Nothing like a cup of java; the aroma of freshly ground beans, the rich, nutty flavour, the soothing warmth on a frosty morning. No wonder officiandos take their coffee seriously. For some, their search for the best and most expensive coffee has led them to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi where a very special type of coffee bean is, shall I say, "processed." It's called Kopi Luwak coffee. Kopi means coffee, Luwak is the local name for a palm civit cat called a paradoxurus that inhabits the islands.
The luwaks, long considered pests by the locals, will select the ripest, tastiest coffee berries, eat the pulp and swallow the actual bean which is passed through their system undigested and excreted out the other end. Locals then gather the feces which are washed, dried and slightly roasted. Despite this rather unusual source, coffee lovers have plenty of positive things to say. According to coffee critic, Chris Rubin, "The aroma is rich and strong, and the coffee is incredibly full bodied, almost syrupy. It's thick with a hint of chocolate, and lingers on the tongue with a long, clean aftertaste."
So what is so special about this coffee besides how it is processed? In other words, what is the science behind its flavour? According to Massimo Marcone, a professor of Food Science at the University of Guelph in Canada, who has studied the coffee beans, the key is in the animal's digestive system. It is the internal fermentation by digestive enzymes that adds the unique flavour to the beans, which he describes as "earthy, musty, syrupy, smooth and rich with jungle and chocolate undertones." I am not entirely sure what at "jungle undertone" is but he does go on to explain that "[t]he 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." And for all you germaphobes out there, it also contains less bacteria than regular coffee.
Other factors to consider before you rush off for your own cup of Kopi Luwak. First, it is a luxury brand, very exclusive and therefore expensive. $600.00 a pound, or if you decide to treat yourself to a cup in a London cafe, for example, be prepared to shell out $50.00. Second, it is rather hard to find. You can buy it by the quarter pound online ($150), but very few coffee houses offer it by the cup. Occasionally coffee companies will have a cupping with Kopi Luwak they have bought, but generally do not stock it. Having said that, Pusateri's Fine Foods in Toronto carries it by the quarter pound.