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Thursday, May 17, 2007
(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
Kopi Luwak

Kopi is the Indonesian word for "coffee." Luwak is the name of a civet cat. The reason these two words are put together is because the civet cat in question has a taste for the cherries of the coffee tree.

Here's a photo of coffee cherries. What we call coffee "beans" are just the pits. When the cherries are pitted, they make good mulch or even livestock feed. I honestly don't know much about human consumption, though I imagine that when the goatherder in Ethiopia saw how energetic his goats became after eating these he didn't immediately set about pitting the cherries and roasting the beans so he could brew the perfect cup of espresso.

By the way, coffee did originate in Ethiopia, and it probably was a goatherder that first saw the effects of the plant and tried the cherries. Ethiopia is the only coffee-producing nation that consumes more than they export. There are wild-growing coffee trees in nearby Yemen that produce the beans that go into Starbucks' Arabian Mocha Sanani, the only standard coffee that Starbucks has which has a changing flavor profile from year to year. It's excellent coffee, proof against all the oh-so-hip Starbucks haters who claim that the coffee is swill or burnt or whatever. Though it is telling that Sanani is a fairly low seller; I agree that most Starbucks customers don't really know what they're doing in the store.

Back to the civet cat. Here's a photo of one. The palm civet eats coffee cherries and does the natural thing regarding something an animal eats. Thing is, civet cats can't digest - at least not fully - the beans, and they um, pass through relatively untouched. These. . . .clumps. . . .of coffee beans are collected, cleaned rather thoroughly and then roasted the same way that other, less processed, beans are roasted.

The result is the most expensive coffee in the world. I've read descriptions of it from mediocre to a life-changing experience. I know only one person who has actually tried it, and she says that it's worth the money, which is saying a lot.

The price of it, though, is becoming hard to pin down. I just came across an article which claims the price is US$1,000 for one kilogram, with US$50 cups of it being sold. This is in Australia. I have a bookmark for the website of a company that will sell 4oz for US$60, rather less than the going rate in Kangaroo Country. My concern is that the growing popularity of the coffee will lead to all sorts of problems. The first such problems will be related to Indonesians - the only people who can actually produce the coffee - packaging up whatever beans they want and selling it as Kopi Luwak. The next strategy will probably be to feed the cherries to a whole bunch of other animals to see if any recognizable bits of beans can be found after digestion, which will then be roasted. I would imagine that farmed Luwaks being force-fed tons of coffee cherries and laxatives is not too far off.

I think we're probably already at the point of people passing regular beans off as Kopi Luwak. It's the fraud strategy I would pursue, being the easiest and fastest. So I worry that the Aussies paying US$1,000 per cup are the ones getting the real thing, and when I finally get around to ordering my little bit for US$60 - which will happen when my wife won't kill me for it - it will be just some beans pinched from the Starbucks or Peet's shipment. It's possible, of course, that the Aussies are just being taken to the cleaners over this, something that Indonesians are perfectly willing to do if my read on the relationship between the countries is at all accurate. Plus, Australia's Prime Minister is being an asshole quite a bit of the time, so they deserve it.

It's frustrating. Having a cup of authentic Kopi Luwak is a major goal for me. That's why I'm not giving you jokers the link to the Kopi Luwak seller I've got bookmarked; I don't want y'all to find it, buy some and drive up the price.

Though if any of you have a connection to a totally 100% reliable seller, I'd appreciate the info.

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