Kopi Luwak. You’ve heard vague mutterings about it.
The astronomical price. The repulsive yet intriguingly fascinating production technique. The unique taste. Perhaps, in the darkest recesses of your mind, there may linger the vague memory of an episode of that guilty pleasure of yesteryear, CSI. Or maybe it was a scene from a true Hollywood cheesefest?
What in the name of everything caffeine-related am I babbling on about? Kopi luwak, that’s what.
Great. What’s that?
If you’re fluent in Indonesian—as, doubtless, many of you are—you’re already aware that kopi luwak means palm civet (luwak) coffee (kopi). So, what does this charmingly winsome cat-like creature have to do with the production of a cup of java? Well, unlike a true cat, the palm civet is an omnivore, and one of its favourite delicacies are the very fleshiest, most unblemished, ripest examples of the coffee cherry, the fruit of the coffee plant, which are (as luck would have it) to be found in Indonesia, its home, and upon which it will happily gorge itself.
Thereafter, nature will—as is its wont—take its course. Our furry friend is only capable of fully digesting the outer pulp of the fruit, not the hard bean core. This it will, in due time, um, expel. What is important, nay, germane to our tale here is that the duly-evacuated beans have been affected by the enzymes present in the civet’s digestive tract. How? The details are complicated, but, in a nutshell, they break down some of the beans’ proteins, cutting their caffeine levels and making the resulting brew smoother and less bitter.
Money, money, money
Exotic locations? Cute furry animals? Low-scale, natural selection-based raw ingredient sorting and processing? Gross but dinner-party-anecdote-gold production techniques? Potential consumers easy prey to snobbish fads?
You can almost see the dollar signs flashing in greedy entrepreneurs’ eyes. There’s money to be made in them thar jungles, as even a cursory glance at Amazon will show.
And, human nature being (sadly) what it is, the temptation to cut corners has proven irresistible. Free-range civets choosing only their very favourite coffee cherries will obviously lead to only very limited—and eye-wateringly expensive—production. Low availability and exorbitant pricing matched with high interest and demand creates openings for the unscrupulous, openings they are only too happy to fill. From simple counterfeiting to appalling factory farming techniques, with serried ranks of caged, distressed creatures being force-fed berries of dubious quality, there’s no level to which our delightful species will not sink.
So, if you are to indulge in a cup o’ kopi, make sure it’s certified. Unless you’re a ridiculously-moustachioed cartoonish villain. And you’re not. Are you?
But wait, there’s more…
Of course, if you are such a villain/kleptocrat/sociopath/common-or-garden know-it-all, kopi luwak is absurdly passé and, frankly, just a teensy-weensy bit ordinary, darling.
So, how can you take it to the next level and retain that hard-won coffee snob cred? Simples.
Still not enough?
Do you really, really want to go there? Does your depravity know NO bounds?
And it is upon that delightful note that I will leave you, gentle reader.
Until next time!
By Roly Osborne