A miracle! A coffee science book all about quality, not cheapness. Even more amazing -- it's readable and quite comprehensive.
Positive Product Points
A very comprehensive reference on coffee science, not just from bean to cup, but from Coffea DNA and evolution to your tastebuds. The contents are laid out in reference stye, so finding a fact is fast and easy. The book is beautifully illustrated and printed. By academic publishing standards, it is dirt cheap, and I would not be surprised if Illy company was subsidising the costs.
Negative Product Points
Not a "how to." If you want to learn how to make espresso, how to roast, etc. look somewhere else. This is not a knock on the book, since it's not about that.
The real (very minor) knocks: Some details obfuscated. Contents not peer reviewed.
I own three books on coffee science; Sivetz's 70's "Coffee technology", Flament's "Coffee Flavor Chemistry", and this one edited by Ernesto Illy and Rinantonio Vianni. This one is by far the best,
Flament's work is for chemists and mostly beyond my comprehension. It also suffers because most coffee research is financed by the big 4 (Folgers, Maxwell etc), and the money is spent on identifying coffee constitutents so they can be added to instant coffee, preground, or other abominations.
Sivetz's work is out of date, but fascinating in a way that particularly reflects on Illy's and Vianni's book. Every page of the Sivetz book reflects his agony that he's writing about the science of instant coffee, and other ways on how to destroy coffee, when he was clearly dreaming of an industry that was about creating the best cup of coffee, not the cheapest (Flament has no such agenbites of inwit).
By coffee chemistry standards, this book comes straight from Utopia -- a major company is financing a food science book that is about nothing but quality. In every chapter the question is always what creates the best coffee, not the cheapest. This is, quite simply, a miracle. Trust me, food science in the real world never works like this. Buy the book just to "vote" for more of such amazing stuff. This is not too hard; by reference book standards, this book is inexpensive and well produced. I suspect Illy Co is defraying some of the costs.
But the book is fully worth the money just for the information it contains. The new 2005 edition is up to date, with the bulk of the references from the last decade. It contains superb chapters on coffee varietals and processing, including the latest data on coffee genetics, pulp-dry processing, organic farming, etc. The tasting and gustation chapters are also very fine. On the chapters that cover the core of what we are interested in: those on grinding, brewing, and cup quality are well written by Marino Petracco, who works for Illy; but the chapters on roasting and staling are a little disappointing, as the authors tend to blather and obfucate on some topics, probably those covered by confidentiality agreements with their non-Illy employers. However, with careful reding, a few gold nuggets can be sieved from the dross in these too.
Finally, a legitimate argument about quality that needs wider airing. For Illy, meeting consumer preferences is an integral part of quality. Since consumers prefer convenience and being able to prepare coffee while remaining ignorant of the details; the best approach is nitrogen pressured preground cans and pods -- it is the only way a complete ignoramus has even a slight prayer of making good coffee. For me, food corporations should make it their business to inform consumers what their "preference" for being ignorant costs them. In my Utopia, Illy would continue to make pods and the preground cans, but attach "quality warning" lables to them. However, the existence of this book proves that this is an argument among friends -- Illy is at the opposite end of the corporate universe from Folgers.
I didn't give straight 10s in the rating because of these minor negatives. However, I reiterate, coffee science is financed by the industry, and given the state of the coffee industry, this book is a miracle in its content and emphasis -- the less than perfect ratings are based on a utopia where all information is openly available, and all coffee research is about quality.
Usual Amazon experience
Three Month Followup
No overall change in my opinion.
I found the chapter on grinding particularly useful while assessing the M3 grinder in comparison to commercial flat burr grinders.
The chapter on roasting does have some gold, especially in its description of how the coffee dries during roasting. However, it remains a "heavy" chapter, to my mind, needlessly so.
One Year Followup
This has become my "go-to" reference book for the technical aspects of coffee. Mostly it contains the information I need. If it doesn't; the reference section at the end of each chapter and a trip to the library will locate it. I'm changing my overall rating from 9 to 10, since if one has to pick just one coffee reference, this book is the clear standout.