Earlier this week, we caught a radio broadcast of NPR’s “Fresh Air” where the program’s host, Terri Gross, was interviewing an entomologist named Douglas Emlen: The Fascinating World Of The Dung Beetle : NPR. About 34-35 minutes into the audio program, Mr. Emlen introduces an anecdote about cockroaches and coffee that even manages to gross out Ms. Gross.

The story goes like this… In the late 1980s, Mr. Emlen traveled the countryside in search of bugs with his academic advisor/professor, a renowned entomologist named George C. Eickwort. Mr. Eickwort apparently became heavily dependent upon a steady stream of coffee throughout the day, but it had to be whole bean, fresh-ground coffee. And back then, good quality coffee was much more difficult to find than today. So they often had to drive 45 minutes out of their way to satisfy Mr. Eickwort’s coffee habit.

Mr. Eickwort needed whole bean, fresh-ground coffee because he, with his many years of entomology experience, developed an allergy to the cockroaches he often used in his studies. And because pre-ground coffee is processed from huge stockpiles of coffee that typically get infested with cockroaches, it’s next to impossible to keep the roaches — and their, uh, “byproducts” — out of the coffee supply to avoid an allergic reaction to the stuff.

As if the staleness of the pre-ground coffee in pod machines wasn’t enough to turn our stomachs. Of course, to be fair, pretty much everything we consume comes with some non-zero level of contamination. Whole bean coffee comes with its own set of contaminations (the least of which includes rocks).

But it’s interesting to note that people with cockroach allergies can be a sort of canary-in-the-mine when it comes to coffee quality.

UPDATE: May 19, 2009
If this story didn’t creep you out, this one from New Zealand might: 3 News > Lifestyle > Story > Call for nationwide espresso standards as cockroaches infest machines. Yes, it’s not just ground coffee that cockroaches love to live in, but some of the espresso machines as well.