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Advance Copy Books Stuff Things.
Advance Copy Books Stuff Things.
Posted April 6, 2007 9:15pm
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i Love Coffee Book

In the last little while, for some reason, I got on a flurry of "advance copy" book listings; Universal Press Syndicate's the biggest, but two others as well. And as such, a few books have been popping into my mail box each week.

Most are foodie related books with little if nothing to do with coffee. But that's okay, I'm a gourmand who wants to become a gourmet, so it's all good. But I did get one coffee related book recently, I Love Coffee by Susan Zimmer, which was pretty cool.

As soon as I got the book, I recognized the latte art on the cover - at least I think I did - definitely Sammy Piccolo's work. Which made me think - wow, do I know some people in the biz so well that I can instantly recognize their latte art?

A while back, Sammy was teaching me how to pour better latte art, and I picked up on his skillset so much (and Vince Piccolo's too), that I was pouring rosettas very much in the "Sammy Style". So much so that some of my best work, which I photographed, is hanging in my espresso room to this day; and the funny ironic thing is, when Sammy visits, he thinks that it's his work! To say the least, I'm flattered, but I also know Sammy can pour a heap better than I can.

Anyway, back to subject on hand - the book - as soon as I took the book out of its bubble wrap and saw the cover, I thought that was Sammy's art - and sure enough, he's quoted inside and even does a photo step by step on producing good latte art, right in the book!

I haven't read the book through yet, only really just a few segments, and mainly focused on one of my other passions - the photography work. So I'm not going to review the book here just yet, but I will comment on the photography.

I gotta say overall, I was overall disappointed with it. In some cases, the photography work is awesome - especially some of the drink recipe shots, (recipes are over half the book); The Orient Express Martini shot on page 173 in particular stands out as an awesome foodie shot, but so does Coffee Sands on page 163, Cafe Mudslide on page 154, and many others.

In other parts of the book, like the cover for instance, it's just so disappointing. If you're really, really into latte art and such, you'll probably immediately recognize that Sammy's pour was sitting a bit too long (probably under hot studio lights) before it was photographed. The disintegration of the crema-portion of the drink is quite evident. And you know Sammy wouldn't build a drink with that blond a crema - either it was a result of the drink sitting too long, or poor photoshopping, or a combination of the two.

Inside, there's more examples of photos that just don't make the grade. Probably the least appealing photograph to me at least in the entire book is the one on page vi, showing a row of cappuccinos poured in the Aussie style (glasses sans handles) that have been probably sitting there longer than Sammy's cover shot drink was - the degradation in the drinks is obvious - probably 15 minutes or longer in normal conditions, or about 5 minutes or so under studio lights.

Shooting espresso and latte art is something that you can't trick with foodie-photography insider stuff. You know, substituting mashed potatoes for ice cream, that kind of thing. Espresso crema has an increadibly short "shelf life" under the best of circumstances - put it under a couple of 1500W lights or strobes, and watch it get even worse.

Latte art, microfoam, crema infused with microfoam - fares even worse. I know from professional experience you have literally seconds to go from pour to shot. Even then, you have to be super wary of things like "coating" the side walls of the cup when moving the beverage, or the relatively massive amounts of degradation crema has only seconds after brewing (ie, it tends to collapse a bit once the crema settles).

I shoot a lot of latte art. It's by no means the best photography out there, but have a look at this.

Click for larger image Click for larger image
Example from the Book
This is the photo mentioned above - on page vi - showing a lot of degradation in the foam and artwork and crema.
Macchiato pour
Here's a photo of a macchiato pour that Beata did (I was teaching her latte art at one stage) - seconds after the drink build. Unretouched photo.

As mentioned, the one on the left - definitely not appealing to me at least - like looking at a rotting fruit. The one on the right? Not great latte art (hey, she was learning, and it is a tiny cup!), but nice attention to details, no huge, expanded bubbles, and good colour on the crema.

Anyway, that's one example - another is the photographs of Sammy's pour - not nearly as unappealing as the shot above, but not great either. I know the photographer though, so I feel sucky saying this. Oh well.

And other examples - most of the "espresso brewing" photographs aren't that great. They aren't bad per se, just kind of "meh". One of my favourite personal photos of espresso being brewed is up on flickr, and while it's been criticized by some as showing a "gusher" (sorry, I disagree - it's just extracting close to 60mls from 18 grams of coffee in 25 seconds), I like the photo a lot because it's unretouched, shows great colour in the espresso stream, and in the end, the shots tasted great.

And then there's this one, which not only is one of the most popular photos on my Flickr account, but caused a steady stream of similar photos on coffee related blogs (and even barista champion posters) since.

And one more thing on the photography - that not only irks me about this book, but about others, like Ken Davids' books - using photographs of obsolete consumer machines to show what "they" look like. In this case, there's some crappy 1980s vintage steam toy "espresso" machine photos to demonstrate, well, crappy steam toy espresso machines. And an illustration used to show auto drip coffee makers is an illustration of, you guessed it, a late 1980s, early 1990s vintage Eurotrash coffee brewer.

Yikes. Am I too harsh?

The book itself? Looks very interesting and promising, especially for the coffee noob in your life - so far, it looks like a great intro book that has half of it filled with how tos, background, history, "seed to cup" information, and the other half filled with a lot of intriguing recipes. I may do a mini review later on.

But for now - coffee book authors - time to get serious with ALL your photography. And I'm available ;)

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