Review: Left Coast Roast
Hanna Neuschwander, Left Coast Roast: A Guide to the Best Coffee and Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle, ( Portland: Timber Press, 2012), 296 pages, $16.95
Hanna Neuschwander is the managing editor of Democracy & Education a scholarly journal published by the Lewis & Clack Graduate School of Education and Counseling, where she is also their Director of Communication. Outside of education, Neuschwander is incredibly passionate about coffee; she has judged a number of barista competitions and written about coffee for Travel + Leisure, Portland Monthly, Edible Seattle, Roast Magazine, and the Oregonian. Neuschwander first learned her love for coffee working as a barista at Extracto Coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon.
Left Coast Roast is a great introductory book for any burgeoning specialty coffee enthusiasts. In her introduction, Neuschwander outlines the history of the economic and culinary revolution that is transforming coffee from an unsophisticated food commodity into a refined beverage full of complexity and subtle nuance. The next seventy pages of her “coffee primer” is a crash course in where great coffee comes from and how it is made. Neuschwander explains the common lingo used to describe the cultivation, processing and consumption of coffee such as “shade-grown,” “pulped-natural,” and “cupping.” From there she summarizes the general flavor differences found in coffees grown in a variety of African, Asian, Central and South American countries.
Throughout her “coffee primer,” Neuschwander emphasizes how delicate coffee is and the potential pitfalls it faces at each step in its journey from the field to the cup. Coffee can only release its full potential when it is roasted and brewed with precision. Neuschwander also succinctly describes the dramatic impact roasting has on the myriad flavors coffee can express. She concludes this opening section with instructions on how to roast and brew a superb cup of coffee at home. Roasting and brewing at home allows the reader to experience the nuanced changes in flavor and aroma that can take place by changing one aspect of how the coffee is prepared.
After this introduction, Neuschwander dives into the heart of the book, a detailed examination of coffee roasters on the West Coast. California, Oregon, and Washington each get their own chapter which is organized by cities with the most roasters, and roaster are listed alphabetically within their city. Left Coast Roast is not meant to be an exhaustive reference, but a collection of some of the best, most well known, and infamous West Coast coffee roaster.
Besides being a great introduction to specialty coffee roasters, the book has helped me discover some great coffee roasters. Living in San Francisco's Mission District, I was familiar with Ritual, Four Barrel, and Blue Bottle but Left Coast Roast helped me find some great coffee coming out of North Beach and other parts of the Bay Area. The book was also very helpful during my last visit to the Pacific Northwest. I was able plot out the coffee roasters I wanted to visit while I was on a work trip to Seattle. While I wasn't crazy about every single cup I tried, a closer read of each entry would have helped me zero in on the few shops I liked the most. And while one of my new favorite North Beach roasters wasn't included in the book, I will continue to use Left Coast Roast as my starting point as I continue to explore the West Coast coffee scene.