Brew your next cup of java through a civet

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Our friend the civet
  • Our little friend the civet
I'm not certain I know how to read a morning newspaper other than with a cup of coffee, but this often solitary brew is just as adept in social situations. Though coffee may not be absolutely essential to satisfactory conversation, a leisurely and urbane exchange of views on God, sex, and human folly—topics that tend to travel in each other's company—is unlikely to take place without it. (Risk the same conversation at night, when the coffee, if any, has turned to decaf, and you can be sure someone will go to bed sulking.) Julius Meinl is my regular Sunday-morning forum for such exchanges, and when that cafe changed (for the worse) the make of biscuit it provides with each cup, not only was the coffee sipping compromised but also the wellspring of my intellectual life.

You may already know this, and if so my apologies, but the Spanish language has a single word that means both scatology and eschatology—that word is escatologia. You might say that the sensible Spanish see no reason to distinguish between divine and earthly rewards. You might not. At any rate, it's a matter that begs to be discoursed on, and this kind of discourse is what coffee was put on earth to abet. There is, in fact, a particular coffee that perfectly suits the occasion.

I have never had a cup, and I doubt if you have either. It's the famously—or shall we say, notoriously—expensive coffee brewed from the kopi luwak bean. This is a bean eaten, partially digested, and excreted by civets in Indonesia (other Asians know it by other names), then collected by hand and roasted. Apparently, chemical changes effected by the civet's enzymes are indispensable to the coffee's flavor—which naysayers hold is next to nonexistent. At any rate, a cup can run you as much as $30.

If Julius Meinl ever offers a tin of kopi luwak in a Christmas basket that makes its way under our tree, then I shall taste it. Otherwise, probably not. Actually, I'd rather serve than drink it. "Boy, that’s heavenly!" a brunch guest might squeal. "Speaking of matters eschatological . . . " I'd reply, "did you know the Spanish . . . ?"

Age has its discontents. Cohorts tell me lithe young lovelies have a way of looking through them as though they weren't even in the room. I've noticed a similar obliviousness among the young, beautiful cosmopolitans ensconced around us at Julius Meinl. But the right cup of coffee could turn the tables.

"Is everyone enjoying his kopi luwak?" an invisible man of a certain age might boom, to make his presence felt. "Did you know that in Vietnam they call it caphe cut chon? In the Philippines it's kape alamid." These worldly revelations might instantly command the premises. They might not. In which case, the lecturer would press on.

"You all know, of course, this coffee's made from beans peasants pick off the ground, caked in feces."

They would not all have known this. Now they do. Late in life the best of us turn to teaching.

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