Thursday, June 18, 2015

Read Like Crazy: Craft of Coffee

Blue Bottle: The Craft of Coffee by James Freeman is not a business book. It’s a coffee book. It’s Freeman’s story of how he left one life for another, and all the adventure and hard work that went into pursuing his dream. He integrates personal stories, recipes, history, science, and coffee theory all into one magnificent book that can be read piecemeal or fluidly from start to finish. It’s my favorite coffee table book.

Although Craft of Coffee does not cover business concepts in the traditional sense, it does provide inspiration for the young entrepreneur. Freeman started roasting coffee in his home oven, moved his project into a shed when it got too big for his kitchen, opened a coffee cart, and step by step over many natural processes wound up paying his bills selling the coffee that over the next decade grew to be perhaps the most reputable coffee roasted anywhere in the world.

I love this book partially because I love coffee, but also because the book is nothing like any other inspirational and educational work available for anyone hoping to open a business or, for that matter, study coffee. Unlike books that jump right into definitions, science, and theory, Freeman’s book covers these topics only as they crop up along the telling of his tale. I don’t feel like I’m studying for an exam when I read this book. I am fully engrossed in what Freeman has to say. His passion is absorbing.

What I like about this book: Superficially, this book is sturdy and easy to hold. A little taller than square, entire pages of the book are full-color photographs, rich with the hues that are specific to good coffee—and the images are almost exclusively aesthetic supplements to the reading material, rather than how-to illustrations. The reader is meant to feel the experience of coffee through the photography, rather than examine it and repeat the concepts portrayed.

More deeply, Craft of Coffee is a fully-engaging experience. Written by someone who has dedicated years of concentration and study to a particular field, the book has much potential to come off as elitist, snobbish, technical, or condescending. Instead, the voice truly conveys belief that anyone with an interest in coffee and a few hours to spend can learn to make better coffee.

What I don’t like about this book: I wish there was a sequel? No, actually, I do think that there’s a hidden potential in this book that missed the mark. The end of the book is a collection of recipes written by Freeman’s wife, Caitlin, who was part of Blue Bottle from the time Freeman had a coffee cart in San Francisco. Although the recipes are all traditional items to pair with coffee (or at least have for breakfast), no recommendations for what kind of coffee to have with each is offered. That is left to the imagination (or trial and error) of the reader. 

But I have a specific reason for caring about this. I doubt anyone else would notice.

Would I buy this book? Yes. I actually didn’t buy my copy; a fellow coffee-lover who owned a copy himself lent me his edition, and then later bought me a copy when he found it on sale. But it had been on my list to get a copy when he surprised me with it, and now I read it regularly.

For the young entrepreneur who is not looking to start a coffee business, it might just be one to grab from the library. It’s pretty inspirational. A great read.

A quote for the fridge:

“At the end of 2003… I heard there was finally an opening for a coffee cart at the market. I had to come in and give a blind tasting. I didn’t know that another roaster had been invited to give a tasting at the same time. He had a very polished presentation, with immaculate totes stacked on a hand cart. A hand cart! Why didn’t I think of that? … A week later I found out that I got in.… 

I remember a couple of drizzly Saturdays in December when things were really quiet. Then one Saturday in January the weather got nicer. It was right before the winter Fancy Food Show, which is always held in San Francisco, so there were a lot of chefs and food people in town. I looked up, and suddenly there were fifteen people in line. 

It’s basically been like that ever since.”

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