Wednesday, March 3, 2010


What do these animals have in common? If you know that kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee and/or you have been following the weird news for several years, you may surmise that these are the species whose poop is gathered to retrieve undigested coffee beans - which are then roasted, brewed, and marketed. The most expensive coffees in the world have passed through the digestive systems of the Asian palm civet (1st image), jacu bird (2nd image), and muntjak (3rd image).

Jacu bird coffee is a product of Brazil and sells for roughly $12/pound. Jacu birds are chicken-like forest birds native to South America that eat fruits and berries, which include ripe coffee cherries. Because birds' digestive systems differ from mammals, and because food passes so quickly through them, the coffee beans do not absorb chemicals that might alter the properties of the bean. Jacu bird coffee therefore does not taste much different than traditionally-harvested Brazilian coffee. It is mocked by some and condoned by others, who laud the farmers for not treating the endangered birds as pests and for maintaining rather than destroying their forest habitat.

Kopi muntjak (or muncak) is harvested in the wild from the dung of the Southeastern Asian barking deer.

But the best-known of these brews is Kopi Luwak, made from beans that have passed through a civet, and available in roasted bean form for up to $600/pound or by the cup for upwards of $33. Unlike jacu birds, civet cats - which once simply dropped the beans on the forest floor - may now be domesticated to process them, so you may be supporting animal cruelty by purchasing the coffee. "As foie gras is to geese, so is Kopi Luwak to civets," reads a comment on Boing Boing. Here are some reviews of the flavor:
  • "It's the best coffee I've ever tasted. It's really good, heavy with a caramel taste, heavy body. It smells musty and junglelike green, but it roasts up real nice." ~Richard Karno, owner of The Novel Café in Santa Monica, California
  • "It has a little of everything pleasurable in all coffees: earthy, musty tone, the heaviest bodied I've ever tasted. It's almost syrupy, and the aroma is very unique." ~Mark