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[Book Review] The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes
The first time I had intimate contact with specialty coffee was in Cambridge, and I can still remember the name of the coffee shop, 'Hot Numbers' on Hills Road. A coffee-addicted friend, Vita, lead me there. I could barely decipher the names on the blackboard behind the till, “Guatemala, Brazil, …”, since my only knowledge of coffee then was that espresso-based coffee was more expensive than filtered coffee, and “instant coffee tasted like perfume” (this sentence was attributed to a colleague of mine). Gradually, through the chat between Vita and the barista, I understood those names were the origins of the coffee beans. Then I was taken to a cupping course there by Vita. When I poured the water into the coffee grounds from very high with barely all my strength, she could not hold herself and started laughing. You could tell the results of the cupping course: I understood nothing, but to pour water gently. Later, by pure chance, I bought some roasted coffee beans from a stall in the Market Place and brewed a cup of coffee using a Mokka pot, and it was then I knew for the first time that coffee could taste a bit sour, instead of thoroughly bitter.
I regularly went to coffee shops when I came back to Beijing, and that was where and when I heard of the Blue Bottle Coffee and the book: The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes.
This book, as the title suggests, contains the growing, roasting, and drinking of coffee, together with quite a few food (mainly cake) recipes for a caffe. The author James Freeman is the founder of the Blue Bottle Coffee company in the early 2000s, and the book started with his coffee legend when he was still a child. Caitlin Freeman, his wife, was a cake shop owner and probably contributed the last part of the book on the recipe. Tara Duggan is a journalist and cookbook author and wrote several books on food and cooking, see her website for details.
Compared with books filled with jargons and technical analysis, this book features a story-telling and chatting style, yet not losing its accuracy and precision. This relaxing and easy-to-read style comes from years of practice and interaction with customers, and exploration and reflection upon all aspects of coffee. This book, as the specialty coffee it describes, is full of aroma, acidity, and body. May not be as deep as other books, it is definitely an excellent guide to making good coffee. More importantly, It teaches readers to think how a good cup of coffee can be made, from the growing, roasting, brewing, and tasting of coffee. If I have to pick a defect, I’d like to say, “give me more!”
Excerpts from the Book
OK, let’s have a taste of the condensed idea or understandings from the book.
About Coffee Growing
The challenge of altitude forces coffee plants to focus their energy on developing seeds, rather than more extensive vegetative growth, which would be the plant’s inclination under less stressful circumstances…. The higher the coffee is grown, the more slowly it develops and the denser the beans become, which can create more interesting flavours.
About Coffee Processing
The two main processing styles used in the coffee industry are washed, also called wet, andnatural, also called dry. The style of processing that’s chosen varies according to local tradition and has a lot to do with access to water.
Although we are thrilled with the dazzling array of vibrant single-origin coffees we source, we realize that many of our customer come to us for delicious, comforting consistency, and our blends achieve precisely that.
Two Farmer Profiles
It is this kind of attention to detail that continues to earn her reverence from the international coffee community. … Farmers such as Aida and Lorie set an impressive standard. Their care and dedication is abundantly evident in the coffee.
The roasting day starts early…. At Blue Bottle’s roasteries, the roasters arrive before anyone else … It’s hard to get up at 4 a.m. … When the alarm goes off at 4 a.m. and your body is crying out in the dark for more sleep, that feeling of anxiety and responsibility can immobilize you or animate you.
As the coffee roasted, I dumped out small amounts of it at one-minute intervals, or even twenty-second intervals, and brewed them. It was an amazing process of self-education and discovery.
About Coffee Tasting
At Blue Bottle, when we speak to customers about acidity, we try to use words like bright, snappy, or lively. Technically, when coffee professionals use the word acidity, we aren’t talking about the pH level, but the presence of particular acids that are the same as those in lemons, berries, vinegars, and other “lively” foods.
About Brewing Techniques
You need good data, so you need tools that measure… In contrast, with dense, very high-altitude, meticulously harvested and processed single-origin coffees roasted very lightly, we’ve found that a wider brewing ratio, hotter water, and a longer rest time draws out the most enjoyable flavors. How have we discovered this? Trial and error, and a lot of meticulous note taking in our lab.
Sentimental Aspects of the Book
Plus it’s such a sensual world, in part because you’re feeding people.
If I’d had any background in the coffee business or business in general, I never would have started the company. The fact that I didn’t have preconceived notions about it meant I was freezer to take a leap and do something more personally meaningful. Ignorance is bliss.
I had never imagined the existence of women so earthy, ambitious, dedicated, and young, all at once.