Bali — Kopi Luwak civet-poo coffee — Luxury or Myth?

07/09/2017
Melvyn Teillol-Foo

Biodiversity

Bali is part of the Coral Triangle, an area with the highest biodiversity of marine species; over 500 reef building coral species can be found. For comparison, this is about 7 times as many as in the entire Caribbean.

Bali

Being just 8 degrees south of the equator, Bali has a fairly even climate all year round. Average temperature is 30 °C with a humidity level of about 85%. With volcanic ash for soil and an equatorial climate, practically anything grows. The cooler climes in the mountains allow for sub-tropical and temperate climate crops.

We’ll get to the civet poo coffee later…..  🙂

Subak Irrigation System

Subak Irrigation System (photo by *drew~commonswiki)

Bali is the home of the Subak Irrigation System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Generations of ingenuity has developed a system of hill terrace paddies for irrigation and cultivation. In this Garden of Eden, many crops, both natural and transplanted, are grown and attracted explorers and conquerors from Portugal, Netherlands and Britain. These spice islands were colonised by the Dutch in the 16th century.

Rice fields

Agrarian Tourism

Tourists can visit show farms to see crops in their natural environment. The primary crop is wet-rice and much of the culture and myths were developed around this staple as the important social force. Rice is the main food source.

Bali crops

The Balinese rotate rice with cash crops such as cacao, tobacco, tapioca, peanuts, soya beans, chili peppers, tamarind and corn.

Coconut trees

Of course, there are the coconut palm trees, known as “tree of life” because every part from the root to the frond tips are used; providing fuel, roofing, food, drink and structural materials; or even satay skewers!

Spices grown include nutmeg, cloves, garlic, turmeric, ginger, wild ginger, galangal, candlenut, vanilla, shallots, kaffir lime, white pepper, black pepper, coriander, cumin and sesame seed.

Cinnamon, Vanilla, Cloves and other spices

 

Ginger, Turmeric, Candlenuts, Spices and Kopi Luwak coffee beans

 

Fruits include rambutan, mangoes, mangosteen, bananas, jackfruit, passion fruit, nangka, pineapple, salak (snakeskin fruit), duku, kelengkeng, wani (white mango), papaya, longan, melon, oranges, custard-apple, coconut and durian.

Pineapple

 

Cacao

 

Vanilla

Children are trained from young, how to pollinate the flowers of the vanilla to create the pods. When vanilla was introduced to the Spice Islands from Mexico, they forgot to import the insect that naturally pollinates the flowers. This is one reason why vanilla is so expensive; each flower is pollinated by hand!

Salak — Snakeskin fruit

Salak plant

This was an intriguing tropical fruit that I had never seen before despite extensive travels. They are largely grown in East Bali and really look like they have snake skin. Our driver insisted on buying a few for us to try.

Salak snakeskin fruit

 

Salak fruit peeled

The firm off-white fruit flesh surrounds a brown seed. It has the consistency of young coconut flesh but is sweet with a nutty aroma.

Salak fruit and seed

 

Kopi Luwak civet-poo coffee — Luxury or Myth?

Coffee berries

Kopi Luwak, is coffee made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) known as the ‘Luwak’ or other related civets; then passed through its digestive tract. A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach, proteolytic enzymes react with the beans, producing shorter peptides and more free amino acids.

Luwak palm civet

In the wild, civets choose the best berries mysteriously and probably by smell. That is cited as the reason for the “excellence”of kopi luwak. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defaecated, having kept their shape.

Wild vs. Farmed Civets

The traditional method of collecting faeces from wild civets has given way to intensive farming methods with caged civets. This method of production has raised ethical concerns about the treatment of civets. Intensive farming is also criticised by traditional farmers because the civets do not select what they eat, so the berries, which are fed to them in order to flavour the coffee, are of poor quality compared to beans collected from the wild.

Cost

Kopi Luwak is a form of ‘natural processing’ rather than a variety of coffee but it is still called “one of the most expensive coffees in the world” with retail prices between US$200 – US$1,300 per kilogram in 2010. The price of farmed  kopi luwak — considered low-grade by connoisseurs — in Indonesian supermarkets is upwards from US$100 per kilogram (five times the price of a high quality local Arabica coffee).

As a comparison, Black Ivory coffee (elephant-poo coffee) sold for US$1,100 per kg recently. YES…Elephant Poo!!!

Vietnamese weasel coffee, which is made by collecting coffee beans eaten by wild civets, is sold at US$3,000 per kilogram.

Most customers of these exotic coffees are Asian, especially in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

Food Science Tests

Some critics believe that all kopi luwak is simply bad coffee, purchased for novelty value rather than an intrinsic improved taste. Prof. Massimo Marcone of the University of Guelph in Canada has done extensive chemical tests on the beans without identifying any properties that made them superior for coffee making. He used several professional coffee tasters (cuppers) for a blinded taste test. Although the cuppers could identify kopi luwak as distinct from other coffee samples, they did not grade it as superior, noting that it was less acidic and had less body — tasting “thin”.  Marcone said, “It’s not that people are after that distinct flavour. They are after the rarity of the coffee”.

AlphaLuxe Taste Test

In the interest of our readers, I stepped up to the plate and took one for the team.  Yes — I drank civet-poo coffee…

First, I studied the terroir of the coffee beans.  The collected civet poo was shown to interested tourists; that captured my “interest”!

Civet droppings with coffee beans inside

After washing and drying, the beans are roasted by hand.

Roasting coffee beans

Next, the roasted beans are ground by pestle and mortar.

Grinding coffee beans

The brew is made and tasted.

We tried both regular Arabica coffee and Kopi Luwak.

Kopi Luwak

Tasting Notes

I’m not an aficionado of coffee but have an experienced nose and palate over years of testing for “Wine, Food and other Epicurean Delights” reports.

I can categorically state, without fear of favour or prejudice that kopi luwak tastes bad. It has almost no enticing aroma compared to regular coffee. The taste is thin and mouth-feel quite unpleasant. Indeed, the expected lack of bitterness and acidity attributed to the civet gastrointestinal enzymatic action is evident and much to the detriment of taste.

I don’t care how much it cost. It was, and pardon my French, absolutely crap!

I mean like “the Emperor’s new clothes” sort of foulness. On the other hand, I suffered no ill health that I could discern, apart from slight nausea. I guess the politically correct conclusion is to say: “The true cost of luxury is the choice that it affords…”

To this end, all you millionaires out there: Be warned and “poo-ceed” with caution!

 

 

 

Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)

Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.

Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).

  • Anthony Tsai

    My mom buys this poop coffee. She said it’s supposed to make you poop after you drink it, so she drinks it when she needs a laxative.

    • alphaadmin

      No comment… 😋