Human beings are endlessly inventive when it comes to food. From curried cicadas to snake soup to lemon and mint Pepsi, we never stop inventing new ways to follow the evolutionary imperative to stuff our faces with calories. And while I’m generally a cultural relativist when it comes to “weird” foods, sometimes there is a concept so out-there, you can’t help but say it’s bizarre.
Like kopi luwak, coffee made from beans that have been through the poop shoot of a tree cat. We’ve all heard of it, and it sounds revolting, but have any of us ever actually tried it? Why, yes, actually…
In truth, we’ve talked briefly about kopi luwak before. It’s gained global notoriety not just for the odd means of production, but also for the eye-popping prices; a steaming cup of kopi luwak can cost you upwards of US$100 at posh shops in Hong Kong and New York, earning it the descriptive nickname of “the world’s most expensive coffee.”
While visiting Indonesia recently, we were able to locate a cup at a much more reasonable 50,000 rupiah (about US$5) by going to the source: a coffee and tea plantation. At that price point, how could we not do a taste test for you, Rocketeers?
According to the staff at Oka Agriculture, civet coffee originated during the time of Dutch colonialism. Workers at the coffee plantations were forbidden from picking beans for themselves, so they would glean ones that had fallen to the ground for use at home, including the ones lodged in civet dung. They discovered that the poop coffee actually tasted different and, in their minds, better. Before long, the Dutch were drinking it as well.
▼Poop beans drying in the sun. Don’t worry, they wash them first.
Other than the step where they hang out inside a civet for a while, the beans are roasted, ground and brewed just like regular coffee.
The flavor of kopi luwak is said to be milder and rounder than typical coffee, but with an increased complexity as well. Of course, that is usually said by sales staff and insufferable coffee snobs. However, there is some evidence that the chemical makeup of the coffee is altered by its journey through the palm civet’s acidic digestive tract.
Anyway, we’ll be the judge of that.
▼One cup of poop coffee coming right up!
▼The prospect of caffeine was clearly making me too excited to hold the camera steady.
Normally, I take my coffee with cream and sugar, but in the interest of getting a clean taste test, I took this cup black.
▼Direct from the civet’s anus to your mouth!
So, how does it taste? Well, mostly it tastes like coffee. But black coffee usually has an almost metallic bitterness to me. This one didn’t have that at all. It did have a nice depth, with a nutty finish that enjoyed, at least until I started thinking of it in terms of poop.
Overall, I’d say it was a very fine cup of coffee, though not one I would pay $100 for. Frankly, even $5 was stretching it. I was happy enough thinking of it as an experiential surcharge.
It’s also worth noting that the astronomical prices have led to some unscrupulous business practices. There is apparently a lot of fake kopi luwak out there, and the pressure to increase yield has many producers in Indonesia and abroad keeping civets in battery cages and feeding them unhealthy diets, instead of the traditional method of just letting wild civets do their thing. I unfortunately discovered this after trying the coffee, but if you would like to give it a shot, do your due diligence in sourcing the beans.
For my money, there is less hassle and more value (and sugar!) in a standard cup of coffee at one of the bazillion coffee shops you will come across in Indonesia. It’s home to coffee-producing powerhouses Java and Sumatra, after all. And if you want to try something a little different, ginger coffee is a tasty and commonly available option with no feces involved, or so they tell me.
Civet image: ßlåçk Pærl/Wikicommons
Content and other images © RocketNews24