Book Review: Where to Drink Coffee

Book Review: Where to Drink Coffee

‘Coffee, coffee, every where’ as Coleridge so nearly put it, and could have given the popularity of coffee houses in Georgian London. But now, just as then, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to carry on and say ‘nor any drop to drink’, and with Phaidon’s new Where to Drink Coffee guide nor can anyone else.

The new guide joins the ‘Where…’ collection of guides as the fourth such title from the esteemed publisher. Co-written by New York based Liz Clayton, a leading coffee writer and author of Nice Coffee Time, and LA based Avidan Ross, who among other things is a glassblower and coffee connoisseur. As per usual with these guides, Where to Drink Coffee’s lead authors have had help from 150 baristas and regional and city experts from across the globe to ensure local knowledge sees the very best of places get into the book and nothing is overlooked, or so the theory goes.

Complete with a glossary explaining away the complex world of coffee styles and production terms, the mocha coloured guide covers 600 top coffee procurement spots across six continents and the cities across them. Among the places included are vegan coffee roasters in San Fransisco, a coffee bar in on of the oldest Turkish bazaars and a family owned coffee farm in Lima.

Where to Drink Coffee also includes two introductory short essays, one by each of the lead authors, Ross talks about how a road trip from the West Coast to East Coast of the USA first turned into a trip from coffee store to coffee store, while Clayton talks about the year long process of putting the book together and the point of the book. As she says, with many new coffee shops setting up shop, how can you tell which are the good ones and which are the ones where the owner has just taken some reclaimed lumber and old garden furniture to entice people to buy pretty average but expensive coffee?

While Where to Drink Coffee is clearly of use to any coffee lover, and it would be impossible to have a fully comprehensive guide – as Clayton points out many of the stores they wanted to include either closed or moved location during writing, while new ones worthy of inclusion opened – there are some surprising omissions.

Looking at London to see what they said about my favourite coffee shop, Monmouth Coffee, I found to my amazement that all three of its stores had been omitted. Given Monmouth was one of the early artisan coffee shops that led the way in London, and still has cues down the street at each store, this was a surprise. I also found a number of others that I would have expected to find, were missing. But while Monmouth and others were missing there are three separate listings for the three different branches of Workshop; when only four pages are given over to the coffee shops of a metropolis the size of London, and cumulatively these three take an entire page, one can’t help but feel there could have been a more succinct way of listing them that would allow other shops to feature. I also think, given the size of London and the importance of coffee to its populace, those four pages are far from enough, especially when Glasgow and Dublin each get one and two pages respectively.

That London has stores you’d expect missing, one is left wondering what other London stores that I don’t know about are missing, and thus I’m missing out on discovering. Of course the natural extension of this is that, if London isn’t covered properly, are the other countries and cities covered any better. It makes one feel that it’s a guide that can help, especially if visiting a new place, but that it’s incomplete and thus not fully fulfilling it raison d’etre.

One of the things that makes the ‘Where…’ guides so valuable and stick out ahead of other guides, is that they contain essays on the guides topic. Where Bartenders Drink was peppered with articles by the local experts on the cocktails of the region or city and how they have developed to be different to elsewhere and the cultural role they inhabit. Coffee I would argue is well suited to a similar treatment – essays on different types of coffee, the different flavour profiles of beans from different areas, national or regional differences of how coffee is drunk, how the bean is cultivated, roasted and then ground, and the cultural role of coffee. What there is instead is the Glossary. Yes it’s useful and aims to inform you on some of the areas I suggest there be essays on, but it can’t cover them all by the very nature of it or in the detail that they require. And here too there are glaring omissions; many types of coffee are listed, but where, for instance, is ‘Turkish Coffee’, a style of coffee drunk through out the Middle East and North Africa, an area covered by the book.

Where to Drink Coffee is a good guide and one well worth investing in. The design work and quality of production is, as ever, all done to a high standard. It just could have gone further and it’s a great shame it didn’t. But as a guide to places to have coffee when traveling its faults are not overly important and can be overlooked.


Where to Drink Coffee

Published by Phaidon

ISBN: 9780714873923