I’ll be honest. I’m not a great reader of coffee-related books, despite having written one myself! It’s not that I don’t read (although I don’t read as much as I’d like), it’s more that when I do read, it tends to be fiction or history rather than coffee. Since I spend much of my day writing about coffee on the Coffee Spot, as well as reading other blogs, when it comes to sitting down with a book (which often goes hand-in-hand with my daily espresso), the last thing I want to do is read about coffee!
That said, every now and then, a book catches my eye, sometimes from a recommendation or more often because I’ve come across one at a coffee festival. Over the years, I’ve amassed a small library of books on coffee, the Coffee Spot Library if you like. Many of these I’ve written about in one form or another, but, as with most of my posts, they are scattered throughout the Coffee Spot and near impossible to find unless you are looking for them.
Hence this page, which gather them all together, much like my Guide to Reusable Cups page. What you’ll find is a short summary of each book, and, if I’ve written a longer piece about it, I’ll also link to it. I’ve grouped the books under the following broad categories:
Books about Coffee
This broad category covers books that don’t easily fit into the other categories, so what better place to start.
From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe
Robert Leigh’s From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe is one of the first books on coffee that I read, although I don’t know if it’s still in print. It’s a first-person narrative about travelling, warts and all, to the coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia, which stretches far beyond coffee growing and production. It’s personal and opinionated, yet never biased or one-sided. For example, we share the author’s shock at seeing children working in coffee processing but also see the other side of the story, the economic necessity that drives them to work at such a young age. I wrote more about From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe back in 2014.
Dear Coffee Buyer
Dear Coffee Buyer is by Ryan Brown and published by Twenty Six Letters. It’s a lovely, beautifully written book and although it’s quite niche (the subtitle is “A Guide to Sourcing Green Coffee”) I learnt so much from it. What’s particularly impressive is how Ryan Brown’s first-hand knowledge shines out on every page. Dear Coffee Buyer is shot through with his personal opinions, drawn from his years of experience on the ground in various coffee-growing countries around the world. It’s that kind of insight that I value even when I disagree with him! I wrote more about Dear Coffee Buyer in my 2019 Gift Guide.
Thanks a Thousand
Thanks a Thousand, by A.J.Jacobs, is a slim volume which tells the story of how the author was inspired to try to thank every person who has made his morning cup of coffee possible, a journey that finishes in a coffee farm in Colombia.
As much a book about gratitude and not taking things for granted as it is about coffee, I found it a thoroughly entertaining read.
Coffeeland, by Augustine Sedgewick is ostensibly a history of coffee in El Salvador, focusing on James Hill, who went from the slums of nineteenth-century Manchester to El Salvador, where he founded one of its great coffee dynasties. However, Coffeeland is a lot more than that, a fascinating, multi-threaded book, weaving together many strands of the industrial world to tell the story of coffee from the perspective of those who produce it. A harrowing read at times, it shines a light on some of coffee’s darker corners. I was so taken with Coffeeland that I wrote an entire post on it.
The category of biography is pretty straightforward, so I’ll say no more.
The Monk of Mokha
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers, needs no introduction from me. It’s the true story of how Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni American, raised in San Francisco, travelled to Yemen to help revive its speciality coffee industry. It’s a fascinating story that goes well beyond coffee into the tragedy of the civil war in Yemen which was breaking out just as Mokhtar was there. The contrast between Mokhtar, growing up in San Francisco and learning about his heritage, and his time in Yemen, first building relationships with farmers, then trying to escape the civil war, is gripping.
The Coffee Visionary
The Coffee Visionary by Jasper Houtman tells of the life and legacy of Dutchman, Alfred Peet, who, at the age of 46, founded of Peet’s Coffee. Although now a large coffee shop chain, back in the late 1960s, the original Peet’s was in Stanford. Roasting the coffee in his shop, Peet would encourage his customers to taste and savour the flavours, soon becoming a mecca for coffee lovers. Peet inspired, amongst others, the founders of Starbucks, and The Coffee Visionary traces his considerable legacy on American coffee shop culture. I wrote more about The Coffee Visionary in my World of Coffee round up from 2018.
