What I know about important books
In my early days as a barista, there was one really important book. It was big, orange and was released in 2001 by La Marzocco. It was a troubleshooting guide for the Linea espresso machine.
For those of us with a burgeoning interest in making better coffee, the two hundred or so pages within its luminous orange covers contained a great deal of the information that we were hungry for — detailed, illustrated advice crucial to keeping the equipment we relied upon operating at it’s peak.
The book was a field guide for the foundations of making great espresso (as we understood it then). It was an important book, and aggressively sought after by enthusiastic baristas. Perhaps it was more prolific in other parts of the world, but to own a copy in Australia bestowed a degree of prestige, and indicated that you were indeed very serious about coffee, and part of a small but growing subset of the hospitality industry; a true coffee geek.
If you’ve ever thumbed through Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating (a book I simply can’t recommend highly enough, not least for the recipes but especially so for the wit and genius in which ideas about food and cooking are presented), you ought to have been fortunate enough to read Anthony Bourdain’s introduction to this now revered title.
In it, the American chef declaims the importance of Fergus’ book, how it changed so many people’s approach to cooking, and most importantly how, having acquired a copy of this hard-to-find work served as a signifier that reader was truly serious about real food. Be they a chef, a manager or a lover of great food, they had joined an exclusive, dedicated tribe, and in a small way were now connected both to St. John — the restaurant from which the book’s recipes derive — and Fergus Henderson himself.
La Marzocco’s orange book meant almost as much to me as a barista, as Fergus Henderson’s did to me as a cook. It meant knowledge shared, and an opportunity to learn from others. It meant acquiring understanding, and belonging to a small but developing, like-minded community.
While the subsequent 16 years has seen the spine fade to a pale yellow, and the espresso machines we utilise today (still from La Marzocco) have advanced some generations, I still have my copy of this troubleshooting guide in my office. And on the shelf next to it is a copy of a new book — it’s current day equivalent, and the most important work to be produced for the coffee industry in many recent years.
What I Know About Running Coffee Shops, by Colin Harmon, will undoubtedly be as important to cafe owners and employees — whether aspiring, current or former — as either La Marzocco or Fergus’s books were to their respective audiences. In only a few hundred pages of sincere, altruistic and insightful writing, Colin has managed to outline a wide range of crucial lessons for cafe operators, in a humble, approachable, and meaningful way that I’ve certainly not seen before in coffee.
As Australia’s cafe market continues to expand and boom at a dazzling rate, the advice contained within this book will become ever-more valuable, and with luck will help even more businesses to succeed and prove viable in an increasingly difficult and competitive market.
Despite having only read it last week, and possessing no ambitions to own or operate my own cafes again (for now), the wide range of parallels that relate to businesses I do run have already proved valuable, and are being put into daily use.
I’m very proud we’re distributing What I Know About Running Coffee Shops across Australia and New Zealand through Bureaux Collective, and don’t think there’s a barista, manager or cafe owner that wouldn’t benefit greatly from reading it.
Available now at bureaux.com.au