Monday, September 20, 2010

"Cat-poo coffee"

Why would one wish to consume a beverage made from something that has passed out of an animal's bottom?


And why would one pay a sum for it which could probably feed an Indonesian family for a week?

Those are very valid questions, which I found myself asking at Kopi Luwak in the Prawirotaman area of Yogyakarta. The cafe is named after the beverage they specialise in (kopi meaning coffee, and luwak being a local name for the creature that plays a crucial role in its production).

If you've not heard of this beverage, usually referred to as "civet coffee", "weasel coffee" or the somewhat less appealing "cat-poo coffee", here's the lowdown. The luwak eats the coffee berries, and eventually poops them out again. Farmers collect the droppings, find the intact beans, wash them off (thoroughly, one assumes), roast them and grind them into coffee. The result, it is said, is delicious.

If you are wondering what the hell a luwak is, it's neither a cat or a weasel, although it does looks sort of like a cross between the two; like a cat with a longer snout and elongated body. It's an Asiatic palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), which is a viverrid, a distant relative of the cats. (Cats actually evolved from something very similar to a civet.) Palm civets do catch and eat small animals but they are primarily fruit-eaters.

They absolutely love coffee berries, and when they eat them, enzymes from the civet's stomach seep into the beans and change their amino acid makeup. This results in less bitterness in the final brew. I have also heard somewhere that the luwak is quite selective and doesn't eat the berries it deems inferior; this means that the beans acquired in this way are all high quality. I'm not sure how much the taste of the final product has to do with this, or with the effects of the stomach enzymes. And given the luwak's picky nature, I'm guessing it would probably not pick out the beans from another animal's faeces and consume them; only humans will stoop that low.

It raises the obvious question - who discovered this and how? Who was so desperate for coffee that they were willing to sift through turds to get it?

A cup of the stuff at Kopi Luwak cost us Rp80,000. That's about $10 in Australian or US currency. Which is pricey, but not compared to how much it will cost you in the West - more like $50 to $80.

So, for that price, it had better be worth it, right?

My verdict: it tastes a lot like... coffee. I mean, it's nice coffee, but there was nothing earth-shattering about it that would make me claim that it was worth Rp80,000, let along what it costs elsewhere. I had it in its purest form initially (black, no sugar), then added sugar and then milk to get a sense of the different tastes. Again, all tasted just like coffee.

Admittedly, I'm hardly a coffee connoisseur; I'm the kind of guy who mixes coffee with condensed milk (a no-no to the purists). My significant other is very serious about her coffee though (this visit was primarily for her). She certainly enjoyed it, describing it as very bold, but not distinguishable from any other Sumatran coffee.

At least it didn't taste of a civet's anus. Which is a pretty important detail, all things considered. Not that I know what civet anus tastes like, mind you.

So if you are curious and a serious coffee person, perhaps you'll find some amazing quality in it that we didn't. But it's probably better to get it at a reasonable price in Indonesia, rather than pay through the nose in a Western country. Remember it's still only a cup of coffee.

You gotta wonder what the luwak thinks of all this. I know that if people extracted items from my faeces and sold them for exhorbitant prices, I can't imagine I'd have much respect for them.


More like this:

Egg tea. Yeah, that's right. Hot tea with egg in it.

Filipino iced tea and other hard drugs

My encounter with dog meat in Eastern Indonesia

Is chai latte only a drink for wankers?

Green tea is intent on world domination

The guide to ordering food in Malaysia

Addicted to kuih

2 comments:

  1. really enjoyed this piece on Kopi Luwak. Especially enjoyed the humour. :)

    ReplyDelete