Salford to Shanghai
I have no idea if Salford to Shanghai is still in print. It’s the story of Ruth Hampson, owner of Harrogate’s Bean & Bud, and details her journey into speciality tea and coffee, starting with her early life in Salford. Although titled Salford to Shanghai (no doubt for the alliteration, of which I approve!), the book reaches Shanghai before the halfway mark, going on to describe how Ruth married Hayden, and how the couple opened Bean & Bud in 2010.
Another broad category, this covers a book on the history of coffee, a dictionary and a guide to latte art!
Coffee, A Global History
Coffee, A Global History by Professor Jonathan Morris of the University of Hertfordshire covers much of the same ground as my book, The Philosophy of Coffee, but takes a more in-depth look at the subject. Although its still quite a compact book (it’s about twice the length of The Philosophy of Coffee), Professor Morris’s academic background comes through strongly in the writing style, while the book is illustrated throughout with some lovely pictures, many in full colour (I can only boast black and white illustrations in The Philosophy of Coffee). If you want to know more about the history of coffee, this is the place to start.
Coffee: A Modern Field Guide
Coffee: A Modern Field Guide, by Mat North (of Full Court Press fame) is available direct from the publishers and is a tiny thing, just 64 pages in a handy, hand-sized notebook. Although small, it takes you all the way from the coffee plant, through growing, harvesting, milling, roasting and brewing, with a neat section at the back on tasting coffee. As compact guides go, it’s pretty comprehensive and, being so small, makes an ideal go-to reference source. You can pretty much find and read the basic outline of a given subject in a couple of minutes, which is about as long as it takes me just to find the relevant section in some of my larger reference books.
Coffee Obsession is by Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile fame. It’s a full colour, coffee table book, a mixture of text, graphics and pictures. It covers what coffee actually is, where it comes from and how it gets from coffee plant to the roasted coffee bean). There’s advice on making coffee, including grinding and storing, plus various brewing techniques. However, the bulk of the book is taken up with a section on coffee beans from around the world, along over 100 coffee recipes (different ways of making coffee). I wrote more about Coffee Obsession back in 2014.
The Coffee Dictionary
The Coffee Dictionary is by none other than Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, three-time UK Barista Champion and owner of the famous Colonna & Small’s in Bath. Published by Octopus Books, it’s a handy, hardback A-Z of coffee which goes from acidity to Zambia. The Coffee Dictionary sits just off to my left at my computer desk and while I know that in this day and age, I could just look it up on-line it, there’s something reassuring about reaching up for a book and flicking through the pages. And, let’s face it, you can’t get much more authoritative than Maxwell.
Also published by Octopus Books, Coffee Art is by friend of the Coffee Spot, Dhan Tamang. It’s a step-by-step guide to creating great latte art from the six-time UK Latte Art Champion and is packed full of practical advice and, most importantly, pictures. It now has a permanent spot next to my espresso machine. As an amusing aside, I was actually approached by the publishers to write this book. Once I’d stopped laughing (have you seen my latte art?) I told them that they really needed to ask Dhan to write it and the rest is history.
Although we live in a digital age, I still enjoy having a physical guidebook in my hand. I often find myself turning to the Independent Coffee Guides if I’m heading to a new area.
The Independent Coffee Guides
The Independent Coffee Guide series is published by Salt Media. This started off with the South West and South Wales Guide, which has since expanded to cover the rest of the South of England. It’s been joined by three further guides: Scotland; Ireland; and the North, Midlands and North Wales. They are regularly updated, with South England and South Wales already up to its sixth edition! Each guide lists both coffee shops and roasters, organised by city or region. There’s also a smattering of interesting articles which are well worth reading.
Not many people write about coffee as the central theme in fiction. In fact, I can only think of two book…
The Bitter Trade
The Bitter Trade is a historical novel set in the coffeehouses of London in the late 17th century. It’s well-written, with interesting characters and an intriguing story that leaves you wanting to know more, so in that sense, it’s a real page turner. Although it’s about coffee, it also covers politics and intrigue, centred around the hero, Calumny Spinks, a poor boy from Essex who is drawn into a world of blackmail and conspiracy. I’ll warn you though: the book ends on a cliff-hanger, with the tale continuing in Piers’ second book, Scatterwood, which takes Calumny to Jamaica. I wrote a whole post about The Bitter Trade and its launch back in 2014.