The Immortality Formula and Old Chinese Coffee

Behold, I finally get to share my immortality formula!


That’s eternal ability, and that’s just the first of the fantastic solutions I teach you in 4 Coffee Cocktails for Pure Productivity Power. We gave it that name because those poor people looking for office efficiency tips online need these drinks way more than we do. We just want them. And while we’re at it, we can remind ourselves of 7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Superpowers. Which isn’t just “almost every scientist ever was on this stuff from the moment it was an option.”

While we’re at it, lets dust off a coffee shop story from a few years back:

Preparing for our trip to China we packed two kilos of coffee after the passports but before the plane tickets. Which lets you know what we depend on more to get moving. The Chinese understand the word coffee, they have characters for it, they may even – god help you – try to sell you a cup of something. But they don’t know coffee. I’ve ingested liquids which would send a HAZMAT team scrambling to get out of their contaminated protective gear.

China is a tea culture. Sipping, slurping, strong and weak and any time of the day they have a thousand types of the stuff. Brewster could have relaxed through his millions in an afternoon if he’d only known about Grand Red Robe tea.

In one establishment a request for coffee was met like a local mob boss demanding pasta a la endangered eagle: a terrified grin followed by frantic discussions from the kitchen. Which wouldn’t have been odd if the place hadn’t been called “Shang Dao Coffee”. And “Shang Dao” doesn’t mean “We don’t serve.” It’s a chain, an equivalent of Starbucks presumably stretching across their country, and this was clearly the first time anyone had called their bluff.

After enough scrambling to clear a moderately special force’s assault course they appeared with an assemblage of brass and glassware clearly stolen from Dr Frankenstein. Obviously the most exclusive item in whichever cafe-supply catalog it had been bought from. Equally obviously unused, and excruciatingly obviously with instructions did not include any form of Chinese.

I took pity and tried to cancel the order but was told to sit down and wait. Coffee was now happening, it seemed, and no-one was going anywhere until then.

The resulting fluid, arrived at after only slightly less effort than the jet engine or the atom bomb, was served in a wafer-thin plastic bubble tea cups. Complete with cling-wrap sealing of the top punctured by a thick straw jammed. The container was so utterly unsuited for anything above room temperature, and the “cafe” so utterly unequipped to serve coffee, I had to carry the resulting scald-bomb in a plastic bag until it cooled down. If I’d been attacked by a mugger I wouldn’t just have been able to defend myself, I’d have created a new Batman villain.

And after all that it tasted like water. The solar system didn’t go to that much effort for water in the first place.

Other establishments raised the quality to “liquid”, and even “mud.” Starbucks has spread to China, but there were few and far between, ridiculously expensive by Chinese standards, and you feel like such an asshole white boy saying “I’ve got to get my Starbucks.”

Without doubt the worst coffee impersonation inflicted on me was at the Summer Palace. An ultra-popular tourist destination, the concession stand offered everything from fruit juice to Johnny Walker. The whiskey would have been better coffee. It tasted like they’d made it in a washing machine. Not a converted washing machine, and actual washing machine, complete with dirty clothing and lots of detergent. Somehow dirt and detergent co-existed in this solution; they set aside their eternal enmity work together against me instead.

The moral? Delight in the delicious food, savor the delicate teas – but if you want to bea wake to enjoy any of it, bring your own coffee.

(This was back in 2008. I’ve had much better coffee since.)


Liquids are how we apply patches to the human brain. Your intellectual app store should include:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s