away from the practical into the theoretical.

The Devil’s Cup by Stewart Lee Allen

The first book on coffee I ever read, and I think Allen’s love for the subject is infectious.  As much anecdotal travel writing as coffee history, his stories are fascinating and wonderfully written.  Some have accused him of a little poet’s license in places, but I don’t mind it here.  This book sparked a hunger for more knowledge within me, and was very easy to read even though I cared for the subject very little when I first picked up the book.  If only his editor had removed the last chapter!

Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast

Another book on coffee history, this time more focused on the American market.  For a subject with very little relevence to me it was still very engaging.  There are many great characters in America’s coffee history, and the rise of various corporations was also interesting.  Espresso doesn’t really get a serious look in, certainly from a technical point of view – a couple of the old espresso stories are here though.

Espresso Italiano Specialist by Luigi Odello

It would be very easy to pick this book to pieces, but I think it is interesting to see Italy trying to define its place within the espresso culture it created, specifically its own brewing style.  Whilst techniques have changed and evloved in the last few years this book details what the Italians think it should be – from recipe to how it ought to taste in the cup.  Quite short and in both English and Italian.

The Coffee House by Markman Ellis

This appeared at the same time as a few other books on coffee houses, though others were specific to countries or towns.  A nice overview of its development and some great old pictures.  The coffee house took on a role almost seperate to the beverage it served, though it has lost most of that now.

Espresso Coffee – Professional Techniques by David Schomer

I don’t think bible is really an appropriate term for this book, because it by no means has all the answers.  However it will give a barista an excellent grounding in the techniques necessary for exerting some control over your espresso extraction.  When I first bought it I read it three times through in a row.  Everything suddenly made a lot more sense and it made me excited by espresso again.  I think there is a market there for the next set of techniques and discussion of other variables and factors affecting the brew.  Every barista should have a copy.

The World of Caffeine by Weinberg and Bealer

Not strictly a coffee book, though coffee is obviously a major focus of the book, along with chocolate and tea.  Caffeine and coffee are so deeply associated in the public conciousness that it seems wise to have at least a little understanding of this particular chemical.  Detailed, yet readable, it covers most of what we know about caffeine and is fairly honest about what we don’t.  The book was published a few years ago so some information maybe be out of date or perhaps elaborated upon further.  The history section also links the three beverages up in an interesting way.

Hard to Find

All about Coffee by William Ukers

I think this book has been quoted or referenced by just about every coffee book of the last fifty years!  Ukers covers a very wide range of topics from growing and processing through to the history of coffee as well as a look at the styles of coffee all around the world.  There is a massive pdf containing scans of every page floating around the web if you are desperate to read it and can’t find a copy.  Expensive no matter where you look, even though it was republished recently.

Coffee Flavor ChemistryIvon Flament

Essentially this is a collection of others people work.  Flament brings together all the research done of the volatile aromatics in coffee and compiles it into a book divided into groups of organic chemistry (Ketones, Phenols, Pyrroles etc).  Each individual molecule gets a short write up with information on its discovery, its threshold and its typically percieved aroma.  Sometimes information is given about the species, varietal or origin in which it is found.  Fascinating to dip into, though never going to be read cover to cover by anyone. Ever.

Coffee & Coffee Houses by Ulla Heise

Published in German it is pretty hard to find the translations into English.  Fascinating to read an account of coffee houses from a non-Anglo American point of view, though obviously with a slightly heavier emphasis on the German and Austrian coffee houses.  Lots of great pictures I’ve never seen anywhere else (due to the scarcity of vintage coffee photos the few that are out there are constantly recycled) and this, along with its size, actuallly make it quite a nice coffee table book!

Brown Gold by Andres Uribe C.

The title of Wild’s book mentioned above is obviously derived from this classic of coffee writing.  Written in the 1950′s by a  Colombian coffee academic it is an interesting mix of fact and detail about processing and growing wrapped up in a little romanticism from a clearly passionate author.  Again a book that is constantly referenced by any serious book on coffee in the last fifty years or so.  Again some great pictures of farms in the 50′s and a great insight into the coffee world at that time.

Coffee (six Volumes) by Clarke and MacRae

This is a monstrously expensive set of books I was delighted to pick up quite cheaply.  The six volumes collect together a huge amount of research and knowledge current up to the mid 1980s.  Obviously there is information in these books that has been superceded and is now irrelevent but it is still the primary source for any scientific writing on coffee published today.  Covering chemsitry, technology, agronomy, physiology, related beverages and legal aspects there is no more thorough collection of information.

It may seem odd that I have left out a few obvious choices such as Ken Davids, Corby Kummer and the brothers Schapira.  They have all written good books on coffee, but I don’t really consider them essential purchases or books that have had any sort of impact on my knowledge or passion.  I would still recommend them if someone was interested in coffee, and I would argue that no collection is complete without them.  Yet they still don’t excite me enough to make me want to try and shout about them and get people reading them.

I hope there is something of interest for people here.  If people are having trouble tracking any one in particular down I can list ISBN numbers or offer sources for second hand shopping.

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