Thursday, 3 September 2009
Weird Food...or Drink? Kopi Luak Coffee
It takes me, J. Hardspear de la Azotea, a long time to select a topic for a weird food post. I do not want it to take the form of “did-you-know-that-in-Outer-East-Mongolia-Yak-penis-broth-is-considered-a delicacy...’ type of posts. If you look at previous weird food entries, you should be able to see what I am trying to do here. So it takes a bit of research and a lot of thought before I do a weird food post. Kopi Luak coffee is now better known because of the movie, ‘The Bucket List’ where Jack Nicholson’s character has a particular affinity for this coffee. As a result of this affinity of his and Morgan Freeman’s character’s mockery of the origin of this coffee, they achieve one of the items on the list, which is laughing till they cry. So, from Wikipedia...the story behind Kopi Luak. Kopi Luak (pronounced [ˈkopi ˈloo - uck]) or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and other related civet populations. The civets eat the berries, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. This process takes place on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, in the Philippines (where the product is called Motit Coffee in the Cordillera, or Kape Alamid in Tagalog areas) and in East Timor (locally called kafé-laku). Local lore in Vietnam has given the name "weasel coffee" to civet coffee, in what is considered the closest recognizable translation to English. Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee, and luak is a local name of the Asian Palm Civet. The common palm civet is normally found in Ceylon, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, India and Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), and Southern China, south to Sumatra and Java, east to the Philippines, Borneo, Celebes and the Lesser Sunda Island. In Malaysia, the common palm civets are wild-spread on the mainland, in Langkawi, Pulau Penang, and Pulau Tioman. Palm civets are primarily frugivorous, feeding on berries and pulpy fruits, including those of Ficus trees and plams. They also eat small vertebrates, insects, ripe fruits and seeds. Civets are often casually referred to as "cats" or "weasels" (Vietnam typically) but they are not in the cat or weasel family. In Sumatra they are in the family of Viverridae, and in the Philippines they are known as Paradoxorus Philippinensis, an endangered species currently aided and protected by the cultivation of civet coffee. Civets consume the red coffee cherries, when available, containing the fruit and seed, and they tend to pick the ripest and sweetest fruit. Thus there is a natural selection for the ripest coffee beans. The inner bean of the berry is not digested, but a unique combination of enzymes in the stomach of the civet add to the coffee's flavor by breaking down the proteins that give coffee its bitter taste. The beans are defecated, still covered in some inner layers of the berry. The beans are washed, and given only a light roast so as to not destroy the complex flavors that develop through the process. Light roasting is considered particularly desirable in coffees that do not exhibit bitterness, and the most pronounced characteristic of Kopi Luwak is a marked reduction in bitterness. In early days, the beans would be collected in the wild from a "latrine," or a specific place where the civet would defecate as a means to mark its territory, and these latrines would be a predictable place for local gatherers to find the beans. More commonly today, civet farms allow civets to roam within defined boundaries, and the feces produced are then processed and the coffee beans offered for sale. Many consumers question whether civet coffee is safe and sanitary, and whether it contains e-coli bacteria. The civet is not known as a carrier of e-coli or other bacteria potentially dangerous to humans, and there is no public record of any illness conveyed by civet coffee. It is professed by producers that the enzymes in the digestive tract, as well as the rigorous washing and sun drying of the beans, help to eliminate bacteria, along with the high temperature roasting process, and that the coffee is entirely safe. Kopi Luak is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for between $100 and $600 USD per pound, and is sold mainly in Japan and the United States by weight, and served in coffeehouses in Southeast Asia by the cup. It is increasingly becoming available elsewhere, though supplies are limited; only 1,000 pounds (450 kg) at most make it into the world market each year.