Saturday, April 29, 2023

This might be the best coffee in the world

If your day doesn’t start until after you’ve downed a steamy cup of coffee, you might be interested in a tasting we recently had the privilege of doing in Bali, Indonesia. I actually drank a cup of Luwak coffee, often called the world’s finest and most exclusive coffee.

It’s also called “bucket list coffee,” a reference to the 2007 movie Bucket List in which procuring a cup of this special brew is one of the items that drives stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson to accomplish before they die.

Larry surrounded by flavorful plants

On a day tour of the island one stop was at Tegal Sari, an amazing coffee and tea plantation. After walking down paths surrounded by coffee beans, vanilla leaves, ginger root, cocoa, lemongrass, hibiscus, and cinnamon (ingredients used in making all-natural coffee and tea flavors) we were treated to a tasting of a dozen tea flavors and, optionally, Luwak coffee.

Why is it so special?

A cup of kopi luwak coffee (kopi refers to the process) generally costs $35 to $80. The high price reflects the traditional, hands-on process for producing the coffee--no machines are used.

The civit at the plantation

The coffee is made from beans retrieved from the droppings of a small local mammal called the Asian palm civit, which is found in Southeast Asia. Production takes a lot of time and energy.

This is a three-month supply of poop.

Ripe coffee berries are ingested by a civit, either in the wild or in captivity. The poop is then collected, every day at Tegal Sari since they have their own civit. When dry, the uncrushed beans are harvested from the droppings, washed and sterilized. Then they are roasted and ground for 20 minutes with a mortar and pestle. It’s a slow process.
Beans taken from civit poop

The flavor is said to be smoother and less bitter than regular coffee. The reason is believed to be because the luwak only eats the ripest coffee fruit, and the fermentation process, along with acidic enzymes and gastric juices in its stomach, alter the composition of amino acids and impact the aroma of the coffee. This gives the beans a richer flavor. Some people say it has hints of caramel and chocolate. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a coffee connoisseur to detect those subtle tastes.

Is it worth trying?

Sure. It’s a unique coffee, and you might decide the flavor is worth the cost. Anyway, it’s a good cup of joe and a fun experiment. Like regular coffee, it has antioxidants that help protect the body against inflammation and chronic diseases. It also has antibacterial properties and is relatively low in caffeine.

Stirring coffee beans over heat is a tough job.

Beverly drinks luwak coffee, and 
Larry samples different tea flavors.
The coffee we tasted in Bali is not imported but can only be purchased there. While I declined bringing home a bag, we did purchase three different kinds of tea from the 12 in our tasting.

At the very least we had an interesting excursion, and we now have our favorite teas to remind us of the experience.

Photos by Larry and  Beverly Burmeier


Monday, April 17, 2023

Take a gondola ride when in Venice

A visit to Venice, Italy isn’t complete without a gondola ride down the Grand Canal and a couple of side canals that substitute for streets.  So after spending a several hours walking around St. Mark’s Square (overrun with tourists and souvenir vendors on a Sunday afternoon), strolling through a maze of narrow alleys and streets to the famous Rialta Bridge (great photo opportunity), and bypassing long lines of people waiting to enter Doges Cathedral (admiring the outside architecture sufficed), we splurged for an evening on the water.

Gondola ride is the quintessential adventure in Venice.

My husband Larry and I shared our gondola—and a bottle of champagne—with a young couple from New York, skimming the water’s surface to a serenade of Italian love songs.  Romance filled the air as dark embers of a summer sun flickered into the shadows of night, softly illuminating the unmistakable architecture of Venice.
Goldolier paddling

Gondoliers dressed in red and white striped shirts deftly maneuvered their water crafts through the narrow canals with a single long-handled paddle.  

Wine adds to any experience!

Shops lining the water were mostly closed at this point, and the crowds had thinned noticeably.  Cool night breezes felt refreshing after our mid-afternoon wanderings in the August heat. 

Looking at the city from less-crowded evening waterways provided a different perspective from our earlier foray among the crowds of tourists. Two hour gondola tours may be booked with or without music, but I would miss those deep, smooth Italian vocals.

Venice is actually a series of 20 islands connected by bridges.  The city is built on supports placed in the ground and surrounded with mud that eventually becomes hard as concrete.  During the winter months, ample rains cause water to rise and flood the streets, so people wear hip-length rubber boots for sloshing through town.  When the water level is so high, boats are not able to pass under many bridges, so alternate route are taken. 

Gondolas ready to go in the Grand Canal

Still, Venetians take advantage of their watery situation.  Boat races are held on the first Sunday of each month, and fireworks celebrate construction of the Doges Cathedral every third week of the month.

These days the Italian government has banned all but the smallest cruise ships from central Venice. Cruise ships sail up the 2.5 mile Giudecca canal, before turning right to dock at the “Marittima” port on the western edge of Venice's historic center. You can walk from the cruise port exit to Piazzale Roma in about 20 minutes.

Skimming a small canal inVenice

Venice looks just like all those pictures you’ve seen of the city—ancient buildings on the water’s edge, water taxis churning a constant path from one point to another, and omnipresent shops and bridges.  Only as we sailed away from Venice on our cruise ship and observed the city from a more distant vantage point, did we begin to fully appreciate its beauty and unique character.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, April 8, 2023

National Park Week starts soon--plan your free visit

Grand Canyon National Park

America’s national parks have been called our country’s greatest idea. As an ardent fan of these beautiful natural treasures, I certainly agree, and there’s no better time to visit than National Park Week, a nine-day celebration that starts of April 22, 2023.
Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s not a coincidence that this special week starts on Earth Day. Entrance fees will be waived  on April 22 to encourage folks to enjoy a national park in person. While you may be familiar with the most famous ones that actually have “National Park” in their names, keep in mind that there are more than 400 national parks, many with different naming designations. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types, so there may be a national park closer to where you live than you realize.

Zion National Park

With an extended time frame for this year’s celebration, each of the nine days has been given a special theme around which events and information are focused. Sunday, April 22 kicks off the week with a theme of Connection. April 23 is Discovery, April 24—Accomplishment, April 25—Tradition, April 26—Gratitude, April 27—Ingenuity, April 28—Inspiration, April 29—Fun, and April 30—Love.

Big Bend National Park

Saturday, April 29 is also National Junior Ranger Day, so it’s a perfect time to introduce children to the magic of our parks. They can earn a Junior Ranger Badge while learning to explore, learn, and protect each park visited. Even better, this will encourage them to leave the screens at home and to focus on the great outdoors.
Yellowstone National Park

Following the themes, people are invited to share their own stories about national parks using #MyParkStory or follow others’ stories at #YourParkStory. You can tell what a particular park has meant for you or describe adventures you have had in a national park.

Yosemite National Park

To find a park near you or special events that are taking place in different facilities go to You can also find out more regarding what the National Park Service does through programs and partners to preserve natural and cultural heritages and provide recreational opportunities in places across the U.S. 

Enjoy the photos of some of our favorite national parks that I've shared in this post.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Canyon National Park from the Colorado River

Everglades National Park

Glacier National Park

Great Smokey Mountain National Park

Volcano National Park, Hawaii