Apr 9 2012

I'm pretty astonished at how little has been published about coffee, and about coffee roasting. There are some all-you-need-to-know books out there, but they all seem to be pretty outdated. There is of course, plenty of info online, however this can prove to be challenging to compile and turn out to be an untidy read (considering all the copying you'll need to do to).

photoThere are a few staple books that most coffee roasters and enthusiasts seem to give collective thumbs up to: Mark Pendergrast's Uncommon Grounds (Basic Books, 1999) is a sprawling, comprehensive account of the history of coffee and how the product achieved its global reach. I really enjoyed the pace of this book -- Pendergrast makes the reading of coffee history exciting and compelling, and although the historical content is dense, I found it a hard book to put down. I have found several other books on the subject of the history of coffee, most notably: Stewart Lee Allen's The Devil's Cup (Ballantine Books, 1999) and Bennet Alan WeinBerg and Bonnie K. Bealer's The World of Caffeine (Routledge, 2001).

photoStewart Lee Allen's Devils Cup is a personal account of the author's quest to answer some of time's most enduring questions about man's obsession with the drink. I found Devil's Cup to be amusing, and Allen does infuse his travelogue with actual historical facts relating to the growth of the global coffee trade. It reads more like a comedy than a lecture, and it may be just the right type of book for folks looking for a good light read to take with them on a trip or a holiday.

Conversely, WeinBerg and Bealer's The World of Caffeine is not unlike a compendium of historical facts regarding coffee and tea. It was nominated for a James Beard Award. The World of Caffeine will satisfy readers that prefer a more concise and academic account of not just the history of coffee and tea, but also an exploration of the effects that caffeine has on the human body.

photoWhen it comes to the technical side of coffee production and the chemistry of coffee roasting, there is only one book that qualifies for the vaunted top slot, as the roaster's bible: Michael Sivetz's Coffee Technology (AVI Publishing Company, 1979). Coffee Technology is widely regarded as the authority on industrial coffee production, and even though Sivetz published his book over thirty years ago, it is still greatly appreciated and considered highly relevant. Sivetz is also considered to be a major authority on the subject of modern coffee production, and he played a pivotal role in designing large industrial plants for iconic American brands such as General Foods and Maxwell House. He is also known as the inventor of Fluid Bed roasting, which in technical terms is an alternative heat transfer method for roasting coffee. Sadly, Sivetz recently passed away; his legacy, however, will continue on and inspire future roasters and coffee enthusiasts alike for generations to come.

At the beginning of our conversation on the subject of good coffee reads, I did mention that there's a lot of information online about coffee, its history and the industry. I have visited many websites that include blogs and other coffee roasters opinions and insights on these subjects. I always keep my eyes peeled for new and interesting websites; however, I do have one favorite that I always return and refer other people to: SweetMarias.com is a virtual one-stop shop when it comes to info on roasting coffee, history and the actual product itself. I strongly urge anyone with a growing interest in coffee to visit this site.

I do hope that this has been helpful for folks just getting started -- wondering where to begin the never-ending educational journey of becoming a coffee geek. I believe some of these publications will point you in the right direction.

About the author: Martyn is the McMenamins Roast Master
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