Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate

 

edited by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin
Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
247 pages
ISBN: 978-1444337129

Review by Jayme Russell

“Wanna go grab some coffee?” asks my friend Laurie.

“I don’t drink coffee,” I say, and her face quickly drops. She looks hurt, and I don’t understand why. Later, my boyfriend explains—he explains what everyone else in America already seems to know but, for some strange reason, I don’t: grabbing coffee is not really about the coffee. It’s about the social experience. It’s about the chatting. It’s a friendship ritual. So, when I thought I was simply stating, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee,” Laurie heard “I don’t want to hang out with you!” This was not my intention. This is the problem of being a grown woman who’s never had a cup of coffee.

After the Laurie incident, I decide to make things right. So I start reading Coffee Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate, an anthology of essays. I sit down with a giant cup of Coke and open the book. Right away caffeine consumption becomes its major topic. Caffeine is also a major part of my daily life. I take another big gulp of Coke and continue.

Coffee was written with the large population of caffeine fans in mind. It focuses heavily on the environments in which everyone drinks their coffee. In a small Appalachian town like mine, which has four coffee shops, one bookstore with a coffee shop inside of it, one grocery store with a Starbucks inside, and at least twenty different restaurants which offer the drink, it’s clear that coffee is one of the most popular drinks around. I quickly feel guilty about drinking my Coke and decide that if I’m going to read on I must do so in a coffee shop with a real cup of coffee in hand.

At first the dark drink seems too bitter for me, but I drink it all, slowly, enjoying the warmth. Over several days I have many different types of fair trade, and organic coffees, as well as instant coffee at home. I drink and learn about different types of coffee trees, how beans are handled, and what kinds of flavors emerge from each type of bean. I learn that Americans and Europeans value different flavors, so coffee drinking in other countries would offer new and varied experiences. I learn that most coffee buffs would think my instant coffee is disgusting.

I drink a double shot cappuccino with so much caffeine that I want to explode. I drink from tiny cups, regular-sized mugs, and huge containers; in which my drinks cool before I can drink them. The essays range from theory-heavy philosophical dialogue, to personal accounts of drinking coffee, to reportage and an interview with a coffee industry worker. Sometimes the essays engage me right away, and sometimes they take some time to simmer. Sometimes I like the drinks, but sometimes the effects of the coffee are too great for me to finish my cup.

I find that the third section of the book on aesthetics is by far my favorite, simply because the personal essays express the tangible experience so well. For example, in “Three Cups: The Anatomy of a Wasted Afternoon,” Will Buckingham kills time with three hot drinks at a coffee shop. Buckingham writes:

There is an art to drinking Turkish coffee. The coffee comes already sweetened, and you drink as it comes. The grains lurk at the bottom of the cup, so if you change your mind and add sugar later you will disturb the coffee. While drinking if you slurp too quickly you swallow the grains. The true experts can manage to siphon off just enough of the liquid to leave sludge of the optimal viscosity that they can turn their cups upside down and read their futures in the grains that are left behind.

In “Is Starbucks Really Better Than the Red Brand X?” Kenneth Davids examines in great detail three different types of coffee and why one is valued over the others. He discerns nuances in flavors:

And the Esmeralda? The mouthfeel is a bit more syrupy than the Starbucks Antigua, though a tad lighter in weight than the mouthfeel of the Classic Red Brand X. But the basic tastes and aroma and flavor notes are much different. They are complex and intense. The sweetly tart sensation I registered in the Starbucks Antigua is richer, livelier, more like ripe lemons than ripe tomatoes. The aromatic/flavor notes are many and densely layered. There are notes that suggest flowers (especially the heavily scented kind like honeysuckle that send out their aromas at dusk), baker’s chocolate, lemon, orange, roasted nut, and nutmeg, among other possible associations.

Even though I’m not a regular coffee consumer, reading descriptions like these makes me crave it. I’m still not accustomed to the taste, but I’m trying. And if Laurie asks me again to grab some coffee, I finally know what to say: “Sure.”

 

September 2012