Many of us like to wake up to a piping hot cup of coffee. There are those who feel that the day goes awry, when they miss their morning coffee. With varieties like Americano, Espresso, Latte, Mocha, Cappuccino, Turkish and last but not the least, South Indian filter coffee to pick from, coffee breaks are all the more enjoyable and invigorating. But did you know that world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak costs roughly about US $50-80 a cup!!! Ever since my friend in FB brought up this topic, I have had a burning desire to write about it. So, what makes it so special and pricey? Let me spill the beans in the order of pleasant first to gross, later.
Kopi Luwak lacks the bitterness of other coffees and has a unique aromatic flavour. Those who have drunk it describe it as the best coffee with attributes like syrupy consistency, chocolaty-caramel taste and rich aroma. This exotic beverage owes its flavour to the unusual way the beans are processed. Kopi Luwak as the Indonesian name suggests, is coffee processed by Luwaks or Asian Palm Civets. These civets devour the choicest of coffee berries, among other things for food. The pulp is digested whereas the beans undergo desirable changes in the digestive tract before being excreted. The clumps of beans shrouded in the civet excreta are gathered by the farmers. They are cleaned, dried and most importantly given just a gentle roast to preserve the flavours. The beans are then ground and brewed into the world’s tastiest coffee. Those who are inquisitive about how on earth this Kopi Luwak culture evolved, should read its history.
A study on the physicochemical properties of Kopi Luwak, published in Food Research International, revealed the following changes as responsible for its flavour:
- The proteolytic enzymes in the civet’s digestive tract seep through the beans. They break down the proteins into short chain peptides and free aminoacids. Most of these end products leach out of the beans during the journey through the gastro intestinal tract of the Luwak, resulting in low protein beans. Lower the protein in beans, lesser the bitterness in coffee.
- The Lactic acid bacteria in the gut of the civet ferment the beans, endowing them with a superior flavour.
- Malting of the beans in the gut add on to the flavour.
- The Maillard browning that occurs during roasting further enriches the flavour.
The beans remain intact all through these phenomena. Massimo Marcone, Food scientist at the University of Guelph, and the author of above mentioned study, reassures people with apprehensions about Kopi Luwak by stating, “Tests revealed that the Kopi Luwak beans had negligible amounts of enteric (pathogenic) organisms associated with feces.” He also added, “The low bacteria count is likely due to the washing process performed by local Indonesians collecting the beans. The “cherry” or endocarp surrounding the bean is not completely digested by the Luwak; it must be removed during processing. This probably leads to a more thorough washing process”. So, the extensive washing, sun-drying and roasting (350-400°F) are treatments adequate to render the beans safe for human consumption. The fact that there has not been any public record reporting illness from drinking Kopi Luwak reinforces the scientist’s statements.
The unusual processing, laborious task of collecting the beans clubbed with the decrease in the Luwak population due to poaching, explain the low production of this coffee and also why this gourmet brew burns our pockets.
Never mind the adjectives “exotic”, “gourmet” and the like attached to Kopi Luwak. Tell me frankly, despite learning how Kopi Luwak is made, would you still love this coffee?
If you are one of those die-hard coffee lovers, who is keen on tasting this exquisite coffee, do so when in Indonesia, for it costs comparatively cheaper there – just US $5-8, a cup!
Image via Wikipedia