Hold Still, Dumbo

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There are very few things more therapeutic in the morning than a cup of coffee (and even fewer you can write about in a magazine like this). The smell and the taste and the very act of preparation are all parts of a ritual that is inseparable from ‘the morning’ for billions of people all over the world. Many say they could not start the day without it. Some regard it as a drug on which they depend. Large numbers try to avoid it in the same way alcoholics try to avoid alcohol. There are many myths associated with, and many claims made about, the world’s second most traded commodity, but what is the truth? Is it good for you or bad for you? (We’re still talking about coffee by the way.)

I don’t know. I enjoy two or three cups a day on average, I guess. I’ve just done a quick Google search and as usual there is evidence to support whatever you want to believe. Some websites say if you drink 100 cups of coffee a day it could kill you. I suspect the same applies to many liquids. Some other websites say that there are health benefits associated with drinking coffee, even claiming that regular consumption can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in old age. I don’t remember what the others said. My rule is ‘everything in moderation’.

There is certainly a lot of connoisseurial nonsense surrounding coffee, though. A few years ago I was in Turin, Italy with a friend who lived there and we had just finished a wonderful dinner and a great bottle of locally made red wine in a restaurant that only exists on warm summer evenings (the tables are set up in a space that is a car park during the day). As I leaned back in my chair, my belt straining to contain my radically increased girth, my host asked me if I would like a coffee. It was a very quiet and balmy summer evening and there was no music, so when I said, “Cappuccino please,” all our fellow diners heard. The place instantly fell completely silent and every head turned my way – a loud fart could not have prompted a more dramatic response.

My host repeated the word as a question, “Cappuccino?” Apparently in Italy one is only supposed to drink any milk-based coffee in the morning. I wonder what the Italians make of the Starbucks menu.

There are people who take coffee connoisseurism to ridiculous levels. Most people know about kopi luwak (luwak coffee) which is made from coffee berries (yes, coffee is a berry not a bean) that have first passed through the digestive system of an Asian palm civet, a sort of mongoose-like creature found in Sumatra and locally known as a luwak. Apparently, this discerning animal gorges itself every night on only the very best coffee berries and then poops out the kernel (which looks like a bean, explaining why we call it that). Farmers then collect the poop, extract the “beans” and make coffee. Then they sell it to gullible nutters all over the world.

If you need any more proof that this is absolute elitist nonsense aimed at gullible wannabe connoisseurs, consider the very clever Canadian businessman living in Thailand who has now developed and is apparently selling what he calls “Black Ivory Coffee”. You may be ahead of me here, having spotted the clue in the name. Yes, he has gone one better than kopi luwak, and he has an army of little Thai men chasing coffee-berry-chomping elephants around with bowls trying to catch what the elephant’s own digestive system has rejected so that he can sell it to people who presumably believe that mongoose poop is for wimps. (I imagine there is considerable danger money associated with a profession that requires running around behind a caffeine-crazed elephant every day, especially for those working the morning shift. I know very well the effect my first coffee of the day has on me.)

If you want to drink milky coffee in the morning, I’m behind you. If you want to drink white wine with your steak, I’m behind you. If you want to drink something that came out of an animal’s behind, I think you should be behind bars (I don’t care how good it tastes). Why not just eat the berries yourself and squat over your own coffee grinder every morning? Cut out the middle man.

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Eamonn has lived and worked in Indonesia for over 20 years but doesn’t understand the country at all and now realises that he never will. He is an entrepreneur, businessman and writer, lead singer with expat band Xhibit A and the owner and operator of The Jakarta Comedy Club and The Bali Comedy Club.


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