Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The History of a Certain Variety of Coffee

A short time ago, I indulged in a cup of kopi-luwak coffee, while sitting in a coffee house in central Moscow. For reasons that will be elaborated upon in due course, kopi-luwak has the notable distinction of being the world’s most expensive coffee. Although, at only 300 Rubles for a coffee plunger of the brew, it was notably less than Wikipedia says the beverage typically costs; ergo, I'm tempted to believe that what I was drinking was, in fact, a blend, intended to simulate the flavour, while only going some way to simulating the price, of the genuine product.

Real kopi-luwak, irrespective of whether or not that was in fact what I drank, is produced with the aid of a creature known as the Asian Palm Civet, which is a relative of the mongoose. The creature, as a component of an reasonably undiscerning diet (one that interestingly enough includes alcohol), eats ripe coffee cherries from coffee plantations around South-East Asia. By way of what I assume is a fairly typical omnivorous mammalian digestive process, the coffee beans emerge, with the cherry-flesh digested away, from much closer to the civet’s tail than from whence it entered. Apparently, the digestive acids of the civet alter the protein structure of the coffee: in a delicious way.

I shall indulge in some more ranting on the topic of "beverages extracted from excrement: a case study" later, but first, I shall recount the origin of the broader category of coffee.

The origins of coffee are, supposedly, as follows. I precursor this by warning that the story is probably-- and here I feel I may be deviating from the writing voice that I have been cultivating with indeterminable success over the course of this blog -- a steaming pile of horse shit. Never the less:

One day an Ethopian man named Kaldi awoke one morning to find that he didn't have any goats. For most people, this is a fairly typical morning; I for one enjoy waking up every morning to find that I don't have any goats. For Kaldi, however, this was a matter of significant professional concern, and thus he went searching.

Eventually, or perhaps immediately (details are naturally clouded in the steam of word-of-mouth history) Kaldi found his goats dancing around a coffee plant. Here is where I became skeptical of the story's authenticity: I have trouble imagining a goat dancing. Loosing control of its faculties, perhaps, but that only really constitutes "dancing" in a club with a name like Shooters, or Propaganda, or anywhere else with a vaguely descriptive one word name. Regardless, Kaldi, evidently lacking in a firm grasp of the risk-consequence relationship, decided to sample the bright red berries growing on the mysterious plant. I shall leave you to extrapolate the remainder of the tale, or, alternatively, read it here. Suffice-to-say, he got tweaked, liked it, coffee entered the Muslim world, then Europe, and is now the world's second most traded commodity.

The origins of kopi-luwak are somewhat less clear, or, maybe, less intuitive. I cannot, in spite of my best efforts, postulate a series of events leading to its discovery that did not, at some stage, include a person digging through civet excrement. Forgive my cynicism, but: What? Additionally, although I cannot find any sourced data to back this claim up, I couldn’t be convinced that a 3 kilogram animal would be remotely likely to pass a full cup-worth of coffee in a single stool. Ergo, the individual who first chose to sift through shit in search of coffee, in spite of, I should like to note, the fact that coffee would necessarily be growing abundantly nearby, did it more than once in a row. The first excavation was apparently not so off-putting as to discourage the individual from doing it again.

Following this, the party in question, I assume, sought to clean the bean, which I suppose is the logical progression; if I had just dug coffee beans out of excrement -- if I had just dug anything out of excrement, I imagine -- I would want to wash it thoroughly. While I can appreciate the imperative to clean the beans, I can only do so on the same level as I appreciate the imperative to remove a self-applied rat-trap from ones genitals.

While a coffee bean, washed of all traces of turd, looks much the same a coffee bean that has never had turd on it, it would be impossible to wash the memory of of the turd-encrusted bean from a sensible person's memory. Yet, those first beans must have been ground, steeped, and the resulting fluid consumed. And all this, despite the fact that whoever did it had no way of knowing that it would taste any good.

Maybe it was a prank.

"Hey [snigger], try this [snigger] special coffee."

"Oh hey, thanks. [Sip]. Hey, this is pretty great!"

"What?! Let me try! [Grab. Heavy sip.] Well, what do you know? We could absolutely sell this for way more than merely the taste would warrant!"

". . . Why is that. . . ?"

Writing this post has made me realise that there is a vast range of synonyms for feces.


Erin said...

Oh, Oliver! A spelling mistake AND a typo!

Brilliant as always, nonetheless.

Daria said...

Oh Graeme Burns, it's occured to me recently that I don't have an e-mail address for you. Could you flick me a note at daria dot wadsworth at gmail dot come to better facilitate conversation?

theflyingnerd said...

How you wrote 'know' instead of 'no' I will never no.

Chipper read chap.

O Graeme Burns said...

Error corrected. Thank you Michael.