One of the most enjoyable things in life is when two passions begin to overlap. And for me that is coffee and books. I love coffee in just about any shape, method or form. And I love reading everything from novels to history to geeky coffee books.
The idea of sitting down with a home brewed latte in a comfy seat in front of the fire with a good book is my idea of living the dream. And maybe it is your idea too. If you haven’t tried it then you are in for a treat!
And if you are a coffee lover, which is a fair assumption if you have taken the time to read this, then there is something particularly enjoyable about the process of learning about coffee. The more you know of the third wave or specialty coffee movement the more you will understand that it is a complex world, spanning from indigenous coffee farmers to cutting edge brewing techniques to a rather chequered history.
There is just about a whole language that the dedicated coffee lover will have to learn from tasting notes, to processing terms, to brewing methods. So if you love coffee then investing in some decent coffee books is one of the best ways to both grow your understanding and your love for everything coffee.
A nice added bonus is that coffee books tend to be very aesthetically pleasing and do go with the hipster coffee vibes and look great on any coffee table.
Here are a few of my recommendations and books that have really shaped the way I think and talk about coffee.
Best Coffee Books 2020
The World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing – Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed – James Hoffman
The World Atlas of Coffee was actually the very first coffee book that I read through in full so it is somewhat sentimental to me. And the fact that I read it from cover to cover is probably a testimony in itself both to how readable and engaging it is. If you love coffee and are making it your thing then chances are that you have already stumbled across James Hoffman and his excellent coffee videos on YouTube. James Hoffman was the 2007 World Barista Champion and since then has been a leading figure in the specialty coffee movement and operates the Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London.
The best word that I can use to describe this book is a compendium of coffee. It is a one-stop-shop for anything and everything coffee. The book is split into three parts; Part 1: Introduction to Coffee, Part 2: From Bean to Cup, and Part 3: Coffee Origins. Part one deals with the fascinating but sometimes overlooked process of where coffee comes from and the growing and harvesting process. Part 2 deals with what will most appeal to many home brewers; how to make coffee. It goes through roasting, storing, tasting, grinding, and brewing coffee with a stack of handy tips and individual sections for different brewing methods.
Part three is the biggest section of the book and goes into the different countries where coffee is grown. In each country it deals with the history of coffee growing, taste profile, and the various growing regions. This is fascinating and I have found that I constantly refer to it whenever I am trying new single origin beans.
The World Atlas of Coffee is a fairly large book that is easy to read and filled with stunning full colour photographs. It looks great, reads great, and especially is a great reference tool to those constantly trying new beans from different countries. This is the second edition which is slightly enlarged and updated from the original.
I highly recommend it and trust Hoffmann implicitly when it comes to coffee.
The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes – James Freeman, Caitlin, Freeman, and Tara Duggan
Another well known name in the coffee world is that of Blue Bottle Coffee. Started by James Freeman in the early 2000s as a small roaster and coffee cart, Blue Bottle Coffee has become synonymous with excellent coffee and the third wave coffee movement. This book is again a favourite of mine and is well written which makes it a joy to read.
The book itself is divided into four sections; Grow, Roast, Eat, and Drink. As with many of the coffee books on this list the idea is that the book covers everything from how coffee is grown, to how to drink it, and best brewing practices. In the brewing part there is dedicated
sections on how to brew Pour Over, French Press, Nel Drip, Siphon, Turkish, and Espresso. The final section is somethat rare in a coffee book and is actually a synopsis of some of the best foods to eat with coffee with recipes included which is quite cool. It is written by James Freeman’s wife.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is again a good starting point if you are playing with a new brewing method and a great reference tool to have on the shelf. What I personally enjoyed about reading it was hearing the history of Blue Bottle Coffee and James Freeman’s quite incredible journey with coffee. Many parts of the book read as a story and again there are plenty of photographs and diagrams. This book is a good place to start for those who are fairly new to the coffee world.
This rather quirky book is basically what it claims to be, a manual for home coffee brewing. Jessica Easto interestingly is actually a writer rather than a coffee professional but her husband has worked for years for Halfwit Coffee in Chicago. The upside of this is that Jessica simply understands words and how to write. She has quite a casual quirky writing style that is quite fun and the book is filled with both photos and diagrams which made it a real pleasure to read.
The book has six chapters that cover brewing basics, coffee gear, growing coffee, buying coffee, flavours of coffee, and then how-to guides for different brewing methods. This is definitely one of the books on this list which is easiest to read cover to cover without getting bogged down in technical language or tedious sections. It is nice to read and really is intended for the home brewer rather than the coffee professional.
The final chapter has individual guides for a range of brewing methods including French Press, Aeropress, Clever Dripper, Siphon, Melitta, Beehopuse, Walkure, Kalita Wave, Chemex, and V60. This is definitely one of my go to recommendations for those looking for a single book that is readable and just about covers everything. I find that I do just keep coming back to how I like the cover and feel of this book.
Also, for what it is worth, this book was named a top food and drink book when it was released in 2017 by Food Network, Sprudge, and Booklist.
If you have read many of our other articles you might have picked up that Scott Rao is my go-to-guy when it comes to just about anything coffee. He is not a particularly creative writer, the books he releases almost read like textbooks, but he simply understands coffee deeply and writes out of a lifetime of experience in the coffee industry. And so I find that I keep coming back to him. My rule of thumb is that if he has written it, then it is worth reading. If you are a coffee geek (wear the title with pride!) then Scott Rao is for you.
Everything But Espresso is just as the title suggests a book about just about every brewing method with the exception of espresso. It is an incredibly technical book which delves into the science of coffee brewing (extraction, TDS, grinding theory etc), water chemistry, and exceptionally helpful brewing guides. I can honestly say that Rao has probably taught me more about the technical side of coffee than anyone else.
