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Coffee with a twist

srividya76's picture

Hello friends, I came across a very interesting article on coffee and thought of sharing with you. Here it goes..........

World's priciest coffee comes with a twist

If you want a taste of the most expensive coffee in the world, you'll have to fly to Indonesia. At $400 to $1,000 per pound, kopi luwak is said to be the most surprising and unique morning wakeup you'll ever taste.

And here's another surprise: The reason why it tastes so unique is because it's harvested from the droppings of a luwak, a type of mongoose that emits skunk-like odors.

The processing of this bean begins when the luwak nibbles the ripe red fruit — called the coffee cherry — off the coffee tree. On its journey through the luwak's stomach and intestines, gastric juices eat away the cherry's skin, pulp, and mucilage, leaving only the pit, also known as the coffee bean. When that bean, to put it politely, emerges from the unattractive end of the luwak, the kopi luwak coffee bean is encased in scat. It goes to be cleaned and packaged.

Although it's the most expensive coffee in the world, it's not necessarily the best tasting. People describe the flavor as syrupy and the heaviest bodied coffee they've ever tasted. Combining this coffee's unique taste with its rarity is what pushes the price to astronomical levels.

Being a coffee lover, I decided to journey in search of this rare cup of Joe. I hopped on a plane to Bali in the South Pacific and began talking to coffee distributors. My first stop was at the Domba Coffee Company, a small distributor in a nice storefront in Kuta. While I spoke with the owner, Charles Huang, Balinese women sorted coffee beans into different grades in the front, while in the back, Japanese tourists sat around a lily pond and fountain, tasting different grades of coffee.

I asked Mr. Huang about kopi luwak.

"Oh, there are no more luwaks in Bali," he said. "Luwaks, they eat all the coffee cherries, and so the people here shoot all the luwaks for food."

My heart sank. I had traveled all the way from California to find out that there are no luwaks left in Bali?

Mr. Huang said that he distributes kopi luwak, but it's imported from the neighboring island of Sumatra. It's so rare that he is only able to import 10 kilos per year.

Balinese coffee plantation owners have tried to domesticate the luwak and to feed them the coffee cherries, Mr. Huang said, but the coffee brewed from those beans, for some unknown reason, does not taste the same.

At the end of the interview, I hinted several times that I had never tasted the kopi luwak, but Mr. Huang didn't bite. At $1,000 a pound, he wasn't going to be lured into giving away a free $25 cup of coffee.

But I wasn't going to take Mr. Huang's word for the extinction of the luwak on Bali. My next stop was The Bali Coffee Company, the largest plantation and coffee-processing plant in Bali. I talked with Tanamal Aryanko, whose family owns the company, and asked whether kopi luwak was indeed going extinct.

"No," Mr. Aryanko said, "but they're getting rare."

Even Mr. Aryanko's huge company is able to procure only 100 to 200 pounds of kopi luwak per year. In fact, the whole of the Indonesian archipelago, which includes 14,000 islands, produces only 400 pounds per year.

Mr. Aryanko also explained why the coffee is so exquisite. First, the luwak is, through its highly evolved sense of smell, able to find the ripest beans on the coffee tree. Then, as the bean passes through the luwak's digestive system, the luwak's gastric acids break down the outer shell of the bean, changing its chemical composition and, thus, its taste.

Once again I hinted that I had never tasted the kopi luwak. In response, Mr. Aryanko brought out not a clean bean, but a clump of raw kopi luwak encased in dried scat. Screwing up my courage and closing my eyes, I brought the bean to my nose, and I found the aroma to be, shall we say, earthy. Musky is another polite word that came to mind. Still, it wasn't the kind of aroma you wanted near your nose for a long time.

Next, Mr. Aryanko brought out his own attempt at an artificial kopi luwak bean. They are studying the digestive processes of the luwak, and from that information, trying to duplicate that process in the laboratory. Mr. Aryanko brewed me a cup.

"Whoa, that is some intense flavor!" I said after my first sip.

This faux kopi luwak was the strongest coffee I had ever tasted. It was a little bitter and, as they say, made my hair stand on end.

