Over the years, I’ve accumulated a small library of printed work about coffee (and a massive ebook collection to accompany it). I’m often asked for book recommendations—so I’ve provided a short guide below, categorized by topic and best audience.
Links to purchase the books are provided (note that if you purchase using any Amazon links, I will get an affiliate credit).
Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast
History, economics, marketing | All interest and skill levels; great for hobbyists and beginners
I was given this book when I first started working as a barista—the perfect gift for someone who loves books about commodities and global supply chains (salt, for example, or the ice trade) as much as I do. Pendergrast’s book explores the evolution of the coffee market globally—but with greatest focus on the U.S.—in the context of marketing. If you want to understand why Americans feel entitled to cheap coffee—or why the U.S. has so much power over the market—this is the book to read. Recommended for all coffee enthusiasts and professionals.
World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffmann
General overview | All interest and skill levels; great for hobbyists and beginners
James Hoffmann provides a photo-rich overview to the history of coffee cultivation, roasting and extraction with sections dedicated to each producing country. While more of a general overview than a deep dive, this is essential reading for any new barista or someone with a burgeoning interest in specialty coffee.
What I Know About Running Coffee Shops by Colin Harmon
Business/retail | All interest and skill levels
When I meet with new or aspiring retail operators, I always recommend that they purchase this book before signing a lease or committing any personal capital to their project. In it, Colin Harmon of 3fe provides an easy-to-read and thorough 101 guide to running a retail coffee business. I often say that of every book I’ve ever read about running retail coffee shops, this is the only one with which I had no significant disagreements. Recommended for all retail operators or managers.
The Business of Specialty Coffee by Maxwell Dashwood
Overview | All interest and skill levels
With a wildly ambitious stab at explaining all things about the business of coffee, Maxwell Dashwood succeeds in exposing the depth and breadth of the industry in his overview of the specialty coffee industry through a narrative-driven, journalist approach. Easy to read and digestible. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the specialty coffee industry.
Cheap Coffee by Karl Wienhold
Economics, ethics | Medium to professional/advanced
Karl Wienhold, formerly of Cedro Alto coffee farmers collective in Colombia, wrote this highly-readable and searing indictment of the modern global coffee market that explores the mechanisms behind the coffee trade. The book’s overview of the micro- and macroeconomic conditions of the global coffee value stream is among the best I’ve read.
The Coffee Paradox by Benoit Daviron and Stefano Ponte
Economics, ethics | All interest and skill levels
Almost two decades since its publication, it holds up; a through review of the specialty coffee sector, in particular examining what has come to be known as ‘the coffee crisis’ faced by producing countries. If you’re curious about why neoliberal or free-market approaches won’t lift producers out of poverty—and why I don’t believe specialty coffee can save the world—this is a good one to pick up (and you’re looking for more like this, I recommend picking up Paige West’s From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive and the excellent Confronting the Coffee Crisis as chasers).
Handbook of Coffee Post-Harvest Technology edited by Flavio Borem
Processing | Professional/Advanced
Flavio Borem is the rockstar of modern coffee processing research; my folder of Borem’s published papers on post-harvest practices and drying is enough to fill a book—like this one, which I consider to be the best available textbook on coffee processing. Its intended audience is processing professionals and agriculture students in coffee producing countries—and it doesn’t shy away from technical jargon or mathematical modeling.
The Physics of Filter Coffee by Jonathan Gagné
Brewing | Professional/advanced; good for home baristas who are going down the rabbit hole
Astrophysicist Jonathan Gagné loaned his brain and love of coffee to the industry for this one, in which he provides a clear and detailed overview of filter coffee and how to optimize extraction, from analysis of filter papers to brewing water to grinding and pouring.
Coffee Roasting Best Practices by Scott Rao
Roasting | Medium to professional/advanced
There aren’t many books about coffee roasting; few are worth reading. I’ve read every one I could find—and this is the only book I recommend to every professional roaster. While some find Scott Rao’s style a bit too prescriptive or dogmatic, the methodology and framework he provides—which is based on his experience working on hundreds of different roasting machines over his three decades as a roaster and consultant—will lead you to repeatable, replicable results. Because there are so few books about roasting, this is one that has been embraced by the home roaster community, but professionals who work in a production environment will gain the most benefit from its insights.
Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality edited by Andrea Illy
Overview | Professional/Advanced
This book edited by Andrea Illy (yes, of that Illy family) contains an extensive list of citations on virtually every part of the coffee life cycle and is the first book I recommend to anyone looking for a broad understanding of the available research on coffee. It reads like a textbook and is best suited for industry professionals or those with research backgrounds.
Cocoa and Coffee Fermentations edited by Roseane Schwan and Graham Fleet
Processing | Professional/Advanced
This is sort of the only book focused on coffee fermentation that I trust. Dr. Roseane Schwan is to coffee fermentation what Flavio Borem is to drying—and her papers are among the most-cited in my collection. With half of the book dedicated to cocoa and half dedicated to coffee, this book is essential reading for processors looking to develop a more sophisticated and technical understanding of fermentation.
Coffee Growing, Processing, Sustainable Production edited by Jean Nicolas Wintgens
Agronomy, Processing, Production | Professional/Advanced
I read this book for the first time ahead of my first visit to a coffee farm in 2013 or 2014, before I had the context to understand it. In the years since, it’s become one of the first books I reference if I have a question about coffee production and am looking for a starting place in my research. The intended audience of this book is in the full title—”A guidebook for growers, processors, traders and researchers”—and the content, structure and tone rises to the occasion.