I regularly go back to his brewing guides in this book and have incorporated many of his tips into my brewing. In particular his section on understanding grind beds for pour over is exceptionally helpful. In fact, whenever I see that a specialty cafe sells coffee gear I look for Rao’s books, and if they are there then I trust the cafe. I can’t recommend this resource enough, but as noted if you are looking for a light Sunday evening read then this is not for you. This is a book for the home brewer or coffee professional serious about understanding coffee and brewing technique.
The Professional Barista’s Handbook: An Expert Guide to Preparing, Espresso, Coffee, and Tea – Scott Rao
This somewhat daunting sounding book is the sister volume to Everything but Espresso. It is one of the few books on this list that, as the name suggests, really is intended for the coffee professional. This isn’t a long book but is packed to the brim with photos, diagrams, and a stack of information about just about everything you need to know about brewing coffee in a cafe setting.
Especially if you are seeking to brew excellent espresso in a commercial setting then this really is a must-read that is worth its weight in gold and covers just about everything you will need to know. This makes it a great training tool for cafes and I can’t help but think that if more baristas read this book then there would be a heck of a lot less bad coffee being sold in our world. If you work in the coffee industry, buy this book, end of discussion.
The book covers espresso preparation extensively, but also extraction theory, milk, barista systems, drip coffee, french press, water chemistry, and tea.
It is also worth noting that Scott Rao also has a book on Coffee Roasting that is again essential reading if you are a coffee roaster. Rao has travelled all over the world doing courses on coffee roasting practices and so his wisdom is worth heeding.
Brewing Justice is a little bit different from many of the other books on this list and hones in on the global coffee industry and the issue of Fair Trade. Fair Trade tends to be a term that is regularly thrown around but seldom fully understood by coffee enthusiasts. You might have noticed that the beans you regularly brew with have a little Fair Trade sticker or don’t but what does that little mean and how much as coffee consumers should we care?
The author Daniel Jaffee is a sociologist from the Michigan State University and this book is the result of two years of rigorous interviews, observation, and surveys. The book takes in the global industry but particularly focuses on indigenous coffee farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico. The book basically considers the tension between those who use Fair Trade as a means to accomplish social justice and those who see it in more economic terms. The central four chapters of the book compare the living conditions of 25 coffee farmers who sell to conventional markets and 26 households which sell to the Fair Trade market.
His basic answer is that Fair Trade does make a difference but perhaps less than we might expect. The book finishes with an overall consideration of Fair Trade and the recommendations for breathing new life and inspiration into the system. This book reads well, has been carefully researched, and sheds light on a vital ethical issue that is integrally tied to your morning cup of joe.
If you are at all invested in the coffee world then chances are you have stumbled across Sprudge which is probably the World’s most popular coffee publication and associated websites. Well The New Rules of Coffee is the brainchild of the two individuals who co-founded Sprudge. And so, to put it mildly, they know a thing or two about coffee.
This is a fantastic introduction to the world of specialty coffee. It is nice and short (at 160 pages) which makes it very accessible and is filled with colourful diagrams and artwork. It is fairly light reading which additionally makes it a great potential gift.
The book itself is divided into four sections; Rules for Coffee Around the World, Rules for Coffee at Home, Rules for the Cafe, and Rules for a New Coffee Future. As the name suggests this is a book intended for everyone and doesn’t require any prior knowledge or understanding of jargon. If you are looking for a short read that will get you clued up on coffee then this book is the one for you. It covers everything from where coffee comes from, how it is grown, how to brew coffee, as well as tips for commercial settings and the future of the global coffee industry.
A great book and probably the best book on this list if you are looking to give it as a gift.
This book has deservedly made a name for itself in the speciality coffee industry since it was released in 2008. It reads as a story rather than a textbook and is the narrative of a journalist who literally travels the globe in her quest to understand coffee. Weissman travels all over the world with big names in the specialty coffee movement as guides; Peter Guiliano from Counter Culture, Geoff Watts from Intelligentsia, and Duane Sorenson from Stumptown.
The book reads in many ways as a novel and gives real insight into the journey of the humble coffee bean from the farms in Panama or Ethiopia to a cafe in the States. As it were this book pulls back the curtain from the specialty coffee scene in the States and allows you a glimpse into this complex world.
As a journalist Weissman knows how to write and use words and so this is a thoroughly engaging read which will give you a deeper appreciation into the backstory of your morning brew.
As the name suggests this little gem is all about the rich and fascinating history of coffee. So if you are looking for quick tips for how to brew better coffee then this is not for you. Instead this short book is packed with information about where coffee comes from, how the coffee industry began and morphed with the ages, and the place of coffee in the world today.
Jonathan Morris is a professional historian and so has done his research thoroughly. This book is a fascinating read which shows how coffee has shifted from the staple of the elite to the drink of the masses.
I don’t think I have read a book this information dense and yet still incredibly readable possibly ever. A great little book that I recommend highly.James Hoffman
As Hoffman notes although it is dense it is also eminently readable and a worthwhile investment if you want to better understand the world and development of coffee production and consumption. A great read especially for the history-minded folk out there.
Well we hope this article has been a helpful guide to what might be the right coffee book for you. Reading up on the world of coffee is one of the best ways to deepen your passion and enthusiasm for everything coffee. Whether you want to hone your brewing skills, expand your knowledge, or understand the global industry there is a book for you.
Even if you are not naturally a reader I would highly recommend giving one a shot. Coffee books are fascinating to read and to tend to be filled with stunning photos and diagrams which are enjoyable even just to flick through.