January 18, 2009
Speaking of coffee, this morning I had my first cup of Kopi Luwak, which is, apparently, the most expensive coffee in the world. Around 500 kilos are produced each year and a standard 250g bag retails at around £20. Some enthusiasts have been known to fork out $50 for a single cup. What makes the coffee unusual, and ridiculously expensive, is its partial fermentation in the gut of the wild Indonesian civet cat or Luwak, which looks not unlike a raccoon.
In its post-cat, pre-retail phase, Kopi Luwak looks like this:
It isn’t entirely clear whether the coffee is indeed superior or just a masterful marketing gimmick, but Massimo Marcone, author of Composition and Properties of Indonesian Palm Civet Coffee and Ethiopian Civet Coffee, offers the following explanation:
During the night, the civet uses its eyesight and smell to seek out and eat only the ripest coffee cherries. The coffee cherry fruit is completely digested by the Luwak, but the beans are excreted in their faeces. The changes in the beans show that during transit through the civet’s gastro-intestinal track, various digestive biochemicals are actually penetrating the outer coffee cherry and reaching the actual bean surface, where a chemical colour change takes place… The civet beans are lower in total protein, indicating that during digestion, proteins are being broken down and are also leached out of the bean. Since proteins are what make coffee bitter during the roasting process, the lower levels of proteins decrease the bitterness of Kopi Luwak coffee. When coffee cherries are processed through the digestive track, they actually undergo a type of wet processing due to acidification in the stomach and fermentation due to the natural intestinal microflora. Lactic acid bacteria are preferred in wet processing systems. Lactic acid bacteria happen to be major colonizing bacteria in the civet’s digestive track.
So how does it taste? Well, it’s rich and smooth and it does have a distinct hint of caramel. Quite pleasant, in fact, and thankfully without even a whiff of feline anus. Though once this bag has been consumed, I think I’ll revert to the sharper caffeine kick of Taylor’s Hot Lava Java.