Thanks to a small but growing number of dedicated farmers, importers, roasters, and baristas, coffee quality is at an all-time high. But for nonprofessionals, achieving café quality at home can seem out of reach. With dozens of equipment options, conflicting information on how to use that equipment, and an industry language that, at times, doesn’t seem made for the rest of us, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
When I first got into coffee, I didn’t know anything about it. Hell, even after working in coffee for several years I didn’t know much about it. To this day, even after operating A Table in the Corner of the Cafe—a website dedicated to the art and craft of cupping coffee and home brewing—there’s still so much I don’t know. I’ve referred to many, many resources to expand my knowledge on the subject—classes, exhibitions, professional blogs, connecting with professionals on Twitter—and, while I have learned a great deal, there are times I can’t help but feel stiff armed by the industry. So much of the knowledge seems to be protected by code words, big price tags, and, to some degree, industry insider snobbery.
That was the way Jessica Easto, author of the new book Craft Coffee: A Manual, felt, too; and those feelings were the impetus for her writing the book. “Craft coffee can seem like a murky, esoteric topic,” Easto says. “Beyond that, the industry can be rather insular—or at least seem that way—and negative image of pretentious baristas don’t exactly make all customers feel comfortable asking basic questions.” So along with her husband, Director of Education for Halfwit Coffee Roasters and Director of Operations at The Wormhole Coffee, Andreas Willhoff, Easto set out write the ultimate craft coffee user manual. Their hope for this book is that it will not just help average coffee drinkers and nonprofessional enthusiasts take their home brewing to the next level, but foster conversations between them and their local baristas and roasters as well.
I was fortunate enough to receive a promotional copy of the book from its publisher, Agate Publishing, and spent a great deal of time with it over the past couple weeks. I read the book cover to cover, but spent most of my time reading and re-reading the very first chapter. While Chapters 2-6—in which she covers topics as far ranging as brewing devices and how to use them, overviews of varietals and production regions, understanding flavor and acidity, and even how to decipher the words on a coffee bag—are also very illuminating and will undoubtedly help and inspire any enthusiast, Chapter 1 details the information that is essential to understand exactly what happens when hot water meets ground coffee. Easto is adept at demystifying the science of extraction using language that is casual and accessible, but not dumbed down.
Easto carries her ability to communicate effectively throughout the book in a thorough, well-researched, and engaging way, paying particular attention to the issues that affect home brewers negotiate most: cost, time, and accessibility. She even has an entire chapter devoted to brewing methods, which provide measurements, step by step guides, and useful charts, graphs, and illustrations (created by Morgan Krehbiel) that will help readers discover and develop their own preferences.
For such a simple beverage, coffee can seem complicated; especially if you don’t make it for a living. With Craft Coffee: A Manual, Jessica Easto (along with Andreas Willhoff) has put together an engaging resource that doesn’t make assumptions about its readers’ level of knowledge, skill, or fervor, and holds value for home brewers and professionals alike. I consider it a must-have for any coffee lover.