29 Jan Coffee: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying
by Hattie Ellis
Coffee: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying is like a single shot of espresso: surprisingly short yet stimulating, uncomplicated, and ultimately enjoyable.
In this slim, elegant volume, award-winning food writer Hattie Ellis explores the history, varieties, and modern-day guises of the world’s second most traded commodity. From its mythical discovery in Abyssinia to its place at the heart of today’s chic café culture, she traces the spread of coffee throughout the world and illuminates its place in history.
A section entitled The Buzz brims with fascinating facts surrounding this small brown bean and its stimulating brew. As coffee made its way across Europe and into the Americas, it played a surprisingly significant role wherever it took hold. Coffee and the places where people met to consume it were instrumental in shaping key cultural, political and economic aspects of our lives: Cafés gave rise to revolutionary movements in visual art, literature and philosophy; the coffeehouse had a place in political upheavals on both sides of the Atlantic; and even Lloyd’s of London insurance had its origins in a coffeehouse.
The coffee bean itself is explored in the second section of the book, not surprisingly entitled The Beans. Ellis explains the difference between arabica and robusta coffee beans, outlines the keys to good roasting and blending, and offers tantalizing descriptions of coffees grown around the globe. From Indonesia’s robust Sumatra, to Ethiopia’s winey and gamey Yirgacheffe, to Costa Rica’s clean, bright Tarrazu, there is a world of coffees to explore.
Suggestions for buying, storing, brewing and enjoying are given in the third and last section, The Brew. While as informative as the first two sections, the seemingly haphazard arrangement of information here mystified me; why is cappuccino explained on two different pages? Why are “Italian drinking coffees” introduced and discussed in the midst of the recipe section? Where was the editor?
Unfortunately, the logical organization of the first two-thirds of the book seems to disappear completely in the scattering of recipes tacked onto the back end of The Brew. There is no introduction to cooking or baking with coffee, and no reasons are given for why these particular recipes were chosen. Of the eight recipes given, three are really only guidelines for preparing coffee-based drinks, one is for an intriguing dessert sauce, and the remaining four are simple desserts. Somewhat disconcerted, I made the Coffee and Almond Ice Cream without expecting much. The result pleasantly surprised me: Rich, velvety-smooth and delightfully creamy, the ice cream suggested a perfectly sweetened café au lait, its delicate coffee flavor enhanced by a scattering of toasted slivered almonds. To be honest, it was good enough to make me forgive the peculiarities of this last section of the book.
By no means comprehensive, Coffee offers a brief but solid introduction to these bountiful beans and their much-beloved brew. Beautifully photographed and elegantly presented, this little book will both satisfy and stimulate your need for this delicious beverage.
Review by Tania Denesiuk
Tania Denesiuk writes, cooks and eats in Toronto, Canada. Her culinary adventures can be found at www.candiedquince.ca.