Travel Oops: Seriously, Do I really like Nescafé?

The crystals before they work their magic. @Editor At Large

The crystals before they work their magic. @Editor At Large

Kiev, Ukraine, 2006, 8 a.m.

Dipping a teaspoon into the plastic jar and scooping out the sparkly, gravely grounds, I added them to a boiling cup of water and watched the particles dissolve into dark brown ribbons. It took about 30 seconds.

This was not right. The dark brown steaming liquid was ready in an instant as it promised — like a powdered NASA beverage. It was not coffee; it was — Nescafé.

Having arrived in Kiev late the night before, I was tired and desperate for some caffeine. I looked through the cupboards and fully stocked refrigerator of the apartment where I was staying and found nothing else resembling coffee. And this apartment was set up. The refrigerator housed what looked like two frosted glass sculptures full of Ukrainian vodka, international meats and cheeses that could have been part of a catering tray from a UN smorgasbord, fresh bread and bags of luscious red tomatoes. So how was there no bag of ground goodness in there?


©Habib.mhenni Commons

And it wasn’t just the taste, I hated the idea of instant java — no grinding of beans; no brewing; no aroma wafting through the kitchen while you try to wake up; no holding of the cup to warm your hands.  Just dump some coffee flakes — I mean ‘crystals’ — into boiling water. It was almost like adding fish food to an aquarium. Where was the ritual in that? Drinking coffee is sacred in some countries. Was a coffeehouse close by? Surely Starbucks was somewhere in Ukraine’s cosmopolitan capital city.

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Drinking poop coffee in Bali

Our kind host gives us the Kopi Luwak — gulp!
Photo © Stephanie Glaser

Coffee – to me, is a delicacy wherever I am.  I love it brewed any way, shape or form. However, I didn’t realize this standard philosophy would put to the test in Bali.

When given the opportunity to visit a family compound outside of Ubud where they grew and harvested coffee, I didn’t hesitate to go and neither did my husband Kurt.  “Awesome!” was my only thought.

After touring the grounds with our kids in tow, we were invited to a tasting — essentialy heaven. Sitting at a picnic table, you leisurely sipped the many varieties of teas and coffees offered by one of the family hosts. Near the table, a hyper mongoose paced in its cage. It seemed rather random, but there was a purpose for this creature as we would soon find out.

At this particular compound, the family offered a highly prized coffee, Kopi Luwak, which is processed in the stomach of the mongoose. The coffee beans are fed to the mongoose and while he or she is digesting them, the enzymes and acids in the stomach break down the coffee, thereby eliminating bitterness.

The catch: the only way to get the processed beans is by waiting for the mongoose to poop them out. Once that has happened, someone gets to pick the beans from the dung and remove the outer layer of the bean so it is finally ready to be roasted. Our host explained this to us and gave us a brochure to read.

Frankly, it sounded like something my son Eddie made up. Like any five-year-old, most of his revelations and stories involved poop, farts, boogers or any other gross products that shoot or drain out of an orifice.

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