By Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
They say love is the international language, but I’m not quite so sure. Though I have known couples that dated—I use the term lightly—who haven’t shared a common language, I am highly doubtful it was love.
Perhaps the international language is beer. After all, I can order a beer in four different languages, but can only tell someone I love them in two.
That can’t be it either. Some countries don’t drink beer.
There is one thing, though that I can think of that everyone, from the tallest skyscraper in Dubai, to the smallest hut in the Amazon rain forest partakes in and that is drinking coffee. Coffee is so common (400 billion cups consumed a year) that it has its own day that is celebrated around the world.
International Coffee Day is celebrated here in the U.S. on September 29 and has been a day to appreciate the aromatic pick-me-up since the early 1980s.
Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee after witnessing his goats eating berries of a particular tree and then becoming restless and unable to sleep. Kaldi reported his observations to the local monastery and the monks proceeded to make a drink using the same berries. Word spread quickly of the beverage, eventually reaching the Arabian Peninsula where people began growing and trading coffee. The culture of the coffee shop originated there in the 16th Century. Not as old as the oldest beer pub, but still pretty dang old!
In the mid 1600s, coffee made its way to America, but it wasn’t until after the Boston Tea Party that the colonists started drinking coffee over tea.
In the late 17th Century, the Dutch took coffee to Indonesia. Today, Indonesia produces some of the most expensive coffees in the world. Fetching up to $600 a pound, it’s the kind of coffee that to put cream and sugar in it seems sacrilegious.
I lived in Indonesia for five years during high school and had yet to discover all the different types of coffee available in there until years later I went back to visit during college. My parents stayed behind, as parents do when you move away. (It would be weird to take your parents to college.) And like the commercials where parents have renovated a college-bound child’s room, my parents started to acquire a taste for finer things, like one of the most sought out coffees in the world.
I know this to be so, because that’s how my parents presented it to me: “This is the most expensive and smoothest coffee you will ever try. Here. Have a cup of fox poop coffee.”
“I’m sorry…Fox poop coffee?” Was my obvious reply.
I had trusted my parents for 20 some years at that point and they had never lead me astray, call me crazy, but I went ahead and tried it. I lifted the cup to my lips, opened my mouth and drank the fox poop. And sure enough it was the smoothest, cleanest-tasting coffee I had ever tried. My parents explained to me that many people who were sensitive to the acidity in traditional coffee never had problems drinking fox poop coffee.
I’m sure you are just dying to know what the heck fox poop coffee is. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know, because the answer is almost as frightening as you can imagine.
The coffee, really called kopi luwak, does indeed come from poop, but not the excrement of a fox, but from the Asian palm civet, which resembles neither a fox nor a cat. The Civet cat eats the coffee cherries and then…well…poops them out undigested. The cherries are then gathered to make coffee.
Those who make coffee from the undigested coffee cherries theorize that the civet’s digestive mechanism somehow neutralizes the coffee’s acidity and creates the smooth and light flavor.
The digested coffee cherries are collected, cleaned, roasted and then ground. In Bali, you can go to a plantation to watch much of the process. They serve dark cups of espresso made from kopi luwak for about the same amount as you can get a Starbuck’s here.
Your next question, like mine was, is probably “how did this ‘fox poop coffee’ come to be? I mean, it’s not like any of us look at a wild animal’s scat and go, “hm. I wonder how that would taste roasted, ground up and then poured into hot water.”
When the Dutch established their coffee plantations in Indonesia, they did not allow the Indonesian farmers and workers to pick any of the coffee plants for themselves. So the Indonesians noticed the civet cats eating the coffee cherries and then pooping them out pretty much whole. They would gather these cherries and make their own coffee. It didn’t take long for the Dutch to catch on and word spread about civet coffee and it became a delicacy even back then.
True coffee aficionados pooh-pooh (Sorry, bad pun) kopi luwak claiming it tastes bad and is just a gimmick, but everyone I have served it to agrees that the coffee is smooth, easy on the stomach and very light in flavor.
You probably won’t have cup of kopi luwak today, but you can indulge in the next best thing—your preferred cup o’ Joe.
Should you ever find yourself near a Red Cross emergency response vehicle be sure to ask for a cup of regular Joe, they aren’t stocked with the exotic or expensive varieties, but we can always give you a nice cup of coffee or water if you ever find yourself in need of our services.