Crap and Crops – Digested Coffee

Waste seems to be a global evil. We express our disdain for waste in constant verbal vulgarities. Cultures follow traditions and apply rules in an effort to distance themselves from the most natural waste form: the culmination of the digestive process. Nevertheless, waste is not only inevitable but a crucial cycle. Waste is an essence of existence, an essence in existence, and essential for growth, maintenance and procreation. In nature it is omnipresent.

Long before humans developed an interest and need for lexica, nature has been creating its own proliferation systems to ensure and maintain life. Huge mammals of earlier times contributed to the propagation of avocados by eating them and later discarding their seeds as they moved on. The same process is achieved when birds feast on asparagus seeds, or when elephants eat certain fruits whole.

Apparently someone, long time ago, took the dare or suspected something grand in the taste that coffee might have, once digested by the animals that love coffee berries. As a result, today we have kopi codotand kopi luwak. One coffee gets eaten and digested by a specific bat (codot), the other by a small civet cat, known in Indonesia as luwak – the one on Morgan Freeman’s bucket list.

Kopi Codot – coffee digested by bats / Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot, Bandung Pasteur, BTC, West Java, Indonesia

While in Bandung, I went to Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot and ordered their arabica kopi codot. In Indonesian, a bat is a ‘kelelawar’ but the specific bat that likes coffee is the ‘codot’. My brew was served in the Sunda tradition which calls for a small roasted sweet potato on the side (instead of a cookie or chocolate, as it is common in parts of Europe).

Coffee served Sundanese Style – with a roasted sweet potato / Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot, Bandung Pasteur, BTC, West Java, Indonesia

Before questioning such coffee in hygienic matters, it is important to grasp that once the seeds of the coffee berries are cleaned, the roasting process will obviously destroy any fecal rests that might still be attached to the seed. When addressing the influence on its taste, one should consider how much a solid coffee seed could go through changes in taste, simply by being processed some twenty hours through gastric acids. Based on the brews I have had from digested coffee, the coffee taste prevails. The acidity level seems reduced but the taste profile does not go through changes worth noting.

The greatest problem judging these coffees with total accuracy, is the fact that one would need to know with certainty, which coffee seeds were digested by a specific civet, before harvesting the same seeds and roasting the digested ones and the undigested equally, to compare their taste one to one. This creates the problem that one would have to follow a wild civet for a couple of days to ensure the accuracy of the comparison. It might take me a while to realize such a project. Until then, this remains a somewhat dark area in the tasting of seeds digested by animals.

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Cafe de L’Ambre – Revisited

Ichiro Sekiguchi might have been considered by many the Godfather of coffee in the East – at the very least in the country of Japan. I first heard about him when he was in his mid 90’s, and was full of joy to be able to shake his hand when he was 100 years of age. This week I finally made it back to Tokyo and went directly to his Cafe de L’Ambre. Knowing that he is not there the whole day and being I arrived late afternoon, as I was leaving, I asked about him.

Iconic Lamp made for Cafe de L’Ambre / Sigma DP2 Merrill / Sila Blume 2018

In March of this year he passed away, they informed me. With sad heart and clearly unhappy face, I extended my condolences to Fujihiko Hayashi, his nephew who replied with a smile: “He lived to be 103”.

It is an odd feeling, not seeing him walking around or inspecting the coffee seeds being roasted or knowing that he will be driven in the next morning on the motorcycle, as I witnessed several times before. Yet, day after day, the operation continues with its success and oddities. There are not too many places like the Cafe de L’ambre in the world – of this I am certain.

An unusual coffee concept, serving several aged coffees from Cuba, Africa and South America

  • Long-serving management. Sensei Sekiguchi opened in 1948 and as a centenarian was still roasting on regular basis, except on Sundays
  • No wi-fi available
  • Nowhere does one sit closer together at the bar than at Cafe de L’Ambre
  • Most serving utensils have been developed by Sekiguchi himself – various porcelain cups, cans, filters
  • Coffee is cooled in a cocktail shaker by rolling it in an indented block of ice, kept in a freezer that due to age should be in a museum as exhibition piece
  • In a room built to specification for Sekiguchi, raw coffee is stored for decades
  • Their strict pouring tradition continues. The filters filled with coffee are moved in a circle while the kettle with the water is kept in a fixed position

Cafe de L’ambre is an exemplary institution in the Japanese tradition of consistency, the same that keeps them competitive, relevant, important and qualitative special.

Coffee only (and a pipe, in honor to Sensei Sekiguchi) / Motorola G4 / Sila Blume 2018

India Coffee House / An Article by Isabel Putinja

After having obtained joy from this find, I wish to share it with the Coffee Dramatist readers and with that, most surely multiply my joy.

Isabel Putinja spends much of her time writing about her culture and her surroundings. A couple of her articles address a special Coffeehouse concept found in India. These Coffeehouses serve not only a coffee with a demanding approach based on tradition, but they are owned and operated by coffee worker co-operatives. Even for many of us, who perhaps will never visit these parts of the world, it is inspiring to see how throughout the planet the coffee industry is not only contributing to the economy, but also to the culture behind and around it. Most of all it is satisfying that also on the political level much progress is being achieved.

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Coffee House Waiter/Server

Like the Calcutta Coffee House, Bangalore’s own India Coffee House on MG Road is one of the city’s historical landmarks. It’s part of a nation-wide chain of coffee houses run by the Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society of which the Bangalore chapter was established in 1957.

