"The Coffee Book," by Campbell and Smith

Pros: Yummy coffee; lots of cool information
Cons: Few spiffy recipes
Rating: 4 out of 5

First posted 7/31/2000

When it comes right down to it, I’m a coffee wimp. I always hated the smell of coffee growing up. I can’t stand strong, bitter coffee (Starbucks is right out!). I don’t drink it black, or even black with sugar. I like my coffee to masquerade as dessert, even if I’m having it with breakfast. That means sugar, dairy, and maybe even a few other things as well.

Not that long ago I picked up a copy of “The Coffee Book.” I didn’t do this because I’m a masochist, or because I need caffeine to stay awake. I did it because I truly love coffee when it’s done “right.” I wanted a few more ideas for how to do it right, because I get bored easily. Heck, sometimes it only takes five hours for me to decide that I need a new background on my computer display.

This book sort of delivered.

“The Coffee Book” has a fair amount of fun information toward the beginning of it. There’s a chapter called “the story of coffee,” one on “migration of coffee,” another on various types of coffee beans, and one on roasts and grinds. Then there’s brewing methods, pots, and health issues. It’s all neat stuff, particularly if you don’t know a lot about coffee.

What I really looked forward to, though, were the recipes. They’re organized by country. Some of them are really only loosely “recipes” – they’re more a few words on how people in that country prepare their coffee. Sometimes this isn’t entirely useful. Okay, so in the Australian outback a large can with a wire handle (called a “billy”) is filled with water and ground coffee. This is brought to a boil over a fire and then steeped for 10 minutes. This’ll be great detail when I someday write a story set in the Australian outback, but it isn’t so great for finding new ways to prepare coffee.

Other “recipes” fall somewhere in the middle ground. For instance, there’s an Indian recipe for cold coffee. You boil milk, add coffee powder and sugar, and stir. Cool it, pour over cracked ice in a blender, and blend. It’s good, but not particularly different from any other coffee smoothie-type recipe. Again it makes great background detail to use in stories, and I’m sure I’ll make it sometime, but I was hoping for something a little more interesting.

Luckily there are a few such interesting recipes – just enough to make this book worthwhile, in fact. There are a handful of recipes, for example, that mix coffee and chocolate. One of our favorites is Kaphe Russe, a marvelous concoction of melted chocolate, sugar, water, light cream, lots of vanilla, and coffee. It’s rather rich, and somewhat light-tasting. We’ve made it over and over again. Caffe Borgia is incredible: strong coffee, hot chocolate, whipped cream, orange peel, and chocolate shavings. It has a darker taste than Kaphe Russe, but every bit as sweet and wonderful.

As a survey of coffee around the world this is a fantastic book, and deserves a 5.

As a research source for writers who really really want to add some coffee verisimilitude to their stories, this book deserves a 5. Unfortunately I don’t know of many writers who need such a resource.

As a source of yummy recipes for coffee wimps, I’d give it a 3. The recipes it has are fantastic, but they’re few and far between. This means that “The Coffee Book” will average out to a 4 in the overall rating, but keep in mind the individual components. What you want out of this book makes a huge difference in whether or not it’s useful to you.

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