The Friday Report: Cage-free coffee
Fraser, CO Colorado
Lots of folks drink coffee and have done so for a long, long time.
The red berries were native to Ethiopia about 2,000 years ago. Locals scraped away the husk and snacked on the pits for the wake-me-up properties, same as we cherish it today. By 600 A.D., coffee was regularly traded across the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia. By 1,000 A.D., coffee, roasted and brewed like we do today, was the beverage of choice throughout the Muslim world.
Muhammad forbade alcohol and coffee followed Islam as it expanded throughout North Africa, India and the eastern Mediterranean. The Whirling Dervishes were a religious cult, heavily fueled by coffee. They would spin endlessly on their right foot, dreaming that they were moons whirling through the night sky in orbit around Allah, not unlike today’s cubical worker.
You’ll remember that the Fatimid Dynasty was ruling Arabia during the turn of the first millennium A.D. The rapid expansion of the Arabian kingdom was largely funded by taxes upon the transport and sale of coffee. To control the industry, merchants could sell roasted and boiled beans around the world, but if the king’s men found you with raw beans, which are not beans at all, but rather seeds of the plant, you were promptly beheaded.
In Venice, coffee was sold in pharmacies by prescription only but Christians became alarmed at the mind-altering qualities of caffeine and appealed to Pope Clement VII to ban the beverage, continually bringing him samples of the devil’s brew. All true.
Legend says Clem later quit the priesthood, married a large Italian woman and became a famed singing barista. Untrue.
Meanwhile back at the truth, an Indian holy man, Baba Budan, stuffed seven coffee beans into his belly button and stole his way across present day Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, finally planting the beans in the hills down at the tip of India, just south of Srirangapatna, if you’re familiar with the area. Within a few years, Baba Budan was selling raw beans and plants to Dutch traders who shipped them to the colonies in Indonesia and Ceylon. Arabia’s stranglehold on the coffee trade was over. All of Europe, and eventually even us here in Grand County, began to enjoy the best part of waking up.
The most prized and expensive coffee in the world is called Kopi Luwak. It comes from beans that are dug out of piles of weasel poop and sells for $600 per pound. Real columnists have the luxury of making things up but out here in the hinterlands, we’re bound to the truth.
Weasel poop coffee is big in Asia where it is farmed … well, farmed is not the right word, maybe let’s try, “extracted” from the fecal matter of the Asian Palm Civet. Coffee beans come in an edible husk and are called coffee cherries. They’re fed to the civet and the husk dissolves as the beans pass through in the animal’s droppings.
The beans are thoroughly washed (you hope) and roasted normally. The stomach enzymes of this weasel-like animal that are added to the beans during their alimentary passage lend a unique flavor and piquancy so prized that a cup of this coffee, called Kopi Luwak, sells for up to $100.
That’s farm-raised. But who wants coffee from caged weasels today when the world’s on a wild-caught frenzy?
Sure enough, for the true connoisseur, there is a free-range Kopi available where Indian gatherers find and paw through piles of wild weasel poop to gather what is hopefully the rarest coffee bean in the world selling around $100 per ounce.
Kopi Coffee; good to the last dropping.
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