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The Perfect Cup.

The Perfect Cup

Coming of age around coffee in the 60's there was precious little to read outside of Ukers (O' Captain My Captain) who was aiming at the serious student, and Walsh (I've always has the suspicion that he made-up half of his book) and Thurber (who lovingly dedicated Coffee From Plantation to Cup "To the man at Poughkeepsie) and Jacob (responsible for the memorable quote "... the excrement of goats looks very much like coffee beans...") The most recent of these tomes had been written in 1935. It was not until Andres Uribe C.'s Brown Gold in 1954 that there was an interesting modern telling of the coffee story for the general public, and not until the Schapira family's The Book of Coffee and Tea in 1975 that the new American coffee industry found its voice. In 1976 Kenneth Davids' Coffee A Guide to Buying Brewing and Enjoying and Quimme's The Signet Book of Coffee and Tea added their voices to the scene. In 1986, John DeMers' Community Kitchen's Complete Guide to Gourmet Coffee was published thus completing the "Short List" of the best consumer books on specialty coffee written in the last 20 years. Now there is a new and worthy addition to-the list, The Perfect Cup, by Timothy James Castle.

Timothy Castle has been around the specialty trade since it emerged from the primeval ooze of the old coffee business to assert itself in the 70's His Castle Communications is a public relations and marketing concern with a clientele in the fancy food and beverage fields. He is an accomplished writer of articles on coffee related subjects, and is currently president of Specialty Coffee Association of America, on whose board of directors he has been active for some years.

Designed for the uninitiated but entertaining and interesting to old initiates as well, Castle's book sparkles with personal insights such as the author's reminiscences of an apprentices life in the old cupping rooms, in Spitting, Spittoons and Other Traditions of the Coffee Trade. It is a delight. It is humor that rings true because Tim has been there, and he renders the scene in every gritty detail of steely men, steaming kettles and suffering 16 years olds in a way that those few of us who survived those days can relate to now, though there were only a few of us who saw the humor in an overfilled 25 inch cuspidor back then.

There are no children's fairy tales about dancing goats and exotic birds of Paradise in Castle's book.. There are no emirs, and no mullahs, no saints and no sinners, well, very few sinners. Mr. Castle is into the differences between Arabicas and Robustas while we are still on page one, and while he pauses to give us some material on the etymology of the word Coffee and a side-bar on de Clieu and the first coffee brought to the Americas, Castle leaves to others the telling of the legends and early history of coffee.

Castle addresses some areas which are new ideas for the public to ponder. He writes of environmental concerns related to paper filters, and updates the current status of Methylene Chloride as a continuing agent for the production of decaffeinated coffee. He focuses on the importance of water as a pure vehicle to carry coffee's subtle flavors, and answers question, many may have about organic coffee too.

In Section III "How to Buy Coffee and Whom to Buy It From", Castle is eloquent on the subject of coffee roasters, around whom he evidently spends a good deal of time. He obviously appreciates the roaster's art and the folks that ply this trade for he has devoted the heart of his book (Some 68 pages) to this happy breed. I have never met Perry Merkel in Anchorage, Alaska or Linda See in Riverside, California but I want to meet both of these dedicated roasters passionately now because of the vibrant profiles in this section. If you believe the author, and I do, you won't find one uninteresting person in the specialty coffee business.

Castle lives in a more polite coffee world than some for in "Coffee Business Terminology Made Simple", another section that informs and tickets simultaneously, he indicates that "Conniving Scoundrel" is the depreciatory sobriquet of choice in coffee I guess we just don't know the same folks.

There are short passages on each of the 24 coffee producing regions of the world (Castle does not think much of Jamaica Blue Mountain. He identifies the coffees of Guatemala as his favorites).. The comments are interesting as much for their information as for the insight we are given into Castle's personality and intellect and coffee preferences. Later in the work; Castle waxes rhapsodic about two premium estate marks; La Minita Tarrazu, Costa Rica, and San Sabastian, Guatemala of which both the producers and Castle & Company are justly proud.

Castle's description of the roasting process is very good, though I missed the name Jabez Burns in the discussion of roasting equipment. The author well underlines the confusion of terminology to identify roast colors today. In the "Dark, the Light and the Ugly" the author walks us through the pitfalls of darker vs lighter roast fashions as well as slow vs rapid roast cycles. In "Blending and Blended vs Unblended", Castle illustrates an understanding of the reasoned approach to blending as an art form, and a sensitivity to the subject matter not usually seen today. The author is obviously not a fan of flavored coffee, still he gives them a fair shake in his words on the subject.

In "Brewing Methods" there are workable, clear directions of the popular brewing methods in vogue today. It is unfortunate that Castle has not developed an appreciation of the substance and glory that is Turkish coffee for this regal beverage has much to offer the coffee lover. "Brewing Methods" is accompanied by neat spot drawings of each basic coffeemaker design.

In "Breaking New Grounds in the Kitchen" can be found a bevy of coffee recipes that you have never read before. Believe me they are interesting and in some cases daring. I think the world of Anne Rosenzweig, one of this country's great chefs. I would trust the Rosenzweig inspired cardamom and coffee dusted chicken at her Arcadia Restaurant in New York without question, but don't trust my own culinary skill to succeed with the dish at home. "Cognac and Coffee", another of Castle's entries, which I was less abashed to try was a great success with friends recently.

I was surprised to find how many of the "One Hundred Things to do With Coffee" I have already done, I was relieved to discover that neither the author nor I had tried numbers 14 and 15, but I'm dying to talk to anyone who has (see page 227).

There are interesting and informative sections on processing and the business of coffee and one very special piece of personal coffee philosophy entitled "Beyond the Perfect Cup" which everyone in the trade owes to himself to read.

I have wishes about the book. I wish there was a more complete coffee glossary covering more than just the bare bones of cupper's terms.

I wish that considering the impact that espresso beverages are having in the United States, Castle would have had more to contribute on the subject. I will stop criticizing here to point out that the book's failings are minor affairs, and that The Perfect Cup is an important addition to consumer coffee literature.

The Perfect Cup belongs in every coffee reference library and may also be an effective teaching tool for wholesale and retail specialty coffee staff when used as part of a comprehensive educational program. Certainly it should find its way onto the sales shelves of every coffee store in the country, and into the pages of direct mail catalogs as well for this is a volume that steeps the reader in the romance and lore of today's vibrant American coffee trade. It makes friends for good coffee, and it does it with knowledge, and with humor and with insight into the personality of one of the trade's most prominent personages, Timothy Castle.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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