My globetrotting friend Liz recently showed up on my doorstep bearing a packet of Weasel Coffee as a hostess gift.
“They say Vietnamese weasels eat the coffee beans,” she shouted to me over the hubbub of arriving guests clustering around the front door. “And then the beans pass through the animals’ digestive tracts, which adds to the flavor.”
“How delightful,” I replied automatically, hoping like hell I had misunderstood her completely.
Later I picked up the packet, which features a picture of a squirrel eating coffee beans, and read, “And in particular, we choose not only the quality of coffee beans, delicious but also in the process of digestion in the stomach of the ferret.” Being a professional wordsmith, I at once zeroed in on the inconsistency. Had the coffee beans in my hands passed through the digestive tract of a weasel, a squirrel, or a ferret? Enquiring minds wanted to know, in case I ever needed to file a report with, say, Disease Control officials.
I have since learned that the digestive apparatus in question actually belongs to the civet, a nocturnal tree-climber with the body of a cat, the face of a raccoon, and a fondness for raw coffee beans. In 19th century Vietnam, when laborers on the new French coffee plantations were strictly forbidden to sample the harvest, crafty workers began going through civet dung in the nearby forest and extracting partially digested coffee beans. These they cleaned, roasted, brewed, and prized for their singularly robust flavor (!). Shrewd 20th century promoters transformed this unappetizing java into a high-end cult product, selling the brew for $30 a cup and the beans at $500 a kilo. The market is now flooded with cheap knockoffs that have never seen the inside of a civet, and I feel fairly sure my own Weasel Coffee is free of any mammal’s digestive enzymes. It hardly matters, as I have no intention of drinking it. But I am thoroughly enjoying passing the packet around to amaze and amuse my friends.
Liz’s Weasel Coffee got me thinking about all the other weird and whacky gifts that are on offer these days, apparently with tremendous appeal to the masses.
For instance, who wouldn’t want to recreate scenes from grisly horror movies in the privacy of your own bathroom? “Packaged in an authentic looking IV bag found in hospitals,” the copy reads, “the cherry scented Blood Bath Shower Gel will have your bathroom looking like a scene from Psycho in no time! You might just want to warn your housemates before you hang the bag of ‘blood’ ominously from your shower rail.” I think that’s sound advice, don’t you?
Then there are the U Star Novels, in which you — yes, you! — become the protagonist in a smutty novel. You provide names and other personal details about yourself and your love interest, and the computer plugs them into steamy sexcapades set in exotic locales. “The books include everything imaginable, from eye colour and hair colour even your favourite kind of underwear and nipple colour!” says the promo. The Lovin-O-Meter let’s you choose the level of eroticism from “sensual” — “perfect for everyone, even your Gran!” — to the ones that come with warnings in all caps and recommendations not to leave them about where others can find them. Again, good advice, especially if the partner you specified in the novel isn’t your own.
Want gifts with a holiday theme? Well, obviously you can hardly go wrong with a pack of bacon-flavored candy canes or a Merry Zombie Christmas mug, but for a more stylish alternative you might want to consider Faux Real’s Ugly Holiday Sweater T-Shirt. These t-shirts are cleverly designed to simulate the hideously gaudy sweaters you get from clueless relatives at Christmas or Hanukkah and are forced to wear at family gatherings. “Brothers Jeff, Scott, and Ben Gray," explains the website, "developed these T-shirts when they noticed ugly holiday sweater parties popping up everywhere.” Really? How come I haven’t been invited to any? Have you? It’s so hard keeping up with all of today’s holiday trends.
Of course, appropriate gift wrap provides the perfect finishing touch to any present. Public-spirited designers have been busy coming up with holiday gift wrap that appeals to modern sensibilities, such as Yoda in a Santa hat, reversible Hanukkah/Christmas wrap for the conflicted, and (keeping the X in Xmas) Santa enacting some of the naughtier chapters of the U Star Novels. So far I haven’t found civet-theme holiday paper, but obviously it’s just a matter of time. As for me, I’m sticking with the classics.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships of any kind. Any products mentioned in my posts are included because I thought you might enjoy reading about them.
What weird and whacky gifts have you received, given, or heard about? Send me details!
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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