Guess where this coffee comes from?

How much would you pay for a cup of liquid cat dung? Quite a lot, if some highly discerning coffee drinkers are anything to go by.

    You won't find kopi luwak at your local coffee shop

    On the lush, volcanic slopes of the Indonesian archipelago,

    villagers "harvest" kopi luwak.

     

    The beans used for the world's

    rarest and most expensive coffee have already been munched by

    cat-like palm civets, and now they are plucked from the dung to

    be dried and roasted.

     

    Retailing in North America and Europe for up to $600 a

    kg, kopi luwak, literally "civet coffee" in Indonesian, is not

    a brew for the faint hearted.

     

    Less than 230kg of it is estimated to be

    produced a year on the islands of Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi,

    and war and disease are making it even harder to find.

       

    "I first read about it in 1980 but didn't manage to get my

    hands on any until 1993," says Michael Beech of Raven's Brew

    Coffee Inc.

     

    Until last year, when supplies began to dry up, it

    was the main supplier of kopi luwak in the United States.

       

    The kopi luwak bean comes from
    only three Indonesian islands

    His clients have ranged from ordinary java junkies to

    comedy actor John Cleese of Monty Python fame, he says.

     

    The

    firm has a backlog of 300 kopi luwak orders to fill at $75 for 114 grams

     

    "To be honest, you can't get $75 worth of quality in any

    coffee. You are really paying for the experience," says Beech.

      

    Fussy eater

     

    The brew has become so rare that a newly published book on

    coffee in Indonesia, "A cup of Java," relegates it to legend.

     

    "We have failed to find any coffee-seller who admits to

    actually selling kopi luwak from the faeces of the civet cat,"

    write authors Gabriella Teggia and Mark Hanusz.

     

    To many Indonesians, the term kopi luwak has come to mean

    simply the beans which the civet - a notoriously fussy eater

    which selects only the ripest coffee cherries - would choose.

     

    The war in Aceh province made
    kopi luwak even more rare

    "We just use the name for branding, but we don't trade in

    it," says Jeffrey Susanto, whose family runs the Kopi Luwak

    string of gourmet coffee shops in Jakarta.

     

    The rarity of kopi luwak is confirmed by Nugroho Bintang S

    atrio, the Central Java chief of the Indonesian Coffee

    Exporters Association.

      

    "Only a tiny portion of small-holders are left who collect

    it," he said, adding that traders buy it at about 11,000 rupiah

    ($1.30) a kilo, about twice the price of ordinary robusta.

       

    Deadly harvest

     

    In the last year, a government offensive against rebels in

    rugged Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra has also

    cut into supply. "Farmers get killed if they harvest the coffee

    too far into the bush," said one trader.

     

    Then there is the bad press caused by the deadly flu-like

    SARS virus.

     

    Civets, which are not cats but are related to

    mongooses, have been slaughtered in their thousands in China

    and imports banned from many Western countries for fear they

    carry SARS.

     

    "Even if SARS was associated with the coffee itself, by the

    time it's collected and washed there is a very long period that

    has elapsed," says Massimo Marcone, a food scientist at the

    University of Guelph in Canada, who has carried out extensive

    tests on kopi luwak and deemed it safe.

     

    Producers are working on an
    elephant poop variety

    Yet, despite all that, some still harbour doubts.

       

    "Sumatra, in the popular imagination anyway, is just too

    close to China and I'm just wary of the whole SARS thing," says

    Beech, adding that Raven's Brew may cease to offer kopi luwak.

       

    "We are working on an elephant poop coffee," he says with a

    chuckle, explaining a plan he vows is serious.

     

    The idea is to

    feed coffee to tuskers at an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka

    and sell the product, farming the proceeds back into the

    orphanage.

       

    "It will be a do-gooder coffee, pooped out by bonafide

    orphan elephants," Beech explains.

     

    According to some experts, a bean that has been partly

    digested tastes special.

       

    "What I did find with kopi luwak was that the acids, the

    gastric juices and the enzymes were actually getting inside the

    bean and breaking down the proteins," says Marcone.

       

    "You start getting amino acids. When these things are

    heated during roasting, they react with other components and

    they create certain flavour compounds different from other

    beans."

       

    Exotic processing

     

    So what does the world's most pricey coffee taste like?

     

    Pure unadulterated coffee beans,
    undigested by any animal

    Coffee buffs say it depends on whether the civet has been

    eating arabica or robusta beans.

       

    "Initially people thought it must be the best coffee in the

    world, but I have to be honest about it, it's a crappy cup of

    coffee," says Beech of the robusta variety.

       

    No matter how exotic the processing, it is mostly robusta

    cherries the luwak munches.

     

    That fact is a legacy of the coffee

    blight which in 1878 destroyed every low-lying arabica plant

    from Ceylon to Timor, allowing Brazil and Colombia to take the

    lead as the world's main suppliers of arabica.

       

    Weeks of phone calls around Indonesia results in a fragrant

    mailbox containing a brown envelope from an East Java coffee

    trader. Inside is 250 grams of brown gold - kopi luwak

    arabica.

       

    The aroma is rich and strong and the beans oily. Ground and

    steeped in boiling water the flavour is, well, much like any

    other coffee.

     

    But the experience lingers in the memory.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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