Food & Culture

Book Excerpt: Coffee for Dummies

Longtime Starbucks executive spills the beans

By Edited and Condensed by Rob Smith May 26, 2021


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

If not for a random conversation at a dinner party he wasn’t even at, Major Cohen may have never become an author.

Cohen spent 25 years at Starbucks — including eight as senior project manager for global innovation — before retiring last year. His book, “Coffee For Dummies,” was released in March by Wiley, the publishing company that owns the Dummies series. The book is a colorful romp through the history of coffee, including tips on how to brew coffee at home, coffee myths and some of the best coffee shops around the world.

A Wiley executive was at a dinner party when a fellow guest, an acquaintance of Cohen’s, asked if the 214-year-old company had ever published a “Coffee For Dummies” book among its approximately 2,500 titles. The answer was no. Cohen’s name came up and now he’s an author.

“When I started writing, it was a bit too academic,” says Cohen, who spent 20 years as a schoolteacher before joining Starbucks. “My editor basically said to me one day, ‘You need to write this book as though you’re sitting at your kitchen table with three or four friends and having a conversation about coffee.’ I started to write it in that way. It’s more familiar and less intimidating.”

The book is available for $19.99 on Here is an excerpt listing some of Cohen’s favorite coffee shops in Seattle:

My career in coffee has afforded me some incredible opportunities to travel, and during the last 25 years I have enjoyed coffee moments in hundreds of cafés, with thousands of colleagues and friends and one or two curious bystanders who may just have been intrigued by the loudness and passion of my voice.

I’ve had egg coffee in Vietnam, coffee beer in Taiwan, traditional filter coffee in India, siphon brewed in Shanghai, and thousands of simple, delicious Chemex-brewed black coffees. When I travel, coffee is central to my explorations, and in this chapter I share a taste of where you may want to stop for coffee. Of course, this list is nowhere near complete, but these places all have a special place in coffee and in my heart.

Not only is Seattle the home of Starbucks, but Seattle also features significantly in the broader history of the birth and growth of specialty coffees. Today Seattle is still home to innovation and almost unrivaled coffee passion. A visit to Seattle must include a wide array of coffee shops:

Begin your day at Espresso Vivace ( with an espresso, a macchiato, or a Caffe Nico (a macchiato flavored with orange zest and cinnamon). David Schomer and Geneva Sullivan started Vivace in 1988. If your visit is in the morning and timed well, you just may encounter him in one of the three locations.

Starbucks Pike Place Market store (www. is something to behold because little has been changed physically since the 1970s when it was built as a dry goods, coffee, tea, and spices merchant. The offerings and experience have changed with the times because today it’s all about beverages, whole beans, and souvenirs, all brought to visitors by a talented, multicultural, extraordinarily affable barista team.

Head toward the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Right below it you’ll find KEXP Radio. La Marzocco (, the famed Italian espresso machine manufacturer, has built a museum and café steps away from the DJ booth and the station’s reception desk. What makes this spot unique is that each month a different roaster from somewhere in the world is the host, so special coffees and offerings highlight any visit. The host roaster has full control over the menu so you might encounter everything from a traditional Mexican coffee beverage like a café de olla (Mexican spiced coffee made with coffee, cinnamon, and raw dark sugar called piloncillo) to a lighter roasted, expertly hand-poured Norwegian roaster’s best single pour-over.

A trip to Seattle would be incomplete without a visit to the Fremont neighborhood where Milstead Coffee ( has been blowing guests away since opening 2011. Milstead always features an amazing selection of splendid coffees brewed by a superb team of baristas.

Seattle isn’t suffering from any shortage of good coffee. Here are a few other places you may want to visit:

Analog Coffee (
Elm Coffee Roasters (
Olympia Coffee Roasters (
Tougo Coffee (
Victrola Cafe (
Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company (

I’d be remiss if I didn’t guide you to Starbucks Reserve Roastery ( The first of the six Starbucks Reserve Roasteries in the world (Seattle, Shanghai, Milan, New York City, Tokyo, and Chicago), this striking and lively spot provides visitors with an up-close look at the process of roasting small batches of coffee and couples that experience with a chance to enjoy some innovative coffee and tea beverage creations and some terrific food all served by a consistently expert and personable team.

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