Piglet Community Pick: The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee

February 11, 2013

Read up on some of 2012's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.   

Today: Fiveandspice brews and bakes her way through The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee.

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The one worry I had as I ordered my copy of The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee was that I would find it to be what a coffee book could so easily be these days: an esoteric, even judgmental, treatise on coffee roasting and brewing, interesting only to those who obsess over finding ingredients you’ve never tasted and discussing obscure Swedish punk-rock you’ve never heard of. Happily, it was nothing of the sort. At times, admittedly, the book seems like a parody of itself. James Freeman’s prose ranges from dramatic (“roasters choose to animate their terrible feelings of anxiety, dread, and responsibility and face the daunting task of roasting coffee”) to philosophical (“the act of ontological transformation initiated by drinking coffee”), but what saves it from being ridiculous, and in fact makes it charming, is that it’s obviously 100% earnest as well as informative. Freeman describes growing, processing, and roasting coffee in terms more often found in suspense novels because that is how exciting and awe-inspiring he finds it. Who can blame him, then, for wanting to share this enthusiasm and love with others? I quickly found myself as intrigued by the natural history of a coffee bean and the people who grow them as I’ve ever been by any story.

But the proof is in the pudding. Or coffee cup. There was a great deal of muttering and quiet cursing as I followed Freeman’s pour-over instructions, weighing out my beans and taking simmering water’s temperature at 6am. “This should definitely be left to baristas,” I thought as I watchfully kept the height of the water at the appropriate level in the filter. But when I finally tasted my cup of coffee, all muttering stopped. It was exponentially better than the coffee we normally brew in the morning. As promised, it was a whole different beverage. I’ve repeated the process almost every morning since, and I’ve had similar success with the French press method from the book.

I spent even more time with the recipe portion of Blue Bottle, charmingly grouped into categories like “with your morning coffee” and “perfect for dunking.” The sunny photos and Caitlin Freeman’s simple, chatty descriptions of why she loves each recipe easily convinced me that I wished to try every last one. Pixie Tangerine Chiffon Cake? Strawberry Buckle with Lemon-Pistachio Streusel? Yes please! Every recipe I tried was a hit. The Rosemary Shortbread was buttery and crumbly, the Saffron Snickerdoodles caramel-y and fragrant, the waffles fluffy and rich. The Catalan Eggs, poached eggs with braised greens and tomato sauce, earned a spot in my favorite breakfasts patheon.  

All that said, the real review is this: I bought this book as a Christmas gift for the coffee drinkers and bakers in my life. They were all thrilled.

Have you cooked from this book? Tell us what you think in the comments! 

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


EmilyC February 15, 2013
Great review -- I loved the part about how you were quietly cursing their instructions at 6 am! And those Catalan Eggs sound awesome.
fiveandspice February 16, 2013
Haha, thanks Em. My husband thought it was pretty hilarious to watch me...and not help at all! :)
Carolyn Z. February 12, 2013
I also made the rosemary shortbread. We ate about one-third of the batch and then froze the rest for when we want yummy cookies. Made the Strawberry Buckle, but with ripe pears, orange zest, and almonds. The cake did cave in as she said it might. Cake for breakfast was wonderful. Now if I can just get to one of their locations and taste the incredible coffee. Everyone raves. I enjoyed reading the entire book on the Kindle.
fiveandspice February 16, 2013
Great idea to freeze some of the cookies for later.
mcs3000 February 12, 2013
Enjoyed this review. I can vouch for those shortbread cookies. Buy them there + made the recipe in the book. Love those cookies and anything BB
fiveandspice February 12, 2013
Lucky you! :)
luvcookbooks February 11, 2013
great review, want the book and wish I had the cup of coffee you described right now ... evocative writing!
fiveandspice February 12, 2013
Thank you!
mariaraynal February 11, 2013
Really nice review... am tempted to buy the book, especially now that I realize our at-home brew is no doubt hopelessly inadequate. And then you mentioned rosemary shortbread. And, really, who wouldn't be taken in by a coffee table book about coffee!
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
Exactly! It's so meta, hehe. I really enjoyed the book. It may not be an absolute must-own, but it's awfully fun to have and get to know so much more about coffee, as well as have a good line up of potential nibbles to go with that excellent coffee.
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
p.s. LOVED your review last week, but never managed to pull my brain together enough to comment. :)
mariaraynal February 12, 2013
Thank you, Emily!
jwiz February 11, 2013
you must be from minnesota. So earnest;)
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
Minnesotans, notoriously into earnestness.
nightkitchen February 11, 2013
Those baked goods sound so good! Really the only time I want sweets is with a good cup of coffee. Will have to check the book out.
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
I agree totally. A cup of coffee really does go so perfectly with just a little something sweet.
creamtea February 11, 2013
Oh 5&S, you've created a need. Great review!!
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
Uh oh. ;)
hardlikearmour February 11, 2013
Great review! I wish I had a stack of Rosemary Shortbread or Saffron Snickerdoodles to go with my coffee every day!
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
I wish I did too! Sadly, that only happens now and then, but those are very, very good days.
enbe February 11, 2013
So that's where my secret santa treats came from! Delish!
fiveandspice February 11, 2013
Yup. :)