Welcome to the latest post in the A Random Story feature, where I ask readers to share some of their favourite and most random memories.

Karyn is from Melbourne, Australia, and blogs about travel with a strong focus on environmentalism. She is in the process of setting up a location-independent lifestyle, so that she and her fiancé can travel indefinitely. You can follow her journey at Not Done Travelling.

I asked Karyn to tell me about her favourite memory involving coffee.

I am from Melbourne, Australia, a city reported to have the best coffee in the world. This is certainly arguable, as everyone’s tastes are different, and there may be a lot of cities that wish to challenge Melbourne for this title. But, nevertheless, the coffee in Melbourne is pretty darn good. In fact, it is so good that Starbucks recently announced it is closing its stores here as it just cannot compete with our baristas.
Because of this, I tend to think that I’ve been spoiled when it comes to good coffee. It’s easy to take for granted just how available it is here.

With this in mind, you can imagine how Melburnians, and Australians in general, struggle to find our idea of a good cuppa when overseas. Sometimes we find it; sometimes we don’t. However, in general, any place that thinks that tourists like their coffee strong will present quite a challenge.

Not that there’s anything wrong with strong coffee. Strong coffee can be a complete work of art. Melbourne has the highest population of Greeks outside of Athens and Thessaloniki, so super-strong Greek and Turkish coffee is everywhere. Served in tiny cups, it is like a punch in the face and keeps you up until next Tuesday. Delicious.

But you know what good strong coffee is not? That horrible, acidic, burnt-tasting, three-times-too-many-beans excuse for a beverage that is found in so many hotels and resorts throughout Southeast Asia. 

My fiancé, Michael, and I spent 3 months in Asia at the end of 2012, and we could not find any good coffee anywhere. There was always plenty of coffee around, but none of it was good. Now, don’t get me wrong – we were in Asia to experience the local culture, not to try to recreate our own (we’re not those travellers). But occasionally you do want a little respite, am I right? Occasionally, it’s nice to treat yourself with a reminder of home. 

From time to time, we would pop into chains such as Black Canyon, and found some joy there, but we never really explored their hot coffee range. We tended to duck into their air-conditioned comfort to get out of the sun, so being hot and sweaty, we would usually go for a frappe or something chilled.

Our other alternative when looking for hot coffee was to drink from the pots in our hotel restaurants. These tasted like they had been on the burners all night, and frankly, they could well have been. Memo to catering managers: It is not my idea of pleasure to start my day with a cup of some reheated black stuff that tastes as if it has been filtered through a dirty sock. Come on, guys. I mean, who is drinking this horrible stuff? Who told them this is what Westerners want? Are my tastebuds all alone in their objections?

Had it been local coffee on offer, I would have jumped on it. Throughout Asia a lot of regional coffee styles have sprung up and they are great. For example, Vietnamese coffee, made with condensed milk using a drip method is reportedly delicious. But hotels rarely offer their own regional brew. Instead, they give you with what they think you are used to.

I am sure that it is all related to preparation methods, as well as logistics and budgeting. If it is cheaper to serve a certain kind of bean in a certain kind of way, then it is understandable that the hotel management would choose that option. It’s just that it’d be nice if the quality was a little...improved.
I can heartily say, however, that when we finally did find a good cup of coffee, it was most unexpected. We were in Bali, on our way to Taman Ayun Temple, when we stopped at a coffee and tea plantation. We were not expecting anything special, but they offered us some kopi luwak – for those not in the know, that is the famous “cat poo coffee” that is so expensive in Western countries. Michael is a try-anything-once kind of guy, so he ordered a cup, and I had a sip. It was delicious! 

Luwaks are not actually cats; “luwak” is the local name for the palm civet. The civets eat coffee beans and somehow an enzyme in their digestive system just does something to the beans. I don’t understand how it works, but that coffee tastes good. It is still incredibly strong, but there is a smoothness to the flavour that I didn’t find anywhere else in Asia.

Unfortunately, I won’t be drinking kopi luwak again. Since leaving Bali, I learned that the process of making the coffee is quite cruel. Originally, beans were collected from the droppings of wild civets, but now most kopi luwak is produced using animals that are confined to relatively small cages for their entire lives. So even though it tastes nice, as a blogger who focuses greatly on conservation, I can’t recommend it.  

Despite all of that, it has certainly put our previous search for a good cuppa into perspective. I mean…think about it. 

We spent 3 months agonizing over our inability to find good coffee in South East Asia. In the end, it came out of a palm civet’s backside.

Thank you so much to Karyn from Not Done Travelling for sharing her story with us. Be sure to check out her blog for more great stories!

If you want to get involved and share your random story on Ever Changing Scenery, please get in touch and I will send you a topic.

What is your favourite memory involving coffee?