Book Review: Coffee Encounters


Every barista dreams of making a pilgrimage to origin, to retrace the journey from seed to cup. For those of us who have yet to have the opportunity to visit a coffee farm, a new book, Coffee Encounters: Adventures to Origin by Jonette George and Tyson Hunter offers an intimate look at the people and places that produce coffee.

Welcome to Coffee Encounters

Published in conjunction with the 2013 World Barista Championship in Melbourne, Coffee Encounters is a thick 500 pages and reads like an encyclopedia. Although the focus of Coffee Encounters is on coffee farms and farmers, it includes features on coffee roasting, dairy farms, and the history of coffee  in Australia. The book concludes with a directory of Australian coffee companies organized by state. The list ranges from more traditional commercial companies to cutting edge industry leaders such as St. Ali and Proud Mary. Surprisingly, several Australian cafes with a strong reputation in the craft coffee community, like Market Lane, are absent.


Perhaps the most sobering article in Coffee Encounters is “Picking Up the Pieces”, which profiles two children, Melanie and Mario, the adopted daughter and son of a Guatemalan coffee picker. Every coffee cherry must be picked by hand, which makes for grueling work. Often it is only the financially destitute who are willing to do it. Like many children in agrarian societies, Melanie and Mario live an austere life. They haven’t always had access to education and their house is a tin shed with a dirt floor and no running water. Smudge Publishing has already raised $50,000 to improve Melanie and Mario’s living conditions and provide for their education.


Another fascinating story in Coffee Encounters focuses on Toby’s Estate, an Australian coffee company that recently made waves by breaking into the American scene. Not only are they one of the few independent coffee companies roasting on two continents, they also now own their own coffee farm, Santa Teresa, in Panama. Toby’s Estate founder, Toby Smith, bought Santa Teresa because of its high elevation and rich volcanic soil – perfect for growing Panama’s famed Geisha varietal. The workers at Santa Teresa also benefit from the arrangement, earning 45% more than workers at neighboring farms. Their children also receive free meals and education at an elementary school built on the premises.  It’s a beautiful picture of how craft coffee can improve the lives of farmers in developing countries.


My only critique of Coffee Encounters is that there are 72 pages of introductory essays before the main subject matter. Many of these essays would have been better suited as appendices. There are also a few typos which hopefully will be corrected in the second edition.

In all, Coffee Encounters is an ambitious, ground breaking book.  The fascinating essays, gorgeous photos, and wealth of information make Coffee Encounters mandatory reading for any barista or coffee enthusiasts. We expect it will remain on our coffee table for no small amount of time!


The Coffee Compass would like to thank Smudge Publishing for providing us with a complimentary copy to review.

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