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  • Writer's picturePaul


“Just hook it up to my veins!”: Bean there, done that (Wix)

There‘s an old wives’ tale that would have you believe there’s more caffeine in tea than in coffee. Pound for pound, that’s actually true: a hundredweight of tea contains more caffeine than a hundredweight of coffee. But because you don’t need as much tea to brew up a cup as you do coffee, a single cup of tea contains considerably less caffeine that a single cup of coffee. Myth, as they say, busted.

But if you’re still on the lookout for an alternative to your morning cup of java, how about brewing up another of nature’s most caffeine rich commodities: the downy plumage of the fairly unassuming-looking chestnut-necklaced partridge?

A small (and now sadly endangered) game bird, the chestnut-necklaced partridge is native to the rainforests of southeast Asia where it forages on the forest floor, in groups of 10–30 birds, hunting for small insects, roots and seeds. And, for that matter, it also enjoys feasting on the odd berry or two—including the berries of Coffea canephora, the shrub from which robusta coffee beans are harvested.

Originally from Africa, Coffea canephora was introduced to southeast Asia by French colonists in the early 1800s. Production quickly expanded, and today Vietnam alone produces some 40% of the world’s robusta coffee supply. But introducing a berry-rich plant to an area populated by berry-loving birds was bound to have a consequence, and today ripe robusta coffee berries have become one of the chestnut-necklaced partridge’s favourite between-meal snacks. In fact, the birds have started consuming the berries in such enormous quantities that illegal culling by local coffee growers is now considered one of the foremost threats to the species’ survival.

As for the birds themselves, they seem largely immune to the plant’s high caffeine content, and as a result most of the caffeine they consume is simply ejected from their bodies as waste (i.e. in their poop). But recently, some ornithological studies have made a startling discovery: the birds do not waste all of the caffeine they ingest, but instead are somehow capable of channeling and storing some of it in the feather-producing follicles in their skin.

Precisely how or why they do this is unclear, but it’s been suggested that the birds are somehow able to use the caffeine as a stored energy supply, which can be called upon during mating season to produce thicker, denser, brighter, or more lustrous plumage, or to perform longer or more energetic mating displays. No matter the biological mechanism at work here, however, the upshot is that pound-for-pound the feathers of the chestnut-necklaced partridge contain around two-thirds the same amount of caffeine as roasted robusta coffee beans.

So if you’re looking for something midway between a decaf and a flat white, maybe this is your answer...

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