I spent Monday morning drinking "Weasel coffee." Well, that's what they call it in Vietnam,
the rough English translation of cà phê Chồn.
The more formal name is Kopi luwak, or civet coffee. It's one of the world's rarest and thus expensive coffees. I mention it in Holy Grounds, my book on coffee and faith, but never had the opportunity to try it. Until this morning.
Two dear parishioners of mine recently returned from a trip to Vietnam and handed me a small package just before yesterday morning's 8 o'clock service. Frankly, it was even more challenging to say phrases like "innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same" knowing I had some elusive weasel coffee waiting for me in my office.
What makes civet coffee so coveted? In a nutshell: weasel poop. You see, the Asian palm civet loves to eat coffee cherries. But they can't digest the seeds, or what we know as coffee beans. Rather than the normal process of separating the beans from the cherries -- either drying them on beds or running them through tanks of water -- fermentation occurs as they pass through the civet's intestines. After the beans are pooped out, they are then collected.
One of the things that makes this coffee special is that civets are selective in which cherries they consume. They only eat the ripe ones, which is the key to harvesting good coffee. And the story surrounding its discovery is an interesting one. It's said that when Indonesia was under Dutch colonial control, the native farmers were forbidden from harvesting coffee for their own use -- it was seen as a form of financial theft. They noticed the indigenous civets would eat the coffee and then leave beans in their poop. They started collecting them and roasting them, finding the coffee was much better than that which was commercially harvested.
Now, I should mention that there is a darker side to this entire process. As the coffee has become more popular, ethical concerns have been raised by animal activists. Many producers keep civets in cages, force-feeding them coffee cherries. Not exactly in keeping with the vision of civets in the wild enjoying breakfast before their mid-morning poop.
Alas, I'm not sure how my weasel coffee was produced -- I can't read the label. But I'm grateful for the opportunity to try this mythical coffee and if you're interested, there are companies out there that sell certified wild luwak coffee.
But how did it taste? A lot of coffee experts feel it's among the most overrated coffees out there, at least for the price. I found it to be very smooth, which is one of the oft-cited characteristics of kopi luwak coffee, with a sweet and citrusy flavor.
The only real ethical dilemma remaining, is whether to give some to Bryna BEFORE telling her how it was produced. Something tells me this wouldn't go over well...