- By Morton Satin - Prometheus Books
- Coffee Talk: The Stimulating Story of the World’s Most Popular Brew
Since a book on coffee is likely to be read mostly by coffee fanatics, there are several requirements. First, it must provide glowing detail about how wonderful coffee is, and how good it is for you. Fortunately, the latest health studies have been very positive, so that's not the problem it used to be.
Morton Satin also provides the requisite history with aplomb, from "The Legend of Khaldi and his Dancing Goats" (What could they be eating to make them dance?) to Coffee Trivia and Coffee Quotes ("The powers of a man's mind are directly proportional to the quantity of coffee he drinks" -- Sir James Mackintosh.) It's also important to name famous coffee addicts (like Bach and Balzac) because fanatics love company, especially if it makes them look smart and sophisticated. Satin devotes more pages than usual on the evolution of coffeehouse culture, something that's fascinated me, though I'd be interested in more recent history. He notes certain excesses and dark sides in coffee industries, but coffee drinkers are familiar with the bitter and the sweet.
All that is preliminary to the second and more important requirement. A book on coffee must confront the coffee addict's greatest anxiety: that he or she is not getting the best cup of coffee possible. Some readers will focus on the details of coffee types, countries of origin and types of roasting, etc. Others will skip to chapters on how coffee beverages are professionally prepared and how to make the best brew at home. For example, one method I use (besides the moka pot) is the French press (though it, like so much in coffee history, started in Italy). Satin recommends letting the coffee brew for three to four minutes. The last coffee book I read said four to six minutes.
Well, I can tell you where I got the best espresso in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, or which little café in Cambridge made an unparalleled French roast, or that the Coffee People in Portland make the best mocha. But I can't tell you whether it's better to brew for three or six minutes. Which is why I'll probably consult another coffee book. Just reading about all the methods and their history evokes coffee nostalgia: its elevation of the ordinary, in grandmother's kitchen, mother's afternoon chats with neighbors, and coffee around the campfire, seeded with grounds.
This book (complete with entertaining espressilogue) is a more stylish looking volume than most, which adds to the self-congratulation that is another prime factor in books for fanatics of all kinds, but particularly for something so associated with both romance and inspiration, the heart and the head -- the ordinary elixir called coffee.