We’ve covered crazy high-end coffees before. One of the world’s most expensive coffees, kopi luwak, comes from Indonesia, where the beans are harvested from the feces of the wild civet. Apparently something amazing happens to the beans in the digestion process, or at least the coffee world would have us believe so.
But now there’s a new coffee contender on the block, and you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world. All you have to do is make your way to… you guessed it, Portlandia.
Just outside of Portland, Oregon in Estacada a man is dabbling in the effects of sending coffee beans through his own digestive system. That’s right everyone: human poop coffee.
If you’re not thoroughly grossed out to stop reading yet, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are plenty of people out there that want the stuff. Randy Goldman, a home coffee roaster, wanted to experiment with the “kopi luwak process,” advertising his beans on Craigslist. The story of course went viral – turns out people are into fecal coffee – and soon the demand outweighed the supply.
But fortunately some coffee bloggers got in on the game and documented the whole process, noting that the end result was “musky and fruit-forward,” but not really up there with the world’s best cups. Goldman agrees, noting that the fecal-coffee connection is less about the taste and more about the novel process that somehow helps with marketing. “I didn’t think it’d do much for the taste, but I see Kopi Luwak selling and selling and know that the consumer wants to drink shit. So be it.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to get some though: Goldman has over 40 people on his wait list for the next batch. Looks like you’ll just have to stick to the normal coffee shops of Portland instead.
It’s no secret that Europe is an expensive travel destination, but sometimes even Europeans are shocked to discover just how pricey their homeland can be.
A group of tourists from Rome got a nasty shock after enjoying a caffeine fix at a café in Venice. The travelers had taken a seat outdoors at the well-known Caffe Lavena in St. Mark’s Square where they drank four coffees and three liqueurs as they listened to live chamber music. However, things turned sour when the bill arrived, showing the group of seven owed €100 (about $134) for their drinks. The frustrated tourists say they didn’t realize that a €6/person music surcharge would be added to their check, resulting in a bill €42 higher than they were expecting.The café defended themselves by saying that all the prices were clearly listed in their menu, including the music surcharge and the €6 cost of a coffee.
This isn’t the first time tourists in Italy have been outraged by an unexpectedly high bill. Earlier this year, a group of British tourists were blindsided by a €16 charge for gelato at an ice cream shop in Rome – the story garnered so much attention it prompted the city’s mayor to apologize for the incident. And a few years back, a restaurant in Rome was actually shut down after it charged a Japanese couple €695 ($930) for a meal. Their receipt listed pasta dishes costing €200 and an obligatory tip of €115.50.
Have you ever been ripped off during your travels?
The man standing on the mule road between the four-wheel drive I was in and, supposedly, the tree that gave birth to the global multi-billion dollar coffee industry, bore a striking resemblance to actor Jimmy “J.J.” Walker of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.” So much so that I almost didn’t notice the 2-foot-long machete in his hand. “Dyno-mite,” I sarcastically muttered to myself, as our idling car and the Ethiopian version of Jimmy Walker continued their staring contest. I’d just endured an hour’s drive over bumpy oft-unpaved roads from Jimma, a town of 130,000 in western Ethiopia, whose main renown might be that the countryside surrounding it produces some of the best coffee in the world. I knew we were close when we passed a small billboard showing an illustration of a woman plucking coffee cherry from a tree with the words underneath it: “The birthplace of coffee Arabica, 10km.”
But now I was just short of reaching the caffeine-scented Garden of Eden, stuck in an apparent showdown between us and a machete-wielding man.I had come to Ethiopia for one reason: coffee. Specifically, I wanted to find out what made Ethiopian coffee among the best in the world. AFAR magazine had sent me to write a feature article about it. Needless to say, while I was here I drank enough java to make my head spin around a few times.
But for a quick minute I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out of Ethiopia alive. The man with the machete began walking toward our vehicle, a sideward glance in tact, and began talking to the driver in Oromiffa, the language of western Ethiopia. And then suddenly he was in the car with us. His machete still resting on his shoulder, he barked out directions to the driver. A few minutes later, there we were, standing around a 10-foot-high tree, rotting coffee cherry dangling from its limbs, like cotton pills on an old sweater. Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, whose real name I would learn was Awol Abagojam, a local coffee farmer, gave a swan-like sweep of his arm and said: “This is it, the first coffee tree.”
“But really right here?” I asked. “This very tree?”
Unless this man is to believed, no one really knows where the first coffee tree is, only that coffee supposedly originated from Ethiopia. Which is now shrouded in myth: one day a ninth-century goatherd named Kaldi noticed his goats were “dancing.” He remembered that the animals had been munching on the fruit of a tree and so he plucked a few himself and delivered it to the monks of a nearby monastery. It didn’t take long for the monks to realize the uplifting power of the fruit. And soon, as the story goes, coffee was born.
I have to admit, it was an underwhelming sight, even if this was the tree that changed what we drink in the morning (and in the afternoon and, when it calls for it, in the evening). I waved goodbye to the friendly farmer with the machete, got back in the car, and headed back to Jimma where I would, naturally, drink more coffee.
It will officially be summer in just a few days, and who doesn’t associate long, hot days with ice cream? Or, depending upon your preferences, lactose-digesting capabilities, and what part of the world you’re in, gelato, sorbet, paletas, kulfi, faloodeh, bur bur cha cha or other sweet, frozen treats served around the world.
