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Specialty Coffee

Anyone who lives in a big city these days has seen first-hand the proliferation of 4-dollar-a-shot coffee shops. Thanks to Starbucks and their like coffee has become the number 2 commodity in the world (petroleum is number 1).

Grown in dozens of countries world wide the coffee 'bean' is actually the pit of a coffee 'cherry'. In normal circumstances the cherries are picked at the peak of ripeness and once the outer fruit is removed the coffee bean is ready for roasting, grinding and transporting to your local café.

However, there are three small islands in the Indonesian Archipelago called Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi where this process takes a bizarre twist. You see coffee is coveted by not only by us humans but a local creature called a Palm Civet. The Palm Civet is a tree dwelling marsupial with a particular fondness for the local variety of coffee cherries.

Of course, these cat-sized coffee aficionados don't have the time to peal the cherries and eat just the fruit, so they swallow them whole. Well guess what comes out the other end? Yes that's right, a non-digested, semi-fermented coffee bean.

It started as a way for locals who weren't brave enough, or too lazy to climb the coffee trees, to have coffee too (mind you some bravery is required to sift through mountains of Civet droppings for coffee beans!).

Through the magic of international trade what was once a source of free coffee beans for impoverished locals turned into the most expensive beverage in the world. It is marketed as a coffee variety called "Kopi luwak". Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee and luwak is their name for the coffee eating Civet.

Kopi luwak sells for a whopping $75 a pound and it is estimated that the worldwide annual production is only about 500 pounds. Japan is the largest importer of this specialty coffee and it is now available in the United States and many other countries as well.

The flavor of the coffee is described as complex and very rich. This special flavor is attributed to the natural fermentation process that occurs as the beans travel the length of the Civet's digestive tract.

You can be sure that you won't be finding Kopi luwak for sale at your local Starbucks any time soon but if you are ever in a café and you notice the daily special is "Kopi luwak" and is going for $5 a cup, how could you not give it a try?


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