Friday, May 18, 2007

Great coffee, just don't ask where it came from

Townsville, Australia

At $50 a cup, it's been called the world's Number One coffee - but perhaps "Number Two" might be more appropriate.

Luwak coffee, or kopi luwak, is made in Indonesia from beans that have been eaten, partly-digested then excreted by a small, cat-like marsupial called the luwak, or Asian palm civet (paradoxus hermaphroditus).

The excretions, resembling slabs of peanut brittle around 10cm long, are then dried and broken up, cleaned and roasted, the result looking not unlike regular coffee beans.

Increasingly popular in the United States and Japan, the $50 cups of luwak coffee are available in Australia only at the Heritage Tea Rooms in the Hervey Range just west of Townsville, where "everyone calls it cat poo coffee," according to Michelle Sharpe, who runs the cafe with husband Allan.

Perhaps a dozen people a month try out their smooth, sweet brew, which the Sharpes have not yet promoted or advertised since it was first on the menu last November, relying on word-of-mouth.

The cafe's website is currently being updated to include it.

Comments have been "99 per cent favourable," especially because the digestive juices in the luwak's stomach have removed the bitterness associated with some types of normally-processed coffees.

"People who willingly pay the $50 are uplifted by the thrill of the experience," Allan Sharpe says, adding that it's "the world's rarest and most exclusive coffee."

Customers are rewarded with a "certificate of experience" dated and witnessed - just like those presented to people who've climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge or flown over the Antarctic.

But the less adventurous (or less affluent) often decline to try the luwak coffee, saying "you couldn't pay me to drink that," Michelle went on.

You can brew it yourself!

Gift boxes of luwak coffee also imported from Indonesia include the animal's droppings wrapped in plastic - which the Sharpes say are treated with gamma rays by quarantine officials on arrival in Australia.

The boxes, including 250g of coffee and the droppings encased in plastic, retail at $160.

The coffee is grown in the Indonesian islands of Java, Sulawesi and Sumatra, also in parts of the Philippines, Vietnam and southern India.

Annual world production is believed to be only around 300kg, with a market price of around $US1,000 per kilogram.

Fruit is a favourite food of the luwak, along with insects and small mammals.

The cats, which weight up to 5kg, feast on the ripe coffee berries, and their faeces containing the inner beans are harvested by hand, washed and lightly roasted so as not to affect the complex flavours developed during the processing.

Allan Sharpe recently introduced his luwak coffee to a media lunch in Brisbane.

Peer pressure and the fact that it was free, led to your correspondent gallantly downing a cup of the smooth, dark brown liquid which, as the experts promised, was smoothly pleasant with no bitter after-taste.

No need for the Quickeze - and no subsequent effects later.....

Writers around the world have had some fun with the exotic brew; among their reviews recorded on the Internet:

"I mentioned it to friends over a game of poker and their reactions varied from 'yuk' to 'you are bloody kidding, right?' I fed it to three of them and everyone loved it. All hail the mighty luwak."

"If you have a true coffee lover in your life then baby, this coffee is for them."

"It's as good as my private life is bad. this is the kind of coffee you renounce your religion and sell your child for."

"Here's the straight poop on luwak coffee."

"Another cup of poop, please."

Originally posted on the Fairfax Australia

(no credit was given to the writer...something we had to credit)