The best part of being a travel writer is—duh!—the travel, of course. Followed closely by all the fabulous food you get to wolf down in exotic locales. During my various peregrinations, I’ve eaten everything from guinea pigs roasted by Peruvian Incas to “grasshoppers of the sea” in Slovenia.
Then there’s the coffee. I guess you could say I’m coffee-obsessed. For proof, check out the November issue of Sky, which is all about coffee, front to back.
Which brings me to the photograph of my Illy X1 Francis Francis espresso machine. Instead of using prepackaged pods like so many new espresso machines do, my Illy accommodates freshly ground coffee, which prompts colleagues to bring presents of coffee back from their far-flung treks. Check out the labels on the shelves behind the machine. Sometimes while I’m waiting for the machine to warm up, I find myself just reading the exotic names out loud: Kopi Kampung from Sulawesi, Indonesia; Cafe Molido from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Espresso Regalo, from the Yergacheffe region of Ethiopia; Costa Rican Orgánico Bajo Sombra, Café Grano Entero; Tchoupitoulas Blend from good ol’ New Orleans. I frankly can’t think of anything we eat or drink that’s as global—or as easily accessible—as java.
Favorites? Café Alta Gracia, grown in the Dominican Republic on Julia Alvarez’s plantation. Raven’s Brew Coffee, which hails from the rainiest inhabited place in North America: Ketchikan, Alaska. For a longer list, see the tasting I attended with Theodore Erski, a Chicago prof who uses coffee to teach geography in his classroom.
The most interesting coffee I’ve ever had? That would be Indonesian Kopi Luwak, which you may have read about. The beans have had the advantage of “curing” in the digestive track of a civet cat, which is more closely related to a mongoose than a house cat. The animal eats the beans, and nature takes its course. The beans are then gathered from the forest floor, cleaned and roasted.
What did it taste like? On the front of the palate, it had a dusty note, like some African coffees—maybe more earthy, as you might expect, than dusty. I’m almost certain from its bitterness that the beans were robusta instead of arabica. But as it hit the back palate, there was a je ne sais quoi (but maybe I do)—a bitter/sour aftertaste that was definitely a little beyond funky. About a half-dozen people tried it. One taster, who’s really got good taste buds, said after long deliberation and smacking of her lips and gargling that its taste reminded her of “decay.” I and others could see instantly what she meant. Though not complex, Kopi Luwak is, if nothing else, distinctive. I’m glad to have tried it, but—at a whopping $150 or more per pound—probably won’t buy a whole lot more.
What’s the most interesting coffee you’ve had? Will you be enjoying a cup this Thanksgiving?