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.