The best books on coffee in the U.S., China, Britain, France, and Nicaragua

Robert W. Thurston Author Of Coffee: From Bean to Barista
By Robert W. Thurston

Who am I?

I have found coffee, or in fact just about any aspect of it, from pour-over to espresso, to be endlessly challenging and rewarding. My first visit to coffee farms was in 2004, to Ethiopia and Kenya. Since then I’ve been to dozens of farms in nine or ten countries. There is something about coffee people; they are wondrously generous about sharing their expertise, if they think you care and if you know the right questions to ask. Before going deeply into coffee, I was a professor of history, and I've continued to publish on topics as diverse as Stalin, the witch hunts in Europe and North America, and the body in the Anglosphere, 1880-1920.

I wrote...

Coffee: From Bean to Barista

By Robert W. Thurston,

Book cover of Coffee: From Bean to Barista

What is my book about?

Taking the story of coffee from the ground up, the book covers cultivation, processing, roasting, brewing, the spread of coffee around the world, health and drinking coffee (good news!), and climate change. I cover the history of coffee as it spread from Ethiopia, including the social benefits and disruption that it helped facilitate. New research is featured on the plants, their main pests, and questions about how much and what kind of shade is best for the trees. Certification programs like Fair Trade get their share of praise and criticism, as does organic coffee farming. For the book, I draw on my own experience as a roaster and retailer as well as on my many visits to coffee farms around the world.

The books I picked & why

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Coffee: A Global History

By Jonathan Morris,

Book cover of Coffee: A Global History

Why this book?

Jonathan, with whom I worked on an earlier book on coffee with authors from around the world, presents the history of coffee in a wonderfully readable way. His book is filled with charming and informative photos and graphics. A professor at the University of Hertfordshire and a truly nice guy, Jonathan is an expert above all on Italian coffee. He is in demand, particularly for talks on coffee’s past and present in Europe.

The Book of Roast: The Craft of Coffee Roasting from Bean to Business

By Roast Magazine,

Book cover of The Book of Roast: The Craft of Coffee Roasting from Bean to Business

Why this book?

Anyone who would like to understand how coffee flavors develop, which is key to raising your level of sophistication about coffee, should pick up this book. Roasting green coffee beans is an art and science for which people are always trying new methods. The Book of Roast provides a detailed look at the history of roasting, from stovetop to massive machines, and tells why the best roaster takes such meticulous care in handling the beans. The latest and best methods of roasting and preparing coffee beverages are covered. In places, the book becomes a bit technically challenging, but it remains quite readable. For me, it was a great exploration of science plus taste. As one coffee expert put it to me, you can reveal the flavors in good beans (and you can ruin them quickly while roasting), but you can never improve upon them.

Coffee Is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust

By Stuart McCook,

Book cover of Coffee Is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust

Why this book?

McCook traces the global devastation of coffee trees around the world that began in 1869. His work is not just about coffee, but about the ways in which pathogens are spread by air, ships, birds, and even by humans tracking it into remote sites on their boots. So the book is about coffee but about much more:  why do certain pathogens explode all of a sudden; how have farmers tried to cope with the fungus, which destroys entire trees and whole farms; what is the genetic stock of coffee now; why has rust suddenly appeared in Latin America in recent years; and what experiments are going on to try to defeat rust? Stuart, by the way, is a wonderful guy to meet and talk to about coffee and its pests. His book is absolutely readable!

God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee

By Michaele Weissman,

Book cover of God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee

Why this book?

Weissman follows the travels and experiences of three major figures in specialty coffee (not ever precisely defined, but pretty much meaning anything not in a plastic tub at the grocery store, and implying great care in selecting and roasting coffee beans) who have been looking for years for fabulous coffee. The guys involved are fascinating, complex coffee geeks. Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee talks about a cup that was so good it seemed to have “streams of light” coming out of it. Don Holly was so transported by one brew that he “saw the face of God in the cup.” The book follows these two and other experts as they trek everywhere in search of excellent coffee. It’s all a good ride, replete with various adventures in travel, into what makes specialty coffee special.

The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel

By Anthony Capella,

Book cover of The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel

Why this book?

Coffee, sex, travel, exotic locales, romance, and at long last love. This novel has it all, made vivid through the story of a more or less ordinary Englishman in the late 1890s who finds that he has a remarkable talent for discovering and describing the flavors and the problems in brewed coffee. He goes to Ethiopia to learn more about coffee. There his adventures become, shall we say, quite vivid, and some remarkable twists appear. Nicely written by an international best-selling author. Used copies are really cheap. You will have fun reading this with a great cup of coffee.

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