The Frontal Cortex

Expensive Coffee

I like good coffee as much as the next pretentious writer, but this is a little gross:

To connoisseurs of fine coffee, only one is good to the last dropping.

Human hands don’t harvest the beans that make this rare brew. They’re plucked by the sharp claws and fangs of wild civets, catlike beasts with bug eyes and weaselly noses that love their coffee fresh.

They move at night, creeping along the limbs of robusta and hybrid arabusta trees, sniffing out sweet red coffee cherries and selecting only the tastiest. After chewing off the fruity exterior, they swallow the hard innards.

In the animals’ stomachs, enzymes in the gastric juices massage the beans, smoothing off the harsh edges that make coffee bitter and produce caffeine jitters. Humans then separate the greenish-brown beans from the rest of the dung, and once a thin outer layer is removed, they are ready for roasting.

It’s called kopi luwak, from the Indonesian words for coffee and civet, and by the time it reaches the shelves of swish foreign food emporiums, devotees fork out as much as $600 for a pound — if they can even find that much. The British royal family is said to enjoy sipping it. A single cup can sell for $30 at a five-star hotel in Hong Kong.

To anyone satisfied by a regular cup of joe with the morning newspaper, it might sound like a lot of hokum. Canadian food scientist Massimo Marcone thought kopi luwak was just an urban legend. Then he did some lab work.

He found that a civet’s digestive system does indeed remove some of the caffeine, which explains why a cup of kopi luwak doesn’t have the kick that other strong coffees do. The civet’s enzymes also reduce proteins that make coffee bitter.

Comments

  1. #1 talboito
    July 13, 2007

    At least this is a weired animal byproduct market situation that shouldn’t endanger the life of the animal.

    If only Elephants’ ivory were in its disposables and so forth.

  2. #2 Bob
    July 13, 2007

    I bought some of this for my wife as a special Christmas present. I can’t stand coffee, but this was ok. Didn’t have the bitter aftertaste that I can’t stand. The important thing was that she liked it and we had much fun drinking the “cat poop” coffee. Cat poop was more fun to say than civet poop.

    Still tasted like coffee though. Yuck. :)

    The cool thing was that the gift box I bought even had a stool sample (hermetically sealed of course) included.

  3. #3 Alex
    July 14, 2007

    I always thought this stuff was some sort of satirical hoax directed at plutocrats, rather than actual real catshit coffee.

  4. #4 swag
    July 15, 2007

    It’s real. The only part that isn’t real are the bored media wanks and bloggers who treat this as if the coffee is considered any good among “connoisseurs of fine coffee”.

    It’s not very good. “Connoisseurs of fine coffee” dismiss this as a gag novelty for most. The coffee is just in very, very limited supply and there are enough curious fools to keep the prices up. If we all are supposed to think that something expensive must be excellent, let me tell you about how NASA makes the most luxurious toilet seats in the world.

  5. #5 KeithB
    July 18, 2007
  6. #6 Joshua
    July 19, 2007

    “In the animals’ stomachs, enzymes in the gastric juices massage the beans, smoothing off the harsh edges that make coffee bitter and produce caffeine jitters.”

    It removes the stuff that produces caffeine jitters? Meaning… caffeine?

    Why do people drink this crap again? ;)

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