Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Coffee, Whisky, and Crystals

Three in a row.

One. Coffee World. “The Disneyland of Coffee.” That tagline was enough to make me nervous, but the possibility of trying an array of coffees was promising. I have a palate for scotch and know what I like. I am working on one for tea, and at one point had one for wines. Why not coffee? To answer this question required an entry fee. Once paid, Coffee World did provide about 15 coffees in a row, grouped by origin and intensity, for me to sample and learn from. And what I learned is that I kinda like coffee. Really not the most impressive lesson.

The blends tasted more or less intense. That was directly related to how burned they tasted. I got no toffee notes, no lingering finishes. I just tasted coffee. And I tasted a lot of it. Apparently tasting a few sips each of 15 coffees adds up to a massive caffeine kick. And though I didn’t learn to be a coffee connoisseur, I am pretty sure I could still reliably say that none of the coffees on offer were particularly impressive.

The place also had chocolate, of which I tried 11 of the 12 (I do not like chili chocolate). Then I tried the teas. I spent a solid amount of time ingesting stimulants and reading about the manufacture and harvesting of the bean. About how the coffee industry in Australia was defunct for a portion of about 80 years due to a change in governmental policy regarding labor thus making foreign beans more economical prior to the advent of harvesting machines. Loosely translated, coffee wasn’t grown locally after they outlawed slave labor.

But decent coffee and tea aside, it was the shop and the museum that made the place so very, very special.

The shop looked like a winery tried to replicate the shop in a Cracker Barrel. Bric-a-brac, all over-priced, and looking like it should be considered classy and high end but somehow falling short.

And the museum. The piece de resistance was the museum. Coffee services from Persia in a room covered in rugs with a video of a very uncomfortable-to-be-filmed belly dancer. Coffee pots from each state in the union set up like a Miss America pageant. Coffee roasters and espresso machines. And the audio tour narrated by the man who collected them all. No coherence other than “coffee related.” No narrative. I have a new found respect for museum curators. There was no history of the coffee bean, or of the coffee pot. I instead learned things like, “I picked this up at a market in Marrakesh. It looks like it might, uh, be from this area. [long pause] Or, uh, maybe not.” I left in minutes, wide-eyed in amazement of just what the hell I had seen.

Two. Mt. Uncle Distillery. Though their ad indicated they have multiple spirits on offer, they are known as a whisky distiller. You would assume, as I did, that this means they would have whisky on offer. You, like I, would be wrong. They sold out of it quickly last year, and have no more until the next batch, still several months off.

At this point, having driven 15km out of your way to get this far, you might resignedly ask for a tasting anyway, only to find out that 4 very small samples cost $10. Feeling happy you found the coupon for a free tasting, you would slide this across the bar. The server would then inform you that it is good for a free tasting, singular. This gets you a sample of one drink only.

I used that one drink to try the Davidson Plum liqueur. Having been baited and switched, and been misled by the coupon, I refused to give them a cent of my money. The drink was good but bitter. It seemed appropriate. I managed to sweet-talk a marshmallow flavored liqueur taste as well. It was as advertised. Disturbingly but deliciously so.

Three. Crystal Caves. A place that hosted a collection of rare and impressive minerals. Though the name implies that it is a museum attached to the site of some discoveries, none of the above is true. There is nothing on site but a large store selling minerals in many fashions, in front of a collection of some impressive finds. But to use a word such as “museum” would imply things like “glass cases,” “coherence,” and “educational.” This had as much of a narrative as Coffee World and slightly less information.

Perhaps it should have been a sign that all the advertisements for the place featured children about 4 years old in the picture. Perhaps also that every ad had the exact same picture, a fairly cheap one. The area we paid for entry into was designed like caverns in the most kitsch of ways. Foam and plaster cave walls embedded with various geodes and crystals. Little placards announced what each was in the same way you might see at a botanic garden. Yet beyond the names and locations of origin (a remarkably small number of which were within Australia), no information was presented. There was no sequence. No amethyst room. No grouping of minerals by color. No groupings by elemental components. No groupings by country of origin. Or by any method I could glean other than pure whim.

We had to push open foam gates. We had to crawl into miniature caves. We donned hard-hats with miner’s lights, hitting our heads on the low ceilings and trying to ignore the high school science project skill of design between the gorgeous minerals that nature had taken millions of years to form. We stared upon the world’s largest amethyst geode (3.7m tall). We looked at dazzling pieces from the Petrified Forest in AZ and discussed how they were most likely acquired illegally.

To Crystal Caves’ credit, the pieces in there at least appeared as though they belonged in a museum.

But walking away from the day I am thoroughly disappointed in the tourism industry of off-the-beaten-path Far North Queensland. Two “museums” that had no coherence, explanations, narrative, or curation. Three fees requested that were much greater than the goods and services proffered. Two places that try to charge a captive audience for the pleasure of trying before you buy. (Wineries in the south of the country here don’t do that because they know that you are more likely to buy having shown up already. Taking your money for a taste is just antagonizing you. Consequently, neither place saw me paying for drinks to take with me.) Misleading ads at two of the places. A bait and switch.

The day was a good one overall, despite the weather, despite the sights, because of company and a sense of humor and incredulity. But it was trying at points due to the venues. And half of the salvation of the day came from being able to laugh at just how bad, ridiculous, and over-the-top these places were.

There is a place in Virginia called Dinosaur Land. It is a place where the South is about to win the Civil War because they are aided by 5 meter tall plaster dinosaurs in the fight against Union soldiers. Just for kicks they threw in King Kong and a giant shark. The place presents it all stone-faced (or plaster-faced). But they are honest about what they are providing and you know exactly that going in. They may not be laughing at themselves, but they are in on the joke.

I don’t get the impression that the three places visited today are in on the joke.

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This entry was posted on May 24, 2012 by in Australia, Queensland (Brisbane) and tagged , , .

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