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Featured Column
Week of 1.23.2006
Java Jive!
          Just east of Khartoum in the Sudan is situated the small village of Omdurman. Rolling, soft mountains cover the landscape of Omdurman. As far as one can see bushes and thorny growth decorate the view. For ages goat herders have roamed the hills, tending their flocks. The people of the village have relied on goats for scores of generations. Goat milk, goat cheeses and goat meat are the dietary staples of the people of the area.
          A thousand years ago a hot summer sun beat down on Mobutu Sese’s forehead as he guided his flock of goats down one hillside and up the next. The 45 goats ate leaves and bushes from the low lying plants that matured once a year. Mobutu Sese, a short, stocky, dark-skinned man was in no hurry as he guided his goats to new areas in the hills. He poked his staff ahead as he ventured into a new area, one of which he was not familiar. He had never seen these hills or these green plants before. He ran his thumb and index finger over the leaves of this strange plant. He pulled a pair of the red berries from a branch and smelled their strong odor. He licked the berries and then carefully chewed on them. The strong taste intrigued him. He pulled a handful of the berries from another branch and slowly chewed them. He thought that they could be safely eaten by his goats.
          Looking up he noticed that a dozen or more of his goats had been nibbling on the berries from some of the tall bushes surrounding him. Before long all of his goats were chewing the red berries.
          A half hour passed as Mobutu Sese walked to a nearby well and filled his goat bladder water bag. He watched the sun as it moved slowly across the sky.
           Then, something got Mobutu Sese’s attention. The normally well-behaved flock became active. A score of the goats were running up and down the nearby hill, many intentionally butting heads with goats near them. Others seemed to be in bazaar races with each other. Usually, in the heat of the day the goats conserved energy by moving slowly and deliberately up and down the soft hills. Today his goats were more active than he had ever seen them.
           At the same time Mobutu Sese felt differently. He placed his right hand over the middle of his chest to feel the beat of his heart. He had become nervous and jittery. “Yes,” he thought, “My heart is beating faster than it ever has!” He started to run after his scattering goats and he thought, “I can run faster than I ever have. Today I am a new man.”
          It took Mobutu Sese until sunset to gather his excited flock and guide them back to his home on the outskirts of Omdurman. Leading them into his fenced area he saw his neighbor Imare, an elder in the small community of goat herders. Mobutu Sese waved to his neighbor Imare and excitedly told him, “My friend Imare, I have discovered something of which I am amazed. If one chews a few of these red berries one becomes filled with exciting thoughts and energy. I can jump higher and run faster than ever in my life. Tomorrow I will treat you to some of these wonderful berries.”
          As the years passed the people of the village learned to dry and roast the beans and then boil them. Then they would drink the liquid to stay awake during their all- night ceremonies. In the thousand years since Imare and Mobutu Sese chewed on the red beans and gained stimulation and energy the popularity of coffee has spread around the globe.
          Today coffee houses are sprinkled throughout America and in most foreign countries – more than ever before. America is not the only country that favors the liquid that comes from the red bean. In Tokyo alone there are 16,000 coffee houses. In all of Japan there are over 100,000 !
          There are almost 11,000 Starbuck’s Coffee houses. In December, 2005 the net revenue of Starbuck’s was 791 million dollars. That’s a lot of red beans.
          What started as an accidental lunch with Mobutu Sese and his flock of goats has turned into a global phenomenon. Among natural commodities coffee ranks second only to petroleum in dollar value.
          A visit to most coffee houses, like Starbuck’s, will show that they have become their neighborhood’s meeting grounds (pun intended). Chairs are filled with people meeting other people, discussing deals, selling life insurance, talking about world affairs, studying or becoming friends.
          The attraction of sharing a cup of coffee has grown into a world wide custom. Say to someone, “Let’s have a cup of coffee,” and an image forms of companionship and a friendly get together. Say, “How about you and me getting some buttermilk,” and nothing happens.
          New words are being entered into our language. Our parents used to sit down at the coffee shop counter and ask, “How about a cup-a-Joe.” Or, “Nice cup-a-Java, please.”
          Standing in line at Starbuck’s today and one hears, “I’d like a ‘_Mocha double mint decaf skim latte,” or, “A medium _mocha macchiato decaf grande skim latte.” You’ll also hear orders for “Espresso Macchiato soy milk solo,” or maybe, “A tall grande venti,” please. How about a, “Large caffe’ Americano.”
          Today’s price for a cup of coffee shop coffee ranges from $1.75 to a sizeable $4.15.
          It’s very “in” to sit at the local coffee shop and drink the caffeine juice. We’ve come a long way from Mobutu Sese and his goats pepping themselves up and racing up and down the hills of Omdurman.
          I wonder if it was a few cups of Java that propelled Tom Cruise to do his “couch dance” a few months ago. Some people should stick to decaf.
Caffeine juice is "in"
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
     
Ron Cruger