Musing about how people find things out

I love coffee. Haven’t had a cup since October 2006, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love coffee. Probably something to do with my South Indian roots, and being served fresh “decoction” coffee first thing in the morning for 16 of my 23 years in Calcutta. Wonderful stuff, I can still smell it. So when people tell me “wake up and smell the coffee”, I usually do. I can bring that aroma to mind at will.

[It took me a while to realise that my recidivist craving for nicotine was so deeply intertwined with that for caffeine; once I figured that out, and abstained from coffee and tea, the nicotine stayed given up. Cold turkey given up after a 31 year habit.]

So where was I? Yes, coffee. Here’s how it was made at home,  courtesy of Latha Narasimhan at the Yum Blog.

Nowadays I spend my time learning about different teas, training myself to distinguish my gunpowders from my silver needles. A part of me, nevertheless, keeps an eye on what’s happening in the world of coffee. Which brings me to the point of this post.

This little character. The luwak, a type of civet. Coffee beans that have been digested and egested by these creatures are treasured for their taste, treasured to the tune of $600 USD per pound. The most expensive coffee beans in the world.

That’s all right then. You get some coffee beans. Give them to your local friendly neighbourhood civet, wait for them to be digested and defecated. Then you collect the faeces, separate out the beans, make coffee with them. All’s well that ends well.

That wasn’t the part that got me. What got me was something far simpler. Questions like “How did they know? What made them try to make a drink out of the detritus in animal droppings? What else did they try? What are they going to convince us about next?”

Answers on a postcard. Preferably undigested.

12 thoughts on “Musing about how people find things out”

  1. Hard to fathom who came up with the idea originally, but I’d charge $600/lb. too if I had to paw through civet feces to get the “raw” material. As for what’s next, I was going to come up with Global Anxie-TEA…perfect for this economy, don’t you think? I’ll now have to think of an exotic animal to chew the tea leaves so that I can raise the price! ;)

  2. A truly interesting question. My guess entry is that given enough time and hunger just about anything in the universe of culinary possibilities will be discovered.

  3. I love the question “how did they come up with that?” So many things that we take for granted are non-obvious. Even tea. After visiting a tea factory in Indonesia I realised that what I thought was a simple product of nature is the product of a non-obvious production process.

  4. JP – might find useful.

    I can’t remember where I read it – but most genius concoctions usually come from mistakes, though I might be worried if I has mistakenly taken animal excrements thinking it was coffee. Having said that – good for the person who did end up picking the right animal excrements :)

  5. Lars, as I grow older I find I learn more by observing just how often something that’s routine on the surface is “non-obvious” under the surface.

    It’s like the old meringue question posed to me by an old colleague, Russ Goring. First you take an egg and throw away the yellow while everyone else throws away the white. Then you add sugar while everyone else adds salt. Finally you shake it and bake it while others boil it and fry it. Now that is innovation. A meringue moment, as I wrote about some years ago.

  6. Easier to use beans you find on the ground than have to climb the tree to get them. The taste is a red herring of course beause, in the absence of Starbucks back in the day, they had no idea they were drinking great coffee resulting from the civet’s bean selection – it was just convenient coffee.

  7. Imagine that! The best coffee in the world is from civet crap. As I mention in my blog, this is only edible because the inner bean of the berry is not even digested.

    But still, can you imagine telling your friends that you drank coffee from civet crap?

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