The World Atlas of Coffee – James Hoffmann

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For such a globally loved beverage, the number of high quality books on the subject of coffee remains disproportionately low. The World Atlas of Coffee by 2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffmann aims to assist in changing that.

Published in 2014 and well promoted through many of the coffee websites I follow, I had yet to pick up a copy due to the assumption my purchase would naturally be an online one and involve considerable shipping costs on top.

Having received a gift voucher last Christmas for Australian bookstore Dymocks, I decided to order a copy through them. Ironically, as me of little faith turned up at the counter of the Brisbane CBD store to simply place an order, I was told two copies were actually on the shelves — so alas I had to return the following day with the actual voucher (a copy kindly placed on hold by the Dymocks staff).

I must admit I do have a few other coffee related books on my to-buy list:

In addition, a recent post on FWx reports on 4 Books Every Aspiring Coffee Nerd Should Read, which includes two of the above, and a couple of others.

So why The World Atlas of Coffee first? One of the main reasons being I gain considerable enjoyment from reading Hoffmann’s blog jimseven, one of the first coffee related blogs fed into my RSS reader after I began consuming more online content with the purchase of my first iPad a few years ago.

Although many posts on jimseven are aimed at those working in the industry, I find it to be one of the most objective, yet also thought-provoking blogs I read. For example, from a post by Hoffmann last September about lessons learned while writing the book:

As a species we like to demonstrate a complete failure to learn the lessons of our history. I confess that I had been in coffee a surprisingly long time before I really dug into its history. It was revelatory, saddening and also inspiring. I’d like to do better, for us all to do better — and I am more driven to that end than I have ever been.

The Book

The World Atlas of Coffee is a visually stunning, hardcover publication bound with an external covering identical to a hessian coffee sack, and is a joy to hold. The internal layout and photography are of an equally high standard.

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Divided into three sections: Introduction to Coffee; From Bean to Cup; and Coffee Origins, The World Atlas remains readable enough, yet informative enough, to provide a broad background on how coffee is grown, processed and brewed, with a large proportion of the book devoted to the various growing regions around the world.

As I have found with my “What’s Brewing” posts, the more you read about the various coffee producing regions, the more you wish to know, and I will certainly be turning to this book for more on that very topic in future.

Part One: Introduction to Coffee

Where the foundations and background are addressed, such as a description and key differences of the terms many of us commonly hear, Arabica and Robusta. There is also an explanation on the often misused terms “varieties and varietals”.

A little on harvesting methods follows, then it is onto processing, where you will finally understand what it actually means when your bag of coffee reads natural, honey, or semi washed — amongst other terms. Sizing and grading, with a little on trading rounds out this section.

Part Two: From Bean to Cup

IMG_4004Topics as you’d expect here — but no less interesting, from roasting, to grinding, brewing and tasting. Home roasting even gets a mention — which, as regular readers will know, is clearly a passion of mine.

There are some nice touches, including a guide on tasting coffees at home, a little on the history of espresso, and how to both assess the results and modify the quality of your next extraction1.

Finally, an espresso-based drinks menu, including why Italian tradition virtually mandates a one cappuccino a day rule (many more espressos then follow of course), and maintaining neutrality on the topic of whether the Flat White was invented in Australia or New Zealand – describing it as “undeniably from Australasia”.

Everything is covered to either get you started with these processes or techniques at home, or allow you to learn and understand a lot more about what is in your cup when next at your favourite cafe.

Part Three: Coffee Origins

Although one-third by division of sections in The World Atlas, Coffee Origins accounts for 50% of the book — and for good reason. The diversity of methods and ultimately taste profiles of different regions around the world is absolutely astounding at times.

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Although we’ll forgive the author for omitting Australia in this section, it certainly deserves a thorough read if you wish to enrich your knowledge about what is behind the flavours you enjoy so much in your African or Central American single origin.

Conclusion

IMG_3996Obviously I have only scratched the surface here, however The World Atlas of Coffee is a superb publication. It is informative and entertaining, and deserves to be widely read by anyone with a desire to learn more about their favourite daily drink.

Arguably a contender for the best coffee table book out there, and one which I have no hesitation in highly recommending.

There remains a lone copy at the Brisbane Dymocks store, or of course it is also available on Amazon or direct from Square Mile Coffee Roasters – of which the author is a co-owner.

  1. A description of espresso brew ratio is explained here – something I have been experimenting with a little more over the past month or so – I’m sure I will post about this at some point in the future.

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