Kopi Luwak owns the title 'the most expensive coffee in the world.' It has a strong aroma, but is described as 'sweet' and 'smooth' by those who've tasted it. A mere 500kg of the beans are harvested per annum, so relatively few consumers can partake, even if they could afford it.
Figures available in 2008 show the beans as retailing at up to £300 a pound (½kg), with select restaurants (such as the Heritage Tea Rooms in Queensland) offering a steaming cup for 50 Australian dollars. If you just want to purchase a thoughtful gift for a loved one1, the Heritage sells these coffee beans in 1kg (2.2lb) and ½kg (1.1lb) bags.
Coffee is the hot drink of choice for around half the world's population (the other half drink versions of tea). It's an important drink: many people feel they can't function without it. But most are probably happy with the best roasted version from their local supermarket, and are not dreaming of a mega-bucks caffeine fix. However, suppose you won the lottery or a long-lost uncle remembered you in his will - would you be tempted to fork out for a bag of the most expensive coffee beans in the world?
Before you splash out on the ultimate aromatic beverage, consider whether you'll be able to enjoy it when you learn how it gains its unique flavour.
Kopi Luwak is roasted, packaged, sold, ground, brewed, then drunk. The most important part of the process, though, is how the coffee beans are - how to put this delicately - harvested. In parts of Indonesia, workers in the coffee industry (you could say they're at the bottom of the pile) have a very important job to do. They have to track down, following their noses no doubt, the rectal excretions of a native nocturnal animal called the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), a mammal the size of a domestic cat. Asian Palm Civets are omnivores which are partial to small rodents (rats, mice and voles), large crunchy insects (cockroaches, locust, stag beetles, etc), fledglings (and bird eggs), and fruit, such as figs, rambutan and mango. They also like the sap from palm flowers, which, when digested, changes chemically (ferments) into an alcoholic liquid - so, yes, civets like to imbibe.
Another foodstuff which they consume is coffee berries. However, as most humans know, what you eat doesn't always agree with you, and you end up losing the undigested stuff, one way or another. The civet devours the coffee berries, but its digestive tract can't quite finish the process, so what's left is excreted as partially digested coffee beans along with a good dollop of civet diarrhoea.
Now that the animal has done its part of the business, along come the Indonesian workers to locate and collect the delicacy. A special scoop isn't needed - fingers can do the job much better; it's less fiddly and certainly quicker. Gathering up the exquisite excreta, which is worth its weight in gold, may be a messy job, but it's definitely worthwhile. All they need to do then is wash off the dung and what's left is pure gold - the coffee beans are ready for roasting.
The author of this Entry has done extensive research among coffee-lovers of her acquaintance, trying to find someone who has tasted this expensive beverage which first passed through the digestive system of an animal - and was willing to be quoted, even anonymously - to no avail. People who have partaken and written about it describe the drink's attributes thus: 'Earthy, musty, syrupy, smooth and rich with jungle and chocolate undertones.' All that remains is to recite part of the plot of a film in which Kopi Luwak plays no small part.
The Bucket List
Be aware: contains spoilers.
The 2007 Hollywood film The Bucket List, starring acting legends Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, is about two men who are both diagnosed with cancer. The über-rich Edward Cole (Nicholson) and cash-poor Carter Chambers (Freeman) first meet when they share a hospital room on the oncology ward. They begin to bond as friends when they receive an identical prognosis about their health at the same time. When Edward offers Carter a cup of his mega-expensive coffee, Carter asks what it is. Edward brags that it's Kopi Luwak, the most exclusive coffee in the world. Carter refuses, saying 'I don't drink that s***.' It isn't until the end of the film when trivia buff Carter enlightens Edward about the process which gives Kopi Luwak coffee its unique flavour and expensive price-tag that the viewing audience remember Carter's comment at the outset and join the two stricken men in laughter.
Who Tried it First?
It must have been a very brave soul who sifted through civet poo, washed and roasted the coffee beans, ground them, then diluted and drank the liquid before deciding it was good enough to market. Either they had divine inspiration or were of a perverse mind. It's more likely, however, that it's one of those cultural stories which pass through each generation, known and accepted by the local population, which probably wonders what all the fuss is about. A tribal chief and his hierarchy possibly passed a motion before revealing the secret to the world. We can only ponder what delicacies remain hidden from view.
Due to the popularity of the expensive coffee, intensive farming is taking place in some Asian countries to increase supply of the civet-treated coffee beans. Wild civets, imprisoned in cages and force-fed, lead a miserable existence much the same as battery hens. The mortality rate is high and animal welfare proponents fear the species could be heading for extinction, something to think about next time you consider what beverage to have.