"Yes, this is a work in progress," Mr. Aryanko said. "Obviously, we are not there yet. We might call this skin coffee because, like luwak coffee, the skin, or parchment, is still covering the bean. The special way that we are processing it, however, is a secret."

Mr. Aryanko admits that kopi luwak cannot be produced from a caged luwak, but they are experimenting with a much larger cage.

"We are going to net off an area in the coffee plantation, put luwak in there, and see what happens," Mr. Aryanko said.

Low acidity is more desirable in coffee beans, and in Indonesia, the Arabica bean is less acidic than the Robusta bean, making it a higher quality bean. However, the Arabica bean grows only at higher elevations and the luwak lives in locations only below 700 meters. When the luwak eats and digests the Robusta bean, however, it lowers the acidity of the bean below that of the Arabica bean.

Mr. Aryanko confirmed that there is a huge demand for kopi luwak coffee in the United States and Japan, which is why there have been so many attempts to increase the supply.

I expressed a desire to visit the coffee plantation where the prized kopi luwak beans are found, but I ran into a brick wall with Mr. Aryanko.

"Oh, that is a big secret," he said with an apologetic smile. "We cannot tell you where we find this luwak coffee. I'm sorry."

Still, I had yet to see a luwak, so I hired a driver to take me to the coffee plantations at the base of Mount Lesong, Mount Batukau and Mount Sangiyang. It was a beautiful drive as we drove up the winding two-lane highway, passing numerous motorbikes, which are ubiquitous in Bali. The highway was surrounded by lush vegetation, including many clove trees.

Halfway up, we stopped for lunch at a hilltop restaurant overlooking the clove and coffee plantations. From the restaurant, you could see the entire valley, with clove trees covering the hillsides and the tops of volcanoes far in the distance. Next to some of the trees stood tall, skinny ladders on which stood Balinese manual laborers picking cloves.

Our waiter brought out bags of the local coffee for sale, and I immediately started asking questions. He seemed to know quite a bit about kopi luwak.

"Twenty years ago, it used to be easy to find this coffee," our waiter said. "I could find a bag in one day. Now, though, the territory of the luwak is shrinking, so it's very difficult."

"Still, when they cut down a big tree in the forest, we go over there and look for the luwak droppings."

After lunch and a cup of coffee, we hit the road again, and sometime later, reached Pupuan and the plantation. It was a modest house in the middle of a grove of coffee trees. I was introduced to one of the pickers, a twenty something Indonesian man with a broad white smile named Wayan. He was dressed in a torn T-shirt and rubber boots, and lived on the property in a concrete house with his wife and two children.

I asked Wayan about the kopi luwak bean. He only rarely found them, he said. When they emerge from the luwak, they come out in strands, and once, only once, he found three strands.

"I gave them to my boss," Wayan said.

"Did you get a bonus?" I asked.


"Do you have any kopi luwak beans right now?"


"You know, I've never tasted it."

Unfortunately, Wayan didn't take the hint, either.

Later, I stopped at Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple and "Wild Animal Park" on Lake Bratan to see what these luwaks looked like. They were kept in little wooden pens, and four hand-raised luwaks were sleeping, curled up like cats. At a certain point, a park worker opened the pen, and they started running around and playing with each other, as cats do. The worker fed one of them a banana, and then the luwak went into a corner and defecated.

I looked at the luwak scat, wondering what the banana scat might taste like brewed. It was a strange thought, and I immediately dismissed it.

Some may wonder how hygienic it is to drink coffee that has been processed through the intestines of a live animal. University of Guelph, food scientist, Massimo Marcone, after examining the chemical and physical properties of Kopi Luwak coffee, doesn't seem much of a problem.

"As a food scientist, I'm skeptical that anything being in contact with feces is safe," writes Marcone. But tests revealed that the kopi luwak beans had negligible amounts of enteric (pathogenic) organisms associated with feces."

Throughout my search for the elusive kopi luwak, one question kept nagging at me. It had to do with the very first person to discover that this bean had such a unique taste. It boggled my mind that some insane villager centuries ago would say, "Hey, maybe the bean that's encrusted in that luwak poop will taste good! I'm going to wash it off, brew it, and see what it tastes like!" Among the many mysteries surrounding the kopi luwak bean, perhaps that is the greatest.

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Coffee With A Twist