travel and life with lee mylne

Wide-eyed about coffee

Strong coffee. Is that what kick-starts your day? For me, it’s a nice cup of tea that wakes me up. I enjoy good coffee, but it’s increasingly a luxury for which I pay in lost sleep. And the older I get, the worse it gets.

So as the after-effects of an afternoon coffee left me tossing and turning last night, my mind whirled and whirred and my thoughts turned to the way in which coffee is now perceived.

No longer do we spoon out grains of “instant” coffee from a jar, splash in the milk and stir in the sugar.  The choices are bewildering and sometimes bizarre.

Remember the running joke in the movie The Bucket List, where Jack Nicholson’s billionaire character is an afficionado of what he calls “the most expensive beverage in the world”, kopi luwak?

Kopi Luwak at Hervey's Range Tea House (Photo: Len Zell)

Kopi Luwak at Hervey’s Range Tea House (Photo: Len Zell)

I’ve tasted kopi luwak. It was in the most unlikely place, a rustic country tea house about 45km west of the tropical Queensland city of Townsville. At that time, a few years ago, Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms was one of the few places in Australia – or indeed the world – that was serving this exotic brew.

Owners Michelle and Allan Sharpe were importing the Indonesian coffee, charging $50 a cup, and the tourists were beating a path to the door of their historic split-log inn by the hundreds.

The roaring trade was largely due to their clever marketing of what they dubbed “cat-poo coffee”.  The cat-like luwak or Asian Palm Civet lives in the coffee-growing regions of Indonesia. They like eating ripe coffee cherries, but do not digest the inner bean, which can later be retrieved from their droppings. The beans are washed, dried and roasted lightly. The digestive juices in the luwak’s stomach break down proteins in the beans, making a smoother brew with no bitterness.

And so I drank it.  Good, but not so much that I wanted another one.  And as a tea drinker, I’m not sure I could the difference between it and a $4 cup of espresso.

Now I read that another coffee has upped the ante on kopi luwak. Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas’ four resorts in the Maldives have become the first in the world to serve Black Ivory Espresso, a coffee that sells for around $1100 per kilogram, making it one of the most expensive and exclusive in the world.

And the reason for this? Black Ivory Coffee is made from Thai Arabica coffee beans that are digested by Thai elephants in the same way as kopi luwak is “refined” by the Indonesian civet.


Black Ivory Coffee (Image courtesy Anantara)

This news itself takes me some time to digest. The best part is that a percentage of all coffee sales goes to Anantara’s Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Thailand, which works to improve the plight of elephants, along with their mahouts and families.

As I left the tea rooms that day after drinking cat-poo coffee, I looked at the visitor’s book.  Someone had written: “Superb, bizarre, rare and decadent.”

To me, that seems to sum up these new trends in coffee-drinking pretty well.

12 Responses to “Wide-eyed about coffee”

  1. rethinknow

    Lee, we should find our own exotic animal and launch a new type of pooped coffee… sure that would fetch a high price haha!

    I’ve observed another change in the way we consume coffee. This might be different in Australia, but in Canada I notice that more and more, we go out to the coffee shop to get our favourite brew as opposed to making it at home – might have to do with Vancouver’s thriving coffee culture. This is true to the extent that I noticed last year that coffee had become my main leisure expense!! I sure enjoy getting to pick a different coffee every day, but then I realized I was equally happy with preparing a good old French press at home. And that’s much cheaper than $5 lattes, or a heart wrenching $50 for kopi luwak. That said… I’d still be keen on trying it…

    • Lee

      Ah, great idea – but the trick would be to find an animal that likes to eat the coffee beans!
      As for coffee culture, Australians are right up there. You can hardly move for coffee shops, and can barely pick up a magazine without some kind of story on coffee culture. I don’t make it at home (except for visitors) but I like a good one when I go out. And yes, the way to save money is to not spend TOO much time in cafes!

  2. Cynical Old Hack

    Two comments.

    First, once you’ve over 45 the cutoff time for a coffee is approx 4pm.

    Second, when it comes to elephant-poo coffee and where those philanthropic proceeds go, I think your crap-detector needs an oil-change and grease. [No pun intended, you understand.]

    Enjoy your day.

    • Lee

      First, I have long been aware of my personal cut-off time for coffee in the afternoon. But it seems to get earlier and earlier. In this particular instance, I had my only coffee of the day at about noon – and still suffered the effects. I’m seriously thinking of giving it up altogether.
      Second, my crap-detector is in perfect working condition. I left out a lot of the detail of the foundation’s work in the interests of keeping the post short. But yes, it is not without a degree of self-interest on the part of the resort company. The street elephants (and mahouts and families) are “rescued” – but then work at an Anantara resort in Thailand. That said, I’d be sure that the conditions in which they live and work (elephants and humans) are vastly improved, as is the veterinary care given to the elephants. I’ve been to some of those elephant hospitals in Thailand (although not the Anantara resorts) and they do marvellous work.
      Cynical? You?

  3. Sean Mooney

    And don’t forget the pooped coffee in Yogyakarta! As for home-grown coffee-from-colons concepts, how about a mug of Coca-Koala or a cup of Kangapoo? Perhaps a bilbycino?

    • Lee

      Ha ha! Bilbychino…love that! As for the Ygoyakarta brew, I’m pretty sure that WAS kopi luwak, Sean. Made in Indonesia, so I think it must have been.

  4. Debra Kolkka

    Coffee doesn’t keep me awake at all, I can drink it any time. I especially love to drink coffee in Italy. When I am in Bagni di Lucca I walk across the bridge every morning and have a perfect cappuccino senza schiuma (flat white) for €1 and an apple sfoglia for 70cents….the perfect breakfast. I will be there in about 2 weeks and I can taste the coffee now.

    • Lee

      Now you have just made me envious…on all counts. Sounds wonderful…I can smell the coffee too. I actually like the smell of coffee better than the taste. Travel safely, Debra.

  5. Virginia

    I tried the lewak coffee in Bali while on an Eco tour of the rain forests. My overall impression was of grit….Suspect their filtration system was not functioning. They even had “the cat” there; a poor, sad little creature looking longingly towards the surrounding mountains from behind its caged enclosure.

    Now you know that I am a definite coffee girl, Lee, but as I sat in my favourite little coffee shop in Krabi, Thailand this morning, (Relax Cafe, just up from the ferry terminal) enjoying their excellent brew, I read with horror that Starbucks is set to open in Vietnam, with plans to open 4000 stores across Asia, incl. 1000 in China, by the end of 2013. Groan. Vietnam has a distinct coffee culture. Just how much money does Starbucks need to make! I remember that they were highly unsuccessful in Melbourne… Makes me proud to be a Victorian.

    And I have now found the perfect balance – coffee in the morning, and tea only after 4pm unless it’s decaf. Happy drinking….

  6. wendyannkay

    Give me a spoonful of Nescafé and skim milk any day and as happy as a clam! Can drink it before bed and sleep not affected. I do know one thing… While I’d say I’d never be addicted to coffee, downing only two to three cups a day, I do fret if I don’t kick start the morning with it!


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