Coffee Reads: 'Joe: The Coffee Book'

Book Reviews

Drinks-related books to add to the stack on your bedside table.


The original Joe, in New York's West Village. [Photograph: Rachel Levy]

What's the second best thing to drinking coffee? Reading about it. Today we're checking out the newest contribution to the caffeinated canon, from the folks behind the New York coffee-shop chain: Joe: The Coffee Book.

Written by the brother-sister team Jonathan and Gabrielle Rubinstein with cookbook author Judith Choate, and featuring beautiful photographs by Steve Pool, Joe: The Coffee Book is the most recent in a string of coffee tomes by roasters, retailers, and obsessives. (Look for upcoming releases from Blue Bottle and, reportedly, Stumptown, as well as one by New York Times coffee columnist Oliver Strand.)


Part history of coffee, part history of Joe, and all caffeinated geekery, this contribution to your bookshelf is a fast-reading little love story to our favorite little beans, as well as to the people who grow, roast, brew, and drink them.

(Full disclosure: Not only did I actually work at Joe for more than four years—from barista to store manager to trainer—but I'm also actually featured in the book—in good company along with my Serious Coffee cohort, Liz Clayton.)

Even if I weren't still something of a part of the mini-chain's extended family, I'd still be impressed by much of what's between these covers: Beautiful and expressive images; accessible writing; and clear, easy-to-follow home-brewing instructions for any average joe just interested in making cafe-worthy brews in the comfort of his own kitchen.

If you've stared longingly at that Aeropress you got for your last birthday but were too perplexed and scared to try it out, this is the book for you. And in the interest of complete honesty, I'll admit to you that though there's been a Cafe Solo floating around my office for about three years, I didn't actually know how to use it until I took my first pass through The Coffee Book. Turns out you put the grounds into the base of the carafe itself, not in the misleadingly-basket-shaped mesh filter as I had been doing.

Chalk this up not only to the usefulness of Joe's book, but perhaps also to reading the instruction manual that accompanies a new appliance before tossing said instruction manual in the trash. (Sure, I could also have learned about this brewer from this very website, but that's another story.)

Various brewing methods are demystified with easy-to-follow instructions—and, one better, super-helpful photos of the grind size each calls for; a behind-the-scenes look at the roasting process is equally enlightening without being intimidating or overwhelmingly detailed; and a collection of coffee-positive testimonials from professionals and dilettantes alike manages to be charming without appearing naive or Pollyannaish, and mostly avoids becoming one big advertisement for the cafes.

("Daddy is very grouchy if he doesn't have his cup of coffee in the morning," offers astute 9-year-old Ezra Septimus. Meanwhile, Sweetleaf Café owner Richard Nieto says, "As baristas, we are given the privilege of preparing and serving the final product to our customers. We should look to honor all the people from the coffee picker to the roaster who have worked so hard to make great coffee possible." Ezra's daddy probably heartily agrees.)

Though some stories and information included about both Joe and its coffee roaster, Ecco Caffe (via Intelligentsia) strikes me as a little inside baseball, the book does capture the passion and enthusiasm that every person at Joe has for coffee and community, which lends it a more universal appeal. (At least to coffee lovers; teetotalers might find it nauseating how much these people love the hot brown stuff.)

If your coffee table is looking a little bare these days, or if you just want to learn more about the to-do behind your daily brew, this might be just the book for you. And while you don't have to be a New Yorker to appreciate Joe, though it would probably help to be a joe lover to appreciate this little coffee compendium.

Got another favorite coffee book to share?