Monday, December 22, 2008

Books, books and books

A quick roundup of some of the coffee books that I have read this year:

The Professional Barista's Handbook, Scott Rao

This book was the inspiration for this post; Shaughan from Five Senses kindly sent me a copy of this book to get my opinion on it. So if you want to buy this book as a result of this blog post, kindly point your web browser here!

Scott Rao is clearly a gifted trainer; watch this clip to see him teach a total newbie how to steam milk and pour latte art in ten minutes. Rao has some rather cool innovations, such as a cheap way of leaning to steam milk (watch the video) and a clever way of affixing thermometers to milk jugs (buy the book). Rao is also not above making reference to the work of others, and it is this that raises Rao's book above being just another training book. The concise and snappy description of the espresso process makes the thinking of the likes of Schecter, Schulman and Petracco - to name a few - accessible to people who don't want to wade through the original articles. The book also includes thoughtful chapters on drip coffee (bulk brew), french press, water and tea. Extracts from the book are available to sample on Rao's site and on H-B.

Rao's book has received a lot of praise, but little attention has been brought to its shortcomings. The two most glaring omissions are cleaning and the relative contributions of the factors covered (eg. maybe using one group at a time results in a marginally better shot, but is this book seriously advocating that one should never use more than one group at a time on their cafe's three group machine?). The chapter on science and theory of espresso extraction is interesting, but not ultimately useful in terms of improving the quality of your cup. A better inclusion would have been some more extensive data on how grind, dose and brew temperature can be manipulated to change results in the cup -- such knowledge currently resides only in the heads of experienced baristi.

Who should buy it: People who want the steps to great espresso laid out in a concise, succinct and comprehensive manner.

The Espresso Quest, Instaurator

Inny's book is an engaging narrative that takes the reader through some of his experiences over twenty or thirty years in the espresso game. The book makes no pretences towards being an exclusive reference on any of the topic covered, but it does provide a lot of interesting information that might otherwise be hidden from the coffee consumer. Stellar photography paired with engaging narrative.

Who should buy it: Anyone who is interested in the coffee industry and, in particular, the Australian espresso scene.

God in a Cup

Apparently both this book and Espresso Quest shared the same title; Weissman's book beat Inny's to the presses by half a length, so the title of Espresso Quest was changed. Weissman brings both the skills and ethics of a professional journalist to bear in writing this impressive book. Set out in novel style, the book chronicles Weissman's immersion in coffee culture as an outsider meeting some of the US's great roasters and travelling to origin. Panama Hacienda la Esmeralda features heavily in the book and I can say from experience that coffee nuts will enjoy reading this book with a cup of that coffee in hand! This book is highly US-centric, as one would expect, and that perhaps makes it an even better read for an Australian audience. You can listen to an interview with the author in CG podcast #62.

Who should buy it: Anyone who is interested in what goes on behind the scenes in bringing a cup of coffee to the table.

The Coffee Cupper's Handbook, Ted Lingle

This is a 'must have' for anyone who cups on any semi-serious level. I would be shocked - shocked - if anyone who purported to call themselves a professional roaster did not own a copy of this book.

The book itself is unashamedly technical and dry. It isn't a thrilling read, nor does it have Promethean tendencies to illuminate the art, but it does make for an extremely useable reference.

Who should buy it: Serious cuppers. And, to borrow a phrase from Derryn Hinch, if you call yourself a professional roaster and you don't own a copy - shame, shame, shame.

Coffee Technology, 2nd Edition, Sivetz et. al.

Published in the 1970s, from memory, this unashamedly dense and technical book is still ahead of the curve. Coffee enthusiasts and professionals constantly lament that 'someone should do a technical study on' the differences in packaging, effects of certain factors on roast, etc, etc. I haven't yet devoured the entire tome, but I would not be surprised if many of the questions facing the current crop of specialty coffee professionals aren't addressed to some extent in this book.

Who should buy it: Professional coffee roasters.

Espresso Made in Italy 1901-1962, Enrico Maltoni

Enrico Maltoni has what must surely be the most jaw-droppingly awesome collection of perfectly restored vintage espresso machines in the world. This bilingual book is light on words, but heavy on photos. For the price, though, buyers should beware that it is soft cover.

Who should buy it: Vintage espresso nuts.

La Marzocco History, Piero Bambi

Ron Cook kindly gave me a copy of this book when I made the pilgrimage to the factory in Florence a few years back. This bilingual book is a surprisingly great read, giving some insight into what it was like to be in the business of espresso machine manufacture in the early days.

Who should buy it: Serious La Marzocco nuts.

La Marzocco 80th Anniversary Collection Book, La Marzocco

This is La Marzocco's equivalent of the Maltoni book; gorgeous photos, light on text, but hardcover. The photos are also available in the 80th anniversary poster set and I put many of them up behind the bookshelves at First Pour, Melbourne.

Who should buy it: La Marzocco and vintage espresso machine tragics. (If you're putting in an order on the LM E-Shop, please let me know - I'd like to get some stuff, but am too stingy to do it without splitting postage!)

Hacienda La Minita, Bill McAlpin

This book has some great photography from the famed Hacienda La Minita in Costa Rica, together with a few speeches from the farm's owner, Bill McAlpin.

Who should buy it: A coffee table book for coffee enthusiasts.

Connecting Worlds - The Coffee Trail, Olaf Hammelburg

Another book with fantastic photography and relatively little text; this one follows Peruvian coffee from seed to cup, from Peru to the USA and Canada.

Who should buy it: People who like great coffee related photography.



At 4:08 AM, Blogger bigabeano said...

Thank you for your kind words about my book. Regarding your criticisms, the points are well-taken. I left out cleaning instruction mostly because I would prefer that instruction to be provided by each machine manufacturer. However, you are not the first to say I should have provided such instruction, so if and when I write another book I certainly will add cleaning info.

As for manipulating cup quality using dose, grind, and temperature, you are emphatically right, it would have been a useful addition to the book. I would have liked to have included such information but at the time I was not satisfied with my knowledge of the subject. I have dedicated this year to experimenting with flavor manipulation and look forward to sharing what I have learned when I have something worth reporting.

Kind regards,
Scott Rao


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