A Guide to Coffee Books for the Novice Explorer and Enthusiast
Jeremy Torz at Union Hand Roasted coined the term ‘novice explorer’ and it is probably apt for this list of coffee related books although some reflect books the consumer enthusiast might need. Though all the books will have something to offer coffee professionals, we have in mind the consumer at some stage into their journey of adventure into the world of coffee. These books are available from a range of sources, I’ve included mostly Waterstones links as they generally pay their taxes and have even introduced decent coffee in their stores in London. Cafes like Prufrock stock a range of these and it’s also worth checking the authors’ websites where applicable.
General Introductory Tomes
These four coffee table books, all published in the last two years, cover similar ground. They explain the process of coffee from bean to cup (growing, trading, roasting, brewing), a little of the history of coffee and its production and drinking, and a section on the geography of coffee production. All four have different strengths and we’ve never regretted owning any of these four as they are quite distinct. For us they’ve replaced the visually elegant Bluebottle Craft of Coffee which was previously the go-to text of this style but consists more than half of recipes rather than information.All these books have particularly good use of photography.
This is probably the book we open most, and functions well as a reference book, particularly in the detailed section on origin regions within countries and the information on processes, varieties, political background, history and traceability within each region. James is one of coffee’s thinkers, a challenger of assumptions and a coffee philosopher if you will, so this is a book you need to have.
Tristan’s background might be more in bartending than coffee but this is an excellent book. Where Tristan excels is in the history of coffee production, roasting and brewing, and he has a gift for bringing this alive. The section on the history of the espresso machine is particularly well researched and presented. This book, an impulse purchase while browsing Foyles, drew us in and held our attention.
Union Hand Roasted have been in the business longer than most of us have been drinking coffee and the company has pioneered direct trade with an admirable emphasis on improving quality hand in hand with improving life for coffee producers. This book is written in a very accessible way and covers a lot of ground. Union’s experience and expertise shines off the pages. Its particular strengths are in the sections on ethical trading and in coffee production at origin with a real voice given to coffee producers within the pages of the book. It’s a very fine book who’s only glaring omission is a certain website from among its recommendations!
The existence of a book on coffee by such a mainstream publisher, written by one of the pivotal figures in the development of London coffee should not be underestimated. It may well have developed the knowledge of thousands of people new to coffee. As befitting the DK style, it’s big on the poster-style graphics and though we’ve never used the recipes section at the end, the text and images make for excellent communication and we’ve returned to the book several times as a reference because of the clarity of explanation. For a book that is hugely accessible to the coffee novice, it goes into surprising depth at times.
A lovely little tiny booklet that serves as a short (65 pages) excellent introduction and goes quite deep within its few pages.
Well, normally you’d come here for that sort of thing but here goes…
We’d love to see more coffee travelogues like this: a simple account of Liz Clayton journeying across Scandinavia, Canada and the US, featuring one café and coffee at the home of one ‘coffee friend’ in each city. Personable and reflective of the friendliness of the coffee world, this is currently out of stock at the publishers in Japan (we ordered our copy there) but is available through amazon.com.
This wonderful book focusses on neighbourhood cafes and tells their story, focusing on the people behind the cafes, the atmosphere therein and the communities they serve. It’s one of our main reference books. The chapters on non-speciality coffee based cafes are no less captivating.
We still have the first edition too. A pocket sized guide featuring an exclusive selection of the finest coffeeshops across London. Compared to our site of course it’s now a little out of date but fascinating reading still and with great photographs from Vic Frankowski
While we much preferred the exclusivity of Vespertine Press guides, it’s wonderful to have this Allegra guide published every year. It excels in its inclusion of detail and its great photography. It soon becomes out of date though given the fast changes in London. More major flaws are the bizarre scoring system for cafes (4 and a half beans anyone?) and the tendency to include any London cafe regardless of quality of provenance.
One of the best minds in coffee – search out her talks for World Coffee Research on Youtube – gives us her take on the development of the coffee scene in the West Coast of the USA which has of course influenced the world..
Dipping into anthropology, Merry Corky White's book is a fascinating read on the culture of coffee in Japan.
Truly groundbreaking and a book that will have a great impact on your coffee making. At the same time it’s very complex and don’t make the mistake we made of trying to read it page by page from front to back. The first chapter had us reeling and constantly reading and re-reading. Take it in small doses.
The most influential book we’ve ever read. Shepherd takes us on a fascinating journey into how the brain creates flavour. This book changes and enhances the way you experience food and drink and is a superbly entertaining read. The explanations of scientific experiments add validity but the average reader can safely skip those sections and gain a great deal from this book.
Simply presented and accessible but most of the content is available elsewhere and online. Recommended as a place to start though.
Highly recommended. The coffee trade has played one of the single greatest roles in shaping world history and this book demonstrates this, along with the effect of the coffee trade in shaping economics and politics of entire countries.
Focussing more on commodity traded coffee, Antony Wild’s exploration of coffee's dismal colonial past and its perilous corporate present is a reminder of the contwxt behind approaches such as direct trade
If you make espresso at home, there are plenty of forums and other sources to consult and if you make other types of coffee at home you have enough to go on with the general books in the first section or online sources but if you buy a book on the subject, this is the one. We also recommend Scott’s book on coffee roasting but feel that falls outside the realms of this list as does his Baristas’ Handbook.
Coffee Hit is the best place to find this tiny journal. It’s not a book to read but a book to record coffee tasting observations in. When we first started brewing coffee at home we recorded every coffee in one of these journals: listing tasting notes and completing a tasting wheel. This educated our palates no end.
We’ve never splashed out ion any of Tim Wendelboe’s books which cost a fair bit but no doubt reward. We were also hugely impressed with our first glance of Ninety Plus’ Coffee Story: Ethiopia, written by Majka Burhardt but have never more than glanced at it.