Cat’s Ass Coffee

Wandering through Urban Fare, our local over-priced grocery store for foods snobs, Ashley pulled me aside to see the latest thing in coffee. She’d seen the coffee on the local news the evening before, but thought the product was a hoax and decided she had to see it for herself. And there it was: coffee, fresh from the cat’s ass.

Technically speaking, they don’t call it “cat’s ass coffee”, although they might as well. The official name, Kopi Luwak, roughly translates to “luwak’s coffee”, where a luwak is a Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, also called a Toddy cat. The coffee originated in Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, and is distinct from other coffees in that it isn’t produced in the traditional fashion, where the coffee cherry is picked, the coffee bean extracted and dried. Instead, this type of coffee is produced when a luwak eats a coffee cherry and, uh, poops it out. The expelled bean is collected, cleaned (I hope) and sold for the low low price of $600 CDN a pound.

Reading the comments about this coffee from coffee aficionados is funnier than anything network television is likely to produce this fall. In one article on the coffee, Richard Karno, former owner of The Novel Cafe in Santa Monica, stated:

“It’s the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. It’s really good, heavy with a caramel taste, heavy body. It smells musty and jungle-like green, but it roasts up real nice…It has a little of everything pleasurable in all coffees: earthy, musty tone, the heaviest bodied I’ve ever tasted. It’s almost syrupy, and the aroma is very unique.”

Caramel taste? Earthy? I’m lucky that our dear friend Richard didn’t add the word “nutty” to his description of the coffee’s taste, otherwise I’d be in hospital right now suffering from a full body hernia. The aroma is “musty”? I’ll bet it’s musty. Nothing like traveling through the digestive tract of a jungle animal to give yourself an odor that’ll keep Coco Channel busy trying to camouflage it for the next fifty years.

People really fool themselves. This is the same brand of idiocy that convinces cigar connoisseurs to think they’re displaying their sophistication by partaking in a distinguished tradition, instead of realizing they’re sucking on a roll of dried leaves that’s been lit on fire. And paying a lot of money for the privilege to boot.


Back To School

Back to school, and things are busy. Though we had our Orientation for the MBA Program last week, this week marked the first real week of school. Classes each day are about six hours or so, starting at 8:30, and ending typically around 4:00. Ouch.

To kick off the week, we already had to do a presentation with our team (chosen for us during the Orientation) on a “Fantasy Project”. Of course, the Fantasy Project was really just an excuse to get us working together and get us to know each other. We had to come up with a team name, logo, vision statement, and team profile in addition to our Fantasy Project presentation. We named our team “The Kapitalists” (a little on the nose, don’t you think?), and adopted the following logo:

The Kapitalists Logo

Now, normally I think a lot of the vision statement stuff is kind of lame and not very useful, but I have to say it was pretty useful for us, as a team, to determine what was important to us.

Initially I was nervous about the team, as the members were chosen by the program. Given the high percentage of international (and domestic) Asian students, I was worried that I’d end up facing a language barrier within the team. Luckily, I got some really cool members, all of whom were pretty enthusiastic and easy to work with. Lucky me!

We did a pretty neat Fantasy Project: a biotechnology firm aligned with organized crime. We proposed to provide a perfect biological clone, properly aged and under our complete clone, to organized crime for the purpose of replacing a target individual. The purpose of the presentation was to solicit proposals for targets and profit sharing arrangements.

Of course, all MBAs couldn’t possibly be this evil, could they? I’m starting to think maybe they could…

Earlier today we were discussing strategic management, and how people can basically be convinced to pay more for something that’s exactly the same product. I’m not ignorant, of course already I knew this happened. But to sit in that class and see that this kind of thinking was actually taught, that was another thing entirely.

This is something that bothers me. Engineers usually dismiss business, economics, or marketing because it isn’t built on certainties. The numbers associated with these fields are uncertain and, in many cases, subjective. Engineers hate that. But this is even scarier. Now these numbers are used to make decisions on whether the number in the net income statement projection is positive or negative. There never seems to be as much thought given to not “can we do this and make money?” but “should we do this and make money?” I mean, isn’t it slightly unethical to sell the same product for two different prices? Then again, if people we logical enough, they’d see through the marketing and we wouldn’t have this problem.

In my mind, there’s got to be a way to do business without being a slimeball. Selling the same product at two different prices may be great business, but I don’t know if there’s that much separating this practice from the practice of boosting the addictiveness of cigarettes. After all, it all makes money, right? What’s the difference between destroying someone’s physical health through an addictive substance, and corrupting their self-image by using advertising to convince them to buy an expensive product that is exactly the same as a cheaper product?