Sunday, November 9, 1997
THE MIAMI HERALD
exciting news for anybody who would like to pay a lot of money
for coffee that has passed all the way through an animal's
And you just know there are plenty of people who would. Specialty
coffees are very popular these days, attracting millions of
consumers, every single one of whom is standing in line ahead
of me whenever I go to the coffee place at the airport to
grab a quick cup on my way to catch a plane. These consumers
are always ordering mutant beverages with names like "mocha-almond-honey-vinaigrette
lattespressacino, " beverages that must be made one at
a time via a lengthy and complex process involving approximately
one coffee bean, three quarts of dairy products and what appears
to be a small nuclear reactor.
back in the line, there is growing impatience among those
of us who just want a plain old cup of coffee so that our
brains will start working and we can remember what our full
names are and why we are catching an airplane. We want to
strike the lattespressacino people with our carry-on baggage
and scream "GET OUT OF OUR WAY, YOU TREND GEEKS, AND
LET US HAVE OUR COFFEE!" But of course we couldn't do
anything that active until we've had our coffee.
It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a
genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people
who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.
I bet this kind of thing does not happen to heroin addicts.
I bet that when serious heroin addicts go to purchase their
heroin, they do not tolerate waiting in line while some dilettante
in front of them orders a hazelnut smack-a-cino with cinnamon
The reason some of us need coffee is that it contains caffeine,
which makes us alert. Of course it is very important to remember
that caffeine is a drug, and, like any drug, it is a lot of
No! Wait! What I meant to say is: Like any drug, caffeine
can have serious side effects if we ingest too much. This
fact was first noticed in ancient Egypt when a group of workers,
who were supposed to be making a birdbath, began drinking
Egyptian coffee, which is very strong, and wound up constructing
I myself developed the coffee habit in my early 20s, when,
as a "cub" reporter for the Daily Local News in
West Chester, Pa., I had to stay awake while writing phenomenally
boring stories about municipal government. I got my coffee
from a vending machine that also sold hot chocolate and chicken-noodle
soup; all three liquids squirted out of a single tube, and
they tasted pretty much the same. But I came to need that
coffee, and even today I can do nothing useful before I've
had several cups. (I can't do anything useful afterward ,
either; that's why I'm a columnist.)
But here's my point: This specialty-coffee craze has gone
too far. I say this in light of a letter I got recently from
alert reader Bo Bishop. He sent me an invitation he received
from a local company to a "private tasting of the highly
prized Luwak coffee, " which "at $300 a pound .
. . is one of the most expensive drinks in the world."
The invitation states that this coffee is named for the luwak,
a "member of the weasel family" that lives on the
Island of Java and eats coffee berries; as the berries pass
through the luwak, a "natural fermentation" takes
place, and the berry seeds -- the coffee beans -- come out
of the luwak intact. The beans are then gathered, washed,
roasted and sold to coffee connoisseurs.
The invitation states: "We wish to pass along this once
in a lifetime opportunity to taste such a rarity."
Or, as Bo Bishop put it: "They're selling processed weasel
doodoo for $300 a pound."
I first thought this was a clever hoax designed to ridicule
the coffee craze. Tragically, it is not. There really is a
Luwak coffee. I know because I bought some from a specialty-coffee
company in Atlanta. I paid $37.50 for two ounces of beans.
I was expecting the beans to look exotic, considering where
they'd been, but they looked like regular coffee beans. In
fact, for a moment I was afraid that they were just regular
beans, and that I was being ripped off.
Then I thought: What kind of world is this when you worry
that people might be ripping you off by selling you coffee
that was NOT pooped out by a weasel?
So anyway, I ground the beans up and brewed the coffee and
drank some. You know how sometimes, when you're really skeptical
about something, but then you finally try it, you discover
that it's really good, way better than you would have thought
possible? This is not the case with Luwak coffee. Luwak coffee,
in my opinion, tastes like somebody washed a dead cat in it.
But I predict it's going to be popular anyway, because it's
expensive. One of these days, the people in front of me at
the airport coffee place are going to be ordering decaf poopacino.
I'm thinking of switching to heroin.
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