The Coffee Professional Beginners Guide

If you’ve just started working in coffee, chances are you’ve worked out that coffee is:

  1. Really, really interesting
  2. Huge
  3. Complex

As such you’ve turned to the internet to try and do some research. However, what is online is a rich mixture of information, without much hierarchy and often without a good place to start.

Here is a beginners guide to coffee reading and learning for an interested coffee professional.a It is divided into three parts, based on how much money you have available to spend on learning more about coffee.

I will update this list whenever it seems appropriate to do so, and mark items as new.

Free

This is the joy of the internet, the abundance of free information. For many years I suffered a little imposter syndrome, feeling uncomfortable because almost everything I thought I’d learned had been acquired for free on the internet.

This Blog:  Since you’re here, you may as well explore a little. There’s a kind of “best of” on the blog (that has been updated now) here: Articles/Links

Barista Hustle: First things first: if you haven’t already then immediately sign up for Barista Hustle, and then after that go back through the past postings. There’s lots of new stuff coming too – so make sure you’re paying attention.

Barista Magazine: Hopefully your employer has a subscription to Barista Magazine, and if not then you should start demanding they get one. At the very least you should be following their blog.

ChefSteps Espresso Guide: A series of 12 stunning videos, and a tonne of great content. Go sign up – it’s free!

Cat & Cloud: A blog from Jared Truby and Chris Baca who have a tonne of experience behind bar, and this really shines through in their writing. Essential reading for those in the industry. Check out their new podcast also.

Coffee Jobs Podcast: A new podcast I’ve been working on, interviewing figures from the industry on their careers, their mistakes and their successes. Listen here.

CRS Coffeelands Blog: This is, in my opinion, the best writing on coffee online right now. Michael Sheridan’s writing is both informative and challenging. As a newcomer in coffee, the world of sourcing is presented to you in a magical, charming and ethically sound way. I think it is important to dig a little, as the truth is far more complex, and rarely as comfortable as we’d like it to be.

Daily Coffee News: This blog, from Roast Magazine, has become one of my favourite news sources. Recommended.

Online Communities:  Most of the successful online coffee communities are geared towards home users. Sites like Home Barista, Coffee Geek, Too Much Coffee, r/coffeet and the Coffee Forums UK do have valuable information but you’ll have to dig. Most are open to professionals joining and interacting, but tread lightly as there are members with decades of experience and passion. Working in coffee is not seen as a badge of honour (especially as many home users now have commercial level equipment, and are capable of producing as good a shot as any cafe). Be humble, be open and you’ll learn. Coffeed is now pretty dormant, but has interesting reading should you comb back through the archives.

Tamper Tantrum: A podcast/videocast library/event/conference all rolled into one. There’s tonnes of videos to go back through, with a lot of great speakers. Put an hour or two aside, at the very least.

Sprudge: It is hard to really define Sprudge. It’s a place for all things breaking coffee-news, from new cafes, a little gossip, very occasional cat gifs through to new technology, interviews and features. If it is happening, then you’ll probably read about it first on Sprudge. Follow on twitter or feed to an RSS reader. There’s also a lot of good stuff in the archives worth exploring through the tags and categories.

Brew Methods: This is a great resource, everyone’s brewing guides all in one place. It’s important to understand that coffee brewers are flexible devices and there is no one ideal way to use each one.

A little Budget (£60/$90)

The World Atlas of Coffee: I know this is blatant self promotion, however: if I don’t believe in it enough to recommend it, then I should never have published it. I wrote it to be accessible to anyone, and to be a good starting point in understanding more about the wider world of coffee.  (UK – £13.60/USA – $24.77/Rest of the World)

The Professional Barista’s Handbook: Scott Rao has written several excellent books, but you should start with this one. Lots of baristas buy this, but very few read it properly. I would strongly recommend putting the time in to read it thoroughly, and repeatedly, rather than flicking through the pages. It is the most expensive item on this particular section of the list, but worth it. (£30/$45)

The Devil’s Cup: I’m going to cheat here, and suggest you buy this second hand so that it sneaks in under budget. There are usually tonnes of copies available of it too, so it shouldn’t matter if lots of people buy it. It’s a bit of a weird choice. The reason I’ve recommended it is because it is a fun read, it gives you some insight into how coffee fits into culture around the world. I always tell people to skip the last chapter, they never do, and they always say they wish they had. It was the first book I read on coffee, and it got me excited about the wider cultural impact of coffee. I think that’s a good thing, and there are a few fun anecdotes in there. (UK – £3.00/USA – $5.00)

ChefSteps Coffee Guide: I really enjoyed working with ChefSteps and Ben Kaminsky on this, I think there’s a tonne of great info here, and the recipes make it worth the price of admission alone. (£9.00/$14.00)

A Little More Budget (£200/$300)

I’m going to presume you’re going to buy all of the above items, leaving me about £140/$210 left to spend.

More Scott Rao: Everything But Espresso (£23/$35) and Espresso Extraction (£6.5/$10) are both worth picking up and reading properly. I wouldn’t recommend Scott’s roasting book unless you’re roasting for a living (or have more budget to spend than we’re talking about here.)

Coffee with Tim Wendelboe: There’s no doubt that Tim has a big impact on speciality coffee, and I think it is worth reading his opinions on coffee that you find in this book. It is another general overview book, from seed to cup, and I think a key part of every coffee library. (€23).

Black Gold: Coffee’s history is undeniably a difficult one. Fair Trade has, in recent years, seemed lacking in context and in relevance. It wasn’t always this way. This book was written at the peak of a coffee crisis, when prices were lower than the cost of production and coffee was deeply, deeply unfair.b Anthony Wild’s book is detailed, well researched and dispels most of the myths around coffee. It’s not the lightest read but it is worthwhile. (UK – £12/USA –$19)

The Science of Quality: In some ways I’m reluctant to list this book, but at the same time there are few resources like it. I’m not sure that I’ve really managed to turn anything in this book into something of true practical value but I don’t know where else I’d look up some of the information found in it. It is expensive, and rarely found second hand. Illy have had a huge impact on coffee, and espresso – though it does seem like their impact is on the wane. (UK - £78/USA – $96)


Note: There are obviously a lot more free resources out there than listed here. What I wanted to share was a starting point. If I have missed something I really shouldn’t then let me know (Twitter is good for this) and I can try and add it on the next edit.

  1. I might do one aimed more for the home consumer in the near future  (back)
  2. I am open to the argument that is hasn’t improved, and in its current format is unlikely to – but this is another matter.  (back)