Back in 2006 I published a recommended reading list. Since that time my collection of books has (worryingly) increased so I thought I should probably update it. I could easily write a list of coffee books that one should avoid (having learned the hard way) but I suspect that would get me into rather a lot of trouble, so I shall leave that for now. I’ve broken it down into two parts and then down into sections, and have indicated which are nice to have, and which I would consider are essential on that subject.
I will try and keep this one updated – if you think I’ve missed something obvious then let me know. I haven’t recommended books I don’t own, so this means some books may be missing that you would expect to see here.
This is quite a large post so if you want to skip down just click on the relevant section:
Hard to find/Rare Books
The Professional Barista’s Handbook – Scott Rao [Essential]
It often feels like no one is writing books on coffee any more, but this was a breath of fresh air. Detailed information on technique and theory, some new ideas well presented and written with an open mind.
I don’t think I know many coffee professionals who haven’t read this book. Whether you agree with some of his ideas, or his strict opinions on espresso preparation, you have to acknowledge the influence of both Schomer and his book. I read it twice through in one sitting when it first arrived, and it felt good to finally have a book that went some way to quenching my thirst for knowledge.
Technique may have moved on, but I think this will be a good and useful read for many more years.
Espresso Italiano Speciailist – Luigi Odello [Nice to have]
We often, as an industry, romanticise Italian Espresso while trying to do something totally different with our espresso set up. This is a great book for understanding where Italian Espresso is now, to get an idea of how it is seen and defined in Italy. There may be lots to disagree with, but there is also a lot of what we do put into better context.
Black Gold – Anthony Wild [Essential]
I will admit that this isn’t the liveliest book on coffee, and its approach to coffee trade and Fair Trade in particular are somewhat frustrating. To some extent it is a product of the time it was written in.
What makes this book valuable is the quality of research that went into it. This wasn’t a case of the author just spouting and regurgitating coffee’s history. Myths are debunked, accurate dates and events are given. This was particularly useful for me when trying to understand the real timeline for coffee’s spread across the globe – as both drink and crop.
Heavy reading but worth it.
Uncommon Grounds – Mark Pendergrast [Essential]
Very much a US-centric history of coffee, but nonethless still very interesting. Valuable again due to the quality of its research and the fact that the author came to clearly know and love his subject.
The Coffee-House: A Cultural History – Markman Ellis [Nice to have]
There are a number of good books on the coffeehouses of old – I also particularly like Anthony Clayton’s london centric one, as well as Ulla Heise’s more general book on European ones. This is a great overview, even if there is a little bit more detail in other texts. The coffee house society is something I find particularly fascinating, perhaps because I’d like to see a lot of that culture make a return!
The Devil’s Cup – Stewart Lee Allen
Coffee – H.E. Jacob
Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality – Viani & Illy [Essential]
No great surprise here, but then no one has published anything that is both as broad and concise. A great wealth of information on coffee and espresso, from agronomy to roasting to tasting. And this is just the stuff the chose to publish – have no doubts that there is plenty they aren’t releasing. An amazing company, no matter what you think of the coffee. (Assuming you’ve had it fresh!)
Coffee: Recent Developments – Clarke & Vitzthum [Essential]
Following on from the Illy book, this is a pretty hardcore text but I consult it often when looking for specific research. It covers everything from instant coffee to espresso (though is woefully light on other brewing methods). It briefly appeared on Scribd but I think it has disappeared since.
Coffee Flavor Chemistry – Ivon Flament [Nice to have]
The title is at once completely accurate and slightly misleading. This book is essentially a reference text cataloguing the individual aromatic compounds found in both green and roasted coffee. It should be deeply boring, and I suppose it is. I am amazed, however, at both the range of compounds that smell similar as well as the baffling complexity of coffee. Sometimes the extra detail on how they identified which compound, or in which coffee it is often found is very interesting. If pictures of aldehydes sound like a terrible thing then this book is best avoided.
Coffee Volumes 1-6 – R.J.Clarke [Nice to have]
I spent a very long time looking for the complete collection of these 6 books, and if you see anywhere for under £300 then I would advise buying it for no other reason than it would be a great investment. (I am grateful to a blog reader who kindly sent me a link to a scandalously cheap collection). A huge collection of information on just about every aspect of coffee (the volumes are titled, in order: Chemistry, Technology, Physiology, Agronomy, Related Beverages & Commercial and Technological Aspects)
It is perhaps a little outdated, but I still find a great deal of valuable information inside them and I’ve barely dipped a toe.
Cafe De El Salvador, Land of Coffee [Essential]
I had to debate whether to put this one in under essential, but as it is my favourite book on origin then I think I have to. I am not sure of the best place to buy this – if anyone has a link please let me know.
I may be a sucker for El Salvador but I think this is one of the most beautifully photographed books on coffee growing, as well as the most detailed. It covers each of El Salvadors growing regions well – in a way that makes me wish I had a book like this for every producing country.
The History of Coffee in Guatemala – Regina Wagner [Essential]
Much like the previous book I wish there were one of these for every producing country. The level of detail in the history of Guatemalan coffee is superb.
Brown Gold – Andrew Uribe C. [Nice to have]
This probably belongs in the rare and hard to find section, but I do think it is a great book. Written over 50 years ago it offers amazing insight into the world of coffee at that time. The photos are pretty amazing too, but you can ignore the recipes thrown in at the end – I assume they were to make the book more saleable at the time.
Look for Part 2 before new year. Comments, recommendations or thoughts welcome!