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I’ve been on the hunt for a definitive coffee book for quite a while. I’ve got my hands on a couple but nothing I’ve come across has quite got what it takes to tickle my fancy enough to say, ‘That’s the one!’… until now. James Hoffman, author of The World Atlas of Coffee, step up to the podium and take a bow. You’ve done it; you’ve given me everything I could have wanted in a book about the humble bean that keeps the world turning.
The World Atlas of Coffee starts with the (hard) cover, as every book obviously does, but this one is a little different as you can see in my photos. Sitting on the shelf at Addington Coffee Co-op, my must visit place in Christchurch, it had my attention straight away with its earthy cover, made for hard-wearing. It’s a good thing since I got a coffee stain on it right there in the cafe straight after I purchased it.
The subtitle of The World Atlas of Coffee captures its contents well, “From beans to brewing – coffees explored, explained and enjoyed.”
Part One of the book introduces the coffee plant itself. There you get a touch of history and the reason why we get the coffee we do and then Hoffman works through a good introduction to the plant, different varieties and how it gets from being a mere plant, to the coffee beans that are then traded.
Part Two then works through the process of the bean being traded, through to the different ways it makes it into the cup in the various forms we all love to consume it. Hoffman explains the different methods of roasting and the art and science that goes into a good roast, buying and storing the coffee, and then onto tasting, with tips on doing tastings at home. Also in Part Two there’s everything you need from grinding, to different brew methods, what goes into making espresso, and even discussion about home roasting and the addition of milk and sugar.
Part Three of The World Atlas of Coffee then moves around the world to the major growing regions, breaking them down by country. Each country comes with a history of coffee there, the things that make its coffee distinct, and a map to identify the major growing areas in that country. Each of the growing regions in a country has it’s own profile with solid information and there is a taste profile for each country.
The book is the most solid expose of coffee I have encountered. The research that has gone into it is clearly extensive, but not only does The World Atlas of Coffee excel in the area of information, which is critical for learning and general awareness, but the general aesthetic created through the use of quality images is of an exceptional standard.
Coffee is a consumable product and because of that it needs to also be visually appealing. Coffee can be extremely visually appealing and book captures that.
Of a worthy note (because I’m a New Zealander), The World Atlas of Coffee has the flat white included in its espresso based drinks, with a decent explanation of what it is. I’ve got a little bit sick of reading (mostly American sources) describing it as either a latte or a cappuccino by another name. The flat white is geared more towards the serious coffee lover as a good one (double shot) is designed to give more coffee flavour than either of the other two. James, thanks for doing justice to the flat white.
Also worth checking out is James’ blog, where you can find some of the stuff he learned through researching, writing, and putting the book together. There’s some stuff there really worth reading as an accompaniment to the book.
If you only ever buy one book about coffee, The World Atlas of Coffee needs to be it, but don’t just let it sit on the shelf. Read it plenty as there is much to be learned within it and it will truly help you appreciate everything that goes into the morning sip.