Gelato is obviously past its tipping point in the U.S, but the granita still isn’t a well-known part of the general populace’s culinary lexicon. In Italy, however, this grainy frozen dessert is a summertime staple. Granite (plural of granita) refers to a dessert that’s scraped at intervals as it freezes, in order to form larger crystals than a typical sorbetto. A true granita should have a coarse texture because it’s made by hand, rather than processed in a machine, which results in a slush.
Coffee or espresso with a bit of sugar is the most commonly used flavoring for granite. Known as granita di café or caffe freddo, this refreshing treat is best served con panna; with unsweetened whipped cream. The first time I ever had one was in Florence, on a freakishly hot October day. Like millions before me, I left crowded the Galleria dell’ Accademia after viewing Michelangelo’s David, thirsty, sweaty, and grumpy.
Several blocks down via Ricasoli, I happened upon a little shop called Gelato Carabé . I was drawn by the wafts of sugary, perfumed air, but it was the menu and hand-crafted appearance of the gelati (mass-produced stuff is often sold out of plastic tubs, but it also tends to look manufactured, and just a little too perfect) that sold me on the place.
The customer in front of me turned away from the counter clutching a cup filled with a rough-looking iced concoction, topped with a soft mound of whipped cream. Its color suggested it contained caffeine. I asked, in crappy Italian, what it was. And then I ordered my first-ever granita di café con panna. Instant addiction. The melding of flavors and textures – bitter espresso, a hint of sugar, grainy ice, silky cream – was the ideal salve for my museum-and-crowd-addled soul.
I returned to the gelateria every day for the remainder of my trip. After I returned home, I learned that owners Antonio and Loredana Lisciandro are from Patti, on Sicily’s northern coast. Antonio’s grandfather was a gelatio, or gelato master, and Antonio became a leading authority on gelato, as well. FYI, gelato has less air incorporated into it than American ice cream, which results in a more dense, flavorful product. Depending upon the region in which it’s made, it may contain eggs, or use cream instead of milk.
The Lisciandro’s import seasonal ingredients from Sicily, including pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds, and the intensely flavored native lemons, which have a thick, bumpy skin. They produce rich, creamy gelati, cremolati (cremolata is similar to sherbet, but made with fresh fruit pulp instead of filtered juice; both are made with milk or cream, whereas sorbetto is dairy-free), and the aforementioned ethereal granite.
Today, Gelato Carabé has two locations in Florence. I’ve since had granita di café con panna all over Italy (I highly recommend enjoying it overlooking the Sant’ Angelo harbor on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples). Barring that, I suggest using this recipe. Get a copy of Laura Fraser’s delicious “An Italian Affair” (which is how I learned about Ischia in the first place). Spoon granita into a pint glass (let’s not kid ourselves with a foofy parfait-style). Find a relaxing place in the shade, and then savor summer, Italian-style.
Knowledge, as they saying goes, is power. True. It also leads people to become annoying know-it-alls, Nobel Prize winners, dictators and/or plumbers. For me, though, it just made me a coffee snob.
Let me explain. I’ve always appreciated good coffee but I didn’t really know what made coffee good and not good. But in December 2011, a magazine sent me to Ethiopia to discover why the coffee of this East African nation was so great. I traveled there with Intelligentsia Coffee’s Geoff Watts. Mr. Watts, introduced to me by the owner of a coffee house in my neighborhood, is possibly the most important coffee buyer on the planet. Geoff was on a mission too: to buy superlative coffee for the hip coffee roasting company (which just opened its first outlet in New York City, by the way).
A while later, I was in Uganda, an East African country not particularly known for its java. I was staying at Kyambura Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park. When I commented on the coffee, one of the employees said they grow and roast the coffee themselves. A few hours later, I was standing in front of Nicole Simmons, the director of the program. Simmons originally came to Uganda to study the troop of 20 chimps that live down in the gorge near the resort. She liked it here and when the opportunity came to run the program, she jumped at it.The rub, though, was that she didn’t know much about making coffee. So she went to work, reading as much as she could about it. She recruited 11 women and one man, all residents of nearby villages, to bring in their plucked coffee cherry (which is always written about in the singular), where they would de-pulp it, shade dry it and then roast it.
“The problem with Uganda,” Simmons said, “is that there’s no quality control here. Even when a coffee maker or roaster stays there, you taste the coffee and it’s not good.” Simmons shrugs, adding. “This is Uganda.”
Another thing about Uganda, or at least this part, is that it’s below 1,300 meters sea level. That means it’s technically not highlands and it means quality Arabica beans can’t grow. It also means she’s stuck with robusta beans, which are far inferior. “It’s perfectly okay,” says Simmons. “Robusta is indigenous to this area. We do a lot of quality control and so this means we can either do a very good robusta or a mediocre Arabica.”
She walked me over to a bucket of water and a bag of cherry. “The kind of quality control we practice is this: we only put cherry in a bucket of water. Whatever floats, is probably a bad one. And then we only put fully ripe cherry through the machine – if it’s too green it makes the coffee taste bitter.” It’s a temptation among coffee farmers to turn in all the cherry they’ve plucked, even the green ones, since they’ll get paid based on the amount they turn in. The rub, though, as Simmons pointed out, it leads to poor quality coffee.
The only way to get Omwani Coffee (as they’ve named it) has been through Tank Coffee in the UK – though it doesn’t seem to be available on their site at the moment.
About a third of the women in the collective are HIV positive, and earning the extra money from this side business means they can now afford medicine when they couldn’t previously.
So, it turns out, a little knowledge of coffee saves lives too – and that’s a good thing.