- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 26, 2006

Oh waiter, oh-h-h waiter dear — kindly bring me some Mocha Polka Hunga-Dunga Hoopla Cappuccino, medium reactor roast, with a shot of Godzilla Espresso, extra froth and a grating of plutonium, please. Oh, and my friend here will have the Gort Klattu Barada Nicto Low-Fat Latte. And a muffin.

Of course, waiter dear doesn’t even flinch at such an order, though he might get confused if somebody ordered, say, Chock Full o’ Nuts.

“Chock full of what?” asks waiter dear.

“Nuts.”

“Heavens, madam. Sorry, this is a coffee establishment, not a nuthouse.”

That may be open for debate. Coffee has ceased to be a simple cup of something and metamorphosed into a whole human experience, an aesthetic and maybe even a mental condition.

Consider, for example, that Coffee A.M., a Georgia-based commercial supplier, carries coffee in 110 flavors, including Baked Alaska, Marshmallow Fluff, Toasted Chestnut and Christmas Cookie. And that doesn’t even include the company’s dozens of decafs, espressos, gourmet varieties, low-acid and organic blends, not to mention the coffee offerings of 30 international locales, from the Galapagos Islands to Yemen.

But wait. Kung fu master and film star Jackie Chan has his own coffee brand with 20 Jackie’s Java shops opening in Asia this month.

The freakish rock group Kiss also has its own coffee — French Kiss Vanilla, Demon Dark Roast and Rockuccino — purveyed in a new chain of Kiss Coffee shops. Hundreds of fans — some coming from as far away as Poland — lined up 12 hours in advance, as if they were attending a concert rather than purchasing a cup of coffee.

Meanwhile, coffee appreciation societies are generating their own java jive, meeting to sample gourmet brands as if they were wines, a process known as “cupping.” And yes, they do spit out the entries as if they were fancy cabernets.

Not to be outdone, McDonald’s is testing its own gourmet brew — McCafe — in seven American cities, meant for grown-ups who must stand by as their offspring gnash their way through a Happy Meal.

And why sell just coffee? Monster coffeemaker Starbucks has been in the music business for two years, producing collections of theme recordings to drink coffee by. It has now gone into book publishing as well, presumably to publish books suitable for reading while drinking coffee, available at all 5,400 stores beginning in October.

And Chock Full o’ Nuts?

The New York-based coffeemaker has produced its own specialty coffees named after the neighborhoods of Manhattan — though the company still offers its modest little “brick” of plain coffee, popular when it was founded in 1931.

Chock Full o’ Nuts was, according to girl singers and mellifluous-voiced announcers, the “heavenly coffee,” though the company once got in trouble for a jingle that claimed good old Chock was up to the discerning demands of the Rockefeller family.

The lyrics were changed to “millionaire,” but the Chock folks were ahead of the game.

Along with infinite varieties and exotic permutations, certain coffees have gotten expensive indeed, most notably something called Kopi Luwak, which is $160 a pound. For the uninitiated, the brew owes its expense to the, uh, high-end production associated with it. Well, actually, it’s low-end. Kopi Luwak comes from coffee beans that have been eaten — and excreted — by the palm civet cat of Indonesia. The beans are later gathered by intrepid harvesters and roasted.

Detractors call it “monkey poo coffee” while waggish journalists claim it’s “good to the last dropping.” But hey, Malaysia-based Luwak Coffee will sell a 2-ounce bag for $35, or a $200 deluxe teak gift box with a pound of the stuff plus a lucite paperweight “containing a sample of natural Luwak coffee, exactly as it is found when hand-collected in the jungles of Sumatra.”

And as all those hand-collectors scurry after palm civets, coffee mania continues. Americans drink 300 million cups of coffee a day. Perhaps we shouldn’t get too excited about the expense of the monkey poo brew, either. The California-based Specialty Coffee Association of America advises that in 1683, a pound of coffee was worth as much as four acres of land. And for the jittery among us, they note, “strong-tasting coffee has no more caffeine than its weak-tasting counterpart.”

The U.S. Army may know more about caffeine than all the coffeemakers put together, however. Thanks to six years of research conducted at Walter Reed Hospital, the lightweight First Strike rations given to our combat troops overseas now contain Stay Alert gum — cinnamon flavored and packing 100 mg of caffeine. That’s about equal to the caffeine in two cups of coffee, meant to stave off fatigue-related injuries among sleep-deprived soldiers.

“Troops no longer have to resort to eating freeze-dried coffee grounds in the field to stay alert,” researchers advise.

Hoo-ah, we say. The gum has been endorsed by the National Academy of Science, Congress and several security agencies. And yes, it is available to us snoozy civvies at a special Web site (www.stayalertgum.com)

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and jitters for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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