The India Coffee House, ran by a Coffee Workers Co-operative Society (Street View)

As part of my personal protest against coffee chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista, which remind me too much of very similar chains in other parts of the world, I try to frequent independent cafés which usually also happen to have more character and ambiance. The India Coffee House definitely has lots of both and stepping through its door is like stepping into the Bangalore everyone reminisces about. Though I have visited it several times since I’ve been here, I haven’t gone as often as I would have liked to. If I had known that it wasn’t going to be around forever, I definitely would have visited much more often. Now that there’s news of its imminent closure, I’m truly sad that this Bangalore landmark will soon disappear into dust and probably make way for one of those horrible glass structures which are slowly taking over the city’s landscape. The face of MG Road is also changing at a fast pace… in the past few months many old buildings have been torn down and trees have been chopped down to make way for the metro which will permanently scar this major artery.

I was at the India Coffee House not too long ago… on a Sunday morning in December. The downstairs section was full as it often is, so we headed upstairs via the narrow outdoor passage and stone staircase. From the front window I had a good view of MG Road which is almost treeless now. There was only the trunk remaining of one of the huge trees and a worker was busy sawing its last remaining branch… A sad sight.

Inside the café, patrons were busy having breakfasts of omelettes and dosas. The waiters serving them were dressed in their trademark India Coffee House turbans and uniforms, elegant but completely filthy. I sipped at my coffee and nibbled at my dosa and remembered that I don’t like their coffee or their dosas – you can get better South Indian filter coffee and crispier dosas at any of the city’s many sagars and darshinis! OK, so the coffee actually isn’t great, the café is more than a bit shabby and the toilets are definitely a no-go area, but all these things do not matter. These are just minor minus-points which I’m willing to easily overlook because I don’t go to the India Coffee House for the coffee. I go for that old-world ambiance and to get a feeling of how Bangalore once was, in a place that probably hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.

The Coffeehouse Guests

There are reports that the lease has now expired and the café will be either renovated or demolished by the owner of the property. It may move to another location if a suitable one is found, but of course the original atmosphere and setting will be difficult to recreate. The India Coffee House will close its doors at the end of the month. I think many of Bangalore’s inhabitants and visitors will mourn the loss of this favourite haunt.

Also in India a Mirror is welcomed in a Coffeehouse for some extra elegance

Photos: India Coffee House.

* Reblogged with kind permission of Isabel Putinja and originally published in her blog India Outside My Window *

 

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To Complete a Circle – Mexican Coffee in New York City

Closing cycles give me a sense of elevation through deeper understanding. I like connecting occurrences of the past with current ones.

Mexican Coffee Cup at Cafe el Portal

While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I frequented a Mexican Restaurant near Harvard Square, mainly because I was impressed with their coffee. I felt it was prepared with honest passion and it satisfied my need for good tasting experiences. Such coffee was by no means self-evident in the USA of the 1980s. It was, however, my very beginning as coffee drinker, hence, mine could have been more of an impression in the mind than one on a knowledgeable coffee palate. After visiting a New York Mexican Restaurant recently for the third time, a circle might have closed, or reached a certain completion.

Mexicans seem to be patient people, or at least they appear not to rush time. No time for espressi. The Mexican coffee is cooked in a large unglazed clay pot over fire: water, coffee, “panela” and “canela”.

Canela – our cinnamon – is also used in several coffee versions in other cultures, but it does not always play the balanced role it does here.

In several Latinamerican countries many recipes call for panela. This whole cane sugar, aside from having received a heat treatment, is in its raw state. Its taste reminds me clearly of the magnitude of a single sugar source. Refined white sugar, brown sugar, muscovado and panela are all very different taste contributions to a coffee. Besides their sweetness, only the brown sugars have a noticeable taste, but only the white one seems to alter the coffee taste, while the others are a pleasant and agreeable result in pairing.

Two things I remember from sugar cane in my childhood, long before I even considered sugar. The first is the delight for one’s whole being, when chewing the juice directly out of the cane, after it has been peeled with a machete. My father was one of those educated men that could manage a machete just as well, especially by preparing coconuts or sugar cane for his
family to eat and drink them. The second memory is drinking the cane’s juice, obtained by turning a crank and thus the cylinders that press, crushing the complete cane. This is nothing but the pure and direct juice from a cane, turning brown within seconds due to natural oxidation, known in the Caribbean as ‘melao de caña’.

Mexican Coffee at a Circle Completion (2012)

How does the trajectory between two points in time become the completion of a circle? A first contact starts with innocence. No circle, no line, no life, no experience is foreseeable. The initial tasting is there just for itself. Bitterness might lack true bitterness. The sensation might be based for the most part on the surprise itself, the first impression, more than on a conscientious perception of bitterness, an aspect within the uniqueness of coffee complexities.

It takes some time before such a coffee initiation could set itself. Repetition accommodates a wider taste spectrum for each of the additional future cups. This could multiply immensely if the types of brewing vary. Being reminded today of coffees I drank in the early eighties, completes a circle. This circle encompasses recognizing the characteristics of a Mexican coffee, drank at the beginning and at the end of a 25 year span, with hundreds of others in between – espressi, Turkish, Ethiopians, french pressed, frappes and a few other cold and hot experiments.

Tasting these different coffees kills any possibility of monotheism. In all I have repeatedly found masterpieces for the palate. And those making these drinks prepare them each time in the conviction they are creating the center of the coffee universe that very moment. When Doña Gloria lovingly explains the process and part of her story, this is precisely what she is doing. Unhappy she explains that for many years she used the clay pots. Her kitchen staff broke these pots on a weekly basis and each time she had to order a new one from Mexico. This forced her to use unbreakable pots.

Doña Gloria, owner/operator of Café el Portal

Through that change some of the valuable taste and characteristic have diminished, but none of the passion and demanding attitude. In the Café el Portal Doña Gloria sits and stands daily, while her portrait on one wall expresses tradition and aesthetic. Her smile and her attentive eyes speak honest dedication quite clearly, ever inviting me to taste the completed circle.

Soon.