Pros: Lots of good, easy recipes; good layout; doesn’t waste time; inexpensive
Cons: There aren’t enough recipes! Could use more hints for added flexibility
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 5/29/2001
What Makes a Good Coffee Drinks Book
First of all, I believe that a good coffee drinks book shouldn’t spend half of the book (or more) on the history of coffee. There are already a zillion books out there on the subject. Either give me recipes, or give me history. Or at least don’t give me both in twenty different books. What do these authors think they’re saying that the last nineteen didn’t say? I don’t want to pay to read the same material 20 times.
How this book measures up: History is pretty much limited to a two-page introduction. I think that’s perfectly acceptable.
Second, a good coffee drinks book should not spend half of the book telling us how to prepare the perfect cup of coffee. Trust me, every other coffee book out there does exactly the same thing. When I went on a spree of trying to find some good coffee recipe books, I tossed aside about thirty possibilities because the descriptions spent more time discussing how the book explained the perfect cup of coffee than they did mentioning the drinks. It’s a waste of money to buy more than one or maybe two books like this – why pay three times, eight times, or even thirty times for the same information?!
How this book measures up: This book tells us what we need to know and doesn’t waste our time saying the same things that everyone else has already said. There are just 2.5 short pages on selecting coffee beans. One page on storing coffee beans. One short page listing the essential tips for making a good cup of coffee (enough so you’ll get the point if this is your first coffee drinks book, but not so much that you’ll regret the cover price if it’s your tenth).
One page discusses both filters and grinding, and there’s another 2.5 pages on methods of brewing. One page on making espresso, one on steaming milk, and 1.5 on ingredient notes (things like, “I use chocolate syrup in these recipes, but an equal amount of sweetened chocolate powder can be used as well”). Remember that these are small pages, too – about 5.5×7.5″.
Third, a good coffee drinks book should acknowledge that sugar and cream are very individual tastes. It’s a matter of attitude. A writer who doesn’t take that into account isn’t going to give us flexible recipes that are easy to sweeten or add cream to.
How this book measures up: On the one hand, it mentions in the ingredient notes that you can add sugar to taste in any of these recipes. On the other hand, it doesn’t bother to note which recipes will curdle cream and milk. It would also be helpful if it added a few hints for how and where to add things like cream and sugar in some recipes. (In some recipes, it would be difficult to add, say, granulated sugar to a cold finished product. Suggesting the use of something like corn syrup or maple syrup might help this, or pointing out an earlier stage in the recipe where it can be easily tasted & adjusted.)
Fourth, a good coffee drinks book should also be a good cookbook. This means it should be thoroughly kitchen-tested, the layout should be easy to make sense of, and so on.
How this book measures up: Certainly none of the recipes so far have showed sign of being screwed up. Recipes are short and simple, and the layout is clear. Number of servings is given at the end of each recipe – pay attention to this, as it ranges quite a bit (recipes are easy to multiply when they don’t make enough for what you want).
Fifth, a good coffee drinks book should have endless possibilities. Or at least 365 of them. Boy, I don’t want much, do I?
How this book measures up: Total number of recipes: 106. 34 of those are brief descriptions of pre-existing, more-or-less traditional drinks, giving just quickie descriptions of the ratios and additives involved. That isn’t a lot, but this is a relatively small book.
How the Recipes Came Out
Oh, right. You want to know what they actually taste like. I guess that’s reasonable. Well, here are a few examples for you:
I’ll start right off with the weird one: Spiced Coffee Cider. You heard me right. Equal parts coffee and apple juice, simmered with certain spices, brown sugar, and a slice of orange. I’m told by my-friend-who-likes-black-coffee that it’s very good, if weird. He’s known for not being entirely fond of weird food, so if he says it’s good then it really must be. (Beware – it’s one of those things that curdles cream, so if you need cream in your coffee, this recipe is not for you. Umm, yes, I did discover this the hard way when I found that in any form, I still don’t like coffee without dairy.)
There’s an iced almond coffee that’s quite good as well – coffee, half and half, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, almond extract, whipped cream… Mmmm. Definitely fits my requirement of coffee-as-dessert! I still felt it needed a little extra sweetening, of course, and we added maple syrup to the whipped cream just for good measure, but we were pleased with the recipe.
So far we’ve tried two other recipes in here as well: Blended Vanilla Coffee and Blended Chocolate Coffee. They’re actually rather different – much different ratios of coffee to milk, different levels of sweetening; the latter is served with whipped cream and the former isn’t. We found that the vanilla version was good but not great, and the chocolate version was, quite possibly, the best coffee drink we’ve ever had (umm, although we did add a little extra coffee and chocolate syrup, to be honest – it’s mostly milk, and we found it slightly bland). Luckily the ingredients for most of these recipes are things that it’s easy to have extra of, so you can always adjust to taste.
The chapters are divided up into: Hot Drinks Made with Brewed Coffee; Hot Drinks Made with Espresso; Cold Drinks Made with Brewed Coffee; Cold Drinks Made with Espresso; Gourmet Coffee Drinks with Liquor. There’s also a brief chapter including sources for coffee, equipment, and coffee organizations.
A sampling of the recipes: Chocolate Cream Coffee; Coffee Grog; Spiced Chocolate Espresso; Iced Mint Coffee; Iced Maple Coffee; Chocolate-Coffee Crush; Rum Espresso Soda; Tropical Espresso Delight; Kioki Coffee; Espresso Whiskey; Brandy-Rum Mochaccino; Cocoa-Mint Espresso Shake.
“Making Your Own Gourmet Coffee Drinks” is definitely a worthwhile addition to your collection, particularly if you like black coffee drinks and thus will enjoy a number of the recipes that I won’t. The recipes show creativity and ability, as well as kitchen-testing, even if they aren’t 100% perfect. But then, nobody’s perfect, right?