Tag Archives: coffee

This Coffee Tastes Like Shit!

Ivan had a root canal beautifully done in Taichung, Taiwan but there wasn’t sufficient time to complete the permanent crown before traveling to Amed, Bali. To complete the crown, we had to hire a driver to take us to the 911 Dental Clinic in Denpasar, Bali, 2-3 hours away from where we were staying.one-of-the-best-dentist-ever-seen

The road to Denpasar seemed too narrow to allow traffic to flow in both directions. Our driver approached pedestrians, scooters and children playing by the roadside perilously close. At any moment, we wouldn’t have been surprised to see bodies flying. We were exhausted just from sitting on the edge of our seats for the entire trip to Denpasar, so we asked our driver to stop for a coffee before setting back to Amed.

He mentioned that he knew of a good spot for coffee 1 hour away. We thought it was a long time to wait but figured it would probably be really worthwhile if it was so far away. I don’t know what kind of reasoning we used to come to that decision … it’s probably akin to someone spending five times more at an exclusive restaurant because “it must be superior if they charge that much more!”

photo by Marcus Schoepke
photo by Marcus Schoepke

We climbed into the mountains through ever-winding roads that became narrower and less trafficked. We are inveterate believers and figured it must be a terrific cafe with stunning panoramic views of the sunset because it was starting to get dark.

We were warmly received as we pulled into a parking lot and were escorted out of the car as royalty. We still didn’t realize what was up! Only when the uniformed staff began pointing out the coffee and cocoa plants did we realize that the driver had called ahead to let his friends know that he was bringing a couple of tourists for a Luwak coffee plantation tour.

This was laughingly not what we expected. All we really wanted was a simple cup of coffee. We reluctantly agreed to a hurried tour as if we had never seen how coffee was grown. We were shown a few token, scraggly coffee plants and sorry staff members grinding coffee beans by hand and slow roasting beans in a wok over a small flame.

Asian Palm Civet and Coffee Cherries
Asian Palm Civet and Coffee Cherries

The famous and ultra-expensive Luwak, or Civet Coffee, is actually comprised of the seeds of coffee cherries that have been eaten and then defecated by the nocturnal, Asian Palm Civets (cat family). They wander out of the Sumatran jungle at night onto coffee plantations and select the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. They are not able to digest the stone (coffee bean) which is then defecated. The beans are picked out from the fecal matter and cleaned off before roasting. The animal’s anal glands impart that elusive, musky smoothness, uniquely rich aroma and smooth, rounded flavour to the resultant roasted coffee. That’s the theory anyway.

This coffee sells for $30 to $100 per cup in New York City and London. Beans can be purchased on Amazon for about $150/pound. Harrods packages civet coffee in a Britannia-silver and 24-carat gold-plated bag selling for over $10,000 advertising that their coffee is sourced from wild animals and that only 500 kg of it is collected annually.

We ordered one sample cup of this infamous Luwak coffee for 50,000 rupiahs, or about $4, which is highway robbery in a coffee-growing country. (Indonesia is the fourth largest coffee producer in the world.) A normal cup of coffee in Bali costs less than 70 cents in US currency.

We were looking forward to trying the world’s most expensive coffee. (Perhaps you remember the Morgan Freeman / Jack Nicholson scene about this coffee that was in the movie, The Bucket List?)

“Disappointed” doesn’t begin to describe our experience. The cup had no distinctive top notes, no brightness, no complexity of flavor, no body and no lingering coffee taste. In fact, this coffee tasted like shit.

photo by Stefan Magdalinski
photo by Stefan Magdalinski

The truth is that Luwak coffee was originally produced by following the cats around and collecting their fresh droppings, which is the only authentic and humane method. The horrible reality is that now civets are kept in cages in unnatural conditions which often results in them dying within six months. Civet coffee is a cruel hoax to both the animal and the coffee aficionado. PT Barnum would have been proud of Harrods’ $10,000 scam.

Needless to say we didn’t buy any Luwak coffee, and certainly the driver made no commission for bringing us to this tourist trap. We never established how well our driver understood English. We were driving at breakneck speed along winding roads too close to the cliff’s edge. Not for a moment did we consider distracting the driver with questions about a cafe that seemed to be well off the beaten path.

 

Ah, Coffee, +1

DSC00018As it turns out, the best coffee shop in Taichung is just around the corner from our place. Julie, the owner, has a small roaster and maintains a freshly-roasted collection of various single-origin beans.

She and her friend prepare great pour-overs as well as iced espressos, and just about anything else you could ask of a coffee shop.

Of course, for us, it’s all about the people, and CoffeePlus is a plus one for that too. We’ve met warm, Taiwan locals here. And sometimes we meet them for lunch in the coffee shop.DSC00015

 

We ♥ Taiwan!

Deena and I both believe that people everywhere are basically good and friendly. The Taiwanese so greatly exceeded our expectations that we were amazed and touched.

From our cruise, we had a one-day stop at the port outside of Taipei.  We wanted to visit a couple of places in the mountains. One was a former gold mine turned into a nice little shopping street, called Jiufen.Jiufen, Taiwan

The real challenge was finding the right bus when neither of us could read or speak Chinese. Our on-board Taiwanese friend, Lucy, gave us the bus map with the route highlighted, brought us to the station outside the port and made sure we knew the bus number to take. When we tried to buy the ticket, though, the clerk mimed for us to go outside to “7-8-8!” Apparently, the bus company and bus number for Jiufen had been changed. Oops!

After wandering all around, we ducked into the train station and inquired at the information booth. The man, who spoke no English, knew exactly what we were asking. He hunted all over his crowded office until he found the little piece of paper where someone had written in English the new directions to find the #788 bus. “Up the stairs over the road, turn right, turn left, down the stairs, wait in front of the medical clinic for bus 788.” That unbelievable helpfulness was a mere foreshadowing of what we were about to experience in Taiwan.

Arriving at the group of bus-waiting Chinese, we tried to confirm whether we were in the right place. One young fellow who spoke English responded with “We are going there too. Why don’t you sit near us and we can make sure that you exit at the right bus stop. We will also show you how to find the correct bus for the way back to the port.”

Joe and his girlfriend, Alice (who didn’t speak any English), adopted us at that bus stop. We walked around Jiufen with them. They introduced us to sweet taro ball soup.

Grandma Lai Sweet Taro Ball Soup, Jiufen, TaiwanAfter our walkabout in Jiufen, they suggested we continue with them because it would be more fun than where we had planned. We enthusiastically agreed. No tour, no guide book, no Internet page can ever replace experiencing a place through the eyes of its own inhabitants.

On the way there, we stopped in Ruifang to change from a bus to a train. We enjoyed some street food with Joe and Alice, including an odd fried sandwich peculiar to Ruifang. It was a ham, tomato and egg sandwich on a long, deep-fried donut. Odd? Yes. Good? Um, the magic eight ball says “ask me later”.

Jiufen, Taiwan
Joe and Alice introduce us to cold, sweet Taro Ball Soup
A shop in Houtong, Taiwan
The paper says “This Cat Is Not For Sale”

We accompanied them by train to Houtong, famous for its cat population. Apparently, a woman who has since died started rescuing cats there. The cats continue to be fed and cared for by the few, remaining inhabitants. The feral cat population seems to own the village, and it’s become a tourist spot for cat lovers, complete with a few shops that sell everything cat-related.Houtong, Taiwan

Houtong itself is an otherwise defunct coal-mining town with a colored history. It was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. There are food shops, a park, an information center about the mine, hiking trails and a tourist center. Not much is in English and to be honest, we were the only caucasions there.

Coal Factory, Houtong, Taiwan
Houtong’s defunct coal factory

In the afternoon, we had to start back toward the ship, and the young couple were going on to another city. To make sure we didn’t get lost, they accompanied us to buy the train tickets, took us to the correct platform and carefully explained where to exit and find the bus outside the Ruifang train station. We were sad to part company with our new Taiwanese friends.

We stopped for a coffee in a mom-and-pop storefront called Grind Coffee between the train station and bus stop. They didn’t speak English but understood “iced lattes”. Indeed, the lattes were excellent and refreshing, but what was even more amazing was the experience. The other customers in the shop kept stealing furtive glances at us, probably wondering what we were doing there since we were (a) white and (b) not with one of the many tour buses that passed through on the way to somewhere else. Finally, one who introduced himself as Tom, asked us where we were from.

Grind Coffee, Ruifang, Taiwan
We meet friendly people in the Grind Coffee shop in Ruifang, Taiwan

We chatted with everyone and took pictures in the coffee shop. Awen offered to drive us back to the port in his car. He dropped us off and then surprised us with a gift of Taiwanese tea in a beautiful red gift box and bag. This act of welcoming to his country was beyond our wildest expectation!

If you ask us which country impressed us most so far, we both firmly answer Taiwan. The mountainous landscape is beautiful and the people are the warmest and friendliest we’ve ever met. When we taste the delicious gifted tea, it warms us and our hearts. A return to Taiwan is definitely on our bucket list.

Jiufen, Taiwan
Jiufen, Taiwan