Serious Reads: Blue Bottle's New Coffee Primer


[Photo: Liz Clayton]

Despite the rumored death of print, no restaurant worth its salt has escaped without a fancy coffee table book about itself in recent years—and now the wave of coffee table books about coffee is finally in full force. Riding its crest is Blue Bottle Coffee, the bicoastal roaster whose beloved following swears by its theatrical siphon bars, artisanal parfaits and clean-lined cafes.

Their debut book, then, The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes, by Blue Bottle founder James Freeman and his expert-baker spouse, Caitlin Freeman, should provide one more soft opening for many who are still new to the discovery process of what so-called specialty coffee can be. Its 230 pages are as artful as you'd expect: full of coffee, kettle, espresso-spout and cookie porn, and a lot of those cute little line drawings used on the Blue Bottle menus and merchandise. Full of delicious recipes from Caitlin's end of the spectrum (she's a former owner of San Francisco's Miette), it's also the only coffee book I've ever seen with a disclaimer about the perils of raw eggs.

As a general introduction, The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee does a terrific job: it delivers a broad range of information that combines both the origin-production aspects of coffee with the food-experience aspects of coffee. From basic preparation techniques to tips on how to prepare your own cuppings at home or even roast in the oven (dubiously promoted here as a way to enjoy the "increased complexity" of an uneven roast), the book is a super-useful primer for those just getting their coffee feet wet. It's also a good cultural Cliff's Note: the sections on Japanese coffee culture and techniques and farmer vignettes round out their positioning of this North American version of what is, agriculturally and culinarily, a worldwide movement.

For advanced coffee connoisseurs, the book may not prove quite as enlightening (or may even prove contentious!) on theory and technique (though I appreciated the sidebar on troubleshooting your macarons) but for the majority of readers, it offers an unintimidating, warm entree to a subject many find a bit (groan) murky. It would, in fact, make a wonderful gift for any coffee snob's family or friends who do not understand their lifestyle choice—and for those of us who, in between and alongside exploring our coffee journey, would also like a side of brandy cake and waffles.