For me, the best part of waking up is decidedly not Folgers in my cup. I may drink about a dozen or so cups of coffee a year, max.
Personally, my hot bev of choice is a tea, which I find good to the very last drop.
And not any of your fancy-schmancy teas either.
Give me a cuppa black tea: Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, good old orange pekoe. A bit of milk, a bit of sugar: good to go!
Thus, as a non-coffee drinker, I am not apt to go out of my way to spend an exorbitant amount for a any particular brew, even a rarified one like kopi luwak.
Especially after I’ve learned where those coffee beans have been.
To make Kopi Luwak you must, of course, start with high-quality beans. But then you have to feed them to palm civets, wait while they pass through the animals’ guts (having their fleshy exteriors digested as they go) and be ready to collect them when they come out of the other end. The result, when cleaned, fermented, dried, roasted, ground and brewed, sells for as much as $80 a cup. The reason for this apparently ludicrous price is the sublime effect on the beans’ flavour of the chemical reactions they undergo in a civet’s stomach. (Source: The Economist, which you probably already knew from the way they spell flavor.)
In the wild, i.e., on/near the grounds (hah!) of a coffee plantation, it’s actually possible to find civets in their natural habitat voluntarily dropping pellets for the Juan Valdezes of the kopi luwak world to glean for you. But that’s the old school way, old bean. Today’s demand demands factory farming, in which civets are scrunched into small, squalid cages and force fed coffee beans until they die an early death. Which puts kopi luwak right up their with foie gras and veal as a product that makes animals die for our sins of gluttony.
But for coffee snobs, looking down their noses at all those slobs drinking vanilla hazelnut from K-cups, there’s something very special about kopi luwak that makes it worth the cost and the hassle – especially since the hassle is all on the part of the poor civets.
Needless to say, when there’s demand for a scarce and pricey item, fakery will abound.
And that’s what’s happened in the wonderful world of kopi luwak, where it’s been pretty much caveat coffee drinker. With the big caveat that there has been no way to detect whether you’re getting real kopi luwak or fake kopi luwak.
No, up until now, you pretty much had to see the civet defecate for yourself in order to guarantee yourself the distinctive cup of joe that is kopi luwak.
Eiichiro Fukusaki of Osaka University, in Japan, plans to change that. As he describes in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, he and his colleagues in Japan and Indonesia have developed a chemical test which, they believe, can reliably detect essence of civet in coffee.
Just when you thought that the scientists of the world were unwilling or unable to work on truly important projects!
There remains some fear in the kopi luwak community that, over time, counterfeiters will figure out how to use lab chemicals to mimic what goes on in a civet’s gullet. If this were to happen, it would, according to The Economist, have a couple of upsides:
…it would relieve the civets of their onerous task and open up the drinking of Kopi Luwak to mere mortals.
Well, only if legitimate coffee producers got into the game. It wouldn’t actually make counterfeiters turn honest overnight. Of course, the counterfeiters could end up saturating the market with their fakes, which would drive prices down. (Hey, sometimes Economics 101 does come in handy.)
Anyway, I was curious about how kopi luwak came about to begin with.
I mean, ‘he was a bold man who first ate an oyster’ and all that, but who took that first long look at civet scat and thought, ‘hmmmmmm’?
Well, there’s an answer for everything and, as often as not, it’s found on Wikipedia.
The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected with the history of coffee production in Indonesia. In the early 18th century the Dutch established the cash-crop coffee plantations in their colony in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra…During the era of Cultuurstelsel (1830—1870), the Dutch prohibited the native farmers and plantation workers from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Still, the native farmers wanted to have a taste of the famed coffee beverage. Soon, the natives learned that certain species of musang or luwak (Asian Palm Civet) consumed the coffee fruits, yet they left the coffee seeds undigested in their droppings. The natives collected these luwaks' coffee seed droppings, then cleaned, roasted and ground them to make their own coffee beverage.
And because of its rarity, kopi luwak’s popularity took off in some Dutch circles, and eventually spread throughout the world.
True coffee pros apparently don’t think all that highly of kopi luwak, considering it a “gimmick” that’s bought for the story line, rather than for the actual taste.
Personally, if I were going to be willing to spend $80 for a cup of coffee, in which the coffee beans were extracted through what amounts to animal torture (not to mention through that tortured animal’s intestines), I’d at least want it to taste good.
But when it comes to coffee, what do I know?
Coffee is so not my cup of tea.