Bob Beyfuss: A recreational drug that’s found in an unexpected place | Life and Entertainment

Bob Beyfuss: A recreational drug that’s found in an unexpected place | Life and Entertainment

Recreational drugs have always been frowned upon in American society, for a number of reasons. Puritans believed that anything “pleasurable” had to be evil in some ways and therefore any substance, or behavior for that matter, that resulted in someone “feeling good” was not to be practiced.

Some common recreational drugs, such as alcohol, have been banned on and off by many cultures because of the fact that when abused, they can be very harmful to the user or to society in general. The “science” behind the bad reputation that many recreational drugs have been subject to has not been as objective as most of us would like to expect “science” to be. It is true that some of the science has been deliberately slanted to attempt to “prove” that some recreational drugs are harmful when the actual evidence is quite different.

As a nation, we are finally realizing that not all recreational drugs are inherently evil and the fact that recreational marijuana is now legal in 11 states is an acknowledgment of that fact. It seems very odd these days, to this former child of the ’60s, that simple “possession” of pot brought jail sentences to many thousands of people in New York state and all over America from the 1930s well into the 21st century.

I find it somewhat ironic that many of even the most-puritanical anti-drug advocates consume a purely recreational drug on a daily basis. That drug is caffeine and it is certainly a recreational drug, first and foremost. It does not add flavor or taste to the beverages it is routinely added to. It is added purely for the stimulating effect it produces and the fact it is slightly addicting, often producing fairly severe withdrawal symptoms. Soft drink manufacturers know this, of course, and it helps to sell their beverages. Coffee and a few other plants, including tea, yerba maté, guarana berries, guayusa and the yaupon holly naturally contain caffeine. Not all types of coffee have the same amounts of this alkaloid, however.

There are four main types of coffee beans: Arabica (Coffea arabica), robusta (Coffea canephora) lberica (Coffea liberica) and excelsa (Coffea liberica, var. dewevrei). Arabica is the most commonly consumed in North America, particularly due to its sweeter more delicate flavor and lower acidity. It is grown mostly in Brazil at high elevations that receive lots of rainfall. Arabica trees are susceptible to many diseases and the plants require a good deal of pruning and other maintenance.

Robusta beans are second in world production and most popular in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The flavor lives up to its name, being strong and harsh and it also contains the most caffeine by far. Caffeine acts as a natural insect deterrent in the plant and makes this variety less susceptible to pests. It is also less-demanding of specific environmental conditions, pruning and care. Consequently, it costs a lot less to grow and is often blended with Arabica to produce a cheaper blend. There are some “gourmet” types, however, that are grown from single-batch sources. If you add cream and sugar, the strong flavor is less apparent.

Liberica beans are only grown in very specific sites, primarily the Philippines, and the flavor has been described as very aromatic, like flowers, with a “woody” taste. Once the leading worldwide variety, it is now very limited in production, due to a rust disease that wiped out much of the world’s Arabica plants.

Excelsa is the same genus and species as Liberica, but has a distinctly different flavor, being more tart and fruitier. Also grown primarily in Southeast Asia, it is often sought after by serious coffee aficionados.

It is possible to pay upwards of $600 a pound for some really “gourmet” coffee or up to $50 or more for a single cup. Kopi Luwak coffee is made from fresh beans that have been fed to a cat-like animal, called a civet. The civet defecates the partially digested beans which are then collected and further processed. Although the beans are sometimes harvested from the forest floor after being deposited by wild civets, most that are produced today are from caged civets which are almost force-fed the beans. The capture, caging and cruel treatment of wild civets make this coffee distinctly environmentally unfriendly.

Here in Florida, there is a fairly common native plant called “wild coffee.” Psychotria nervosa, also known as Seminole Balsamo produces coffee-like berries that are edible but contain no caffeine. It is a very pretty evergreen shrub that tolerates shade and makes a handsome landscape plant as well. Sadly, it is only hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 8 B to 11. If you want to grow your own coffee, you will need a greenhouse to do so in our region!

Bob Beyfuss lives and gardens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to rlb14@cornell.edu.


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