Sooner or later, any self-respecting coffee connoisseur is going to have to pucker up and discover the taste of the infamous Kopi Luwak (civet coffee). It even has Oprah Winfrey’s seal of approval.
And like much that goes all the way to the top – after all, how much higher than The Big O can you go? – debate rages about just how much is quality and how much is hype.
Some coffee experts in Jakarta dismiss the brew as merely another overhyped, commercialized fad. Others, such as culinary legend William Wongso, believe quality Kopi Luwak exists and should be valued.
Even those who aren’t interested in coffee will pause for thought once learning about the extra step in the Kopi Luwak production process – before it passes into your cup, it passes through the bowels of a furry animal.
The Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) is a cat-like mammal that lives in coffee plantations in Sulawesi, Java and Sumatra.
The civet is unable to digest coffee beans properly; when it eats them, they pass through its digestive system, ending up back on the ground at the other end, more or less intact.
But not untouched – as the bean makes its journey through the civet’s insides, it is exposed to the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes, which give it a special kind of fermentation. The excreted beans thus take on an unusual taste.
Brewing these beans (after washing, one hopes) produces an unusual drink. The beans are hard to come by, given the specialized harvesting techniques required, which makes it boutique and hard to come by and therefore, to some, very high class.
At the Kopi Luwak café in Mal Kelapa Gading 2, you can try both “pure” Kopi Luwak, or a mere hint in a blend of Luwak (3%) and standard coffee beans.
A 10 gram sachet of the unadulterated variety costs around Rp 75,000 (US$8).
So it’s not just its origin that raises eyebrows. It is reportedly the most expensive coffee in the world.
The high price is a simple matter of supply and demand, says Indonesian coffee expert Alun Evans.
“Is it worth the price? Well I guess that is all in the eye of the beholder.”
Nevertheless, Yudhi, 26, is still eager to try the Indonesian drink.
After all, what does he have to lose – it wouldn’t be the first time someone pays too much for a coffee that tastes like it’s come out of an animal’s rear end.
But 24-year-old Filipe Campos Michel just can’t stop thinking about where it came from.
“I don’t think I could drink it,” he says. “I just don’t think I could.”
Others see it as a special coffee experience, endorsed not only by Oprah but by a civet as well.
“The civet finds a good quality of coffee bean,” Yudhi says. “That’s why people like to drink it.”
The Kopi Luwak is served black, so it is at its richest. It has a deep chocolate color, with a rich, sweet flavor. It is also a little more grainy than standard coffee.
Yudhi, at least, liked it.
“It tastes sort of creamy,” he says. “It has a very strong aftertaste.”
He won’t make it a habit, though, with its designer price tag.
“It is good to try it, but not to drink it all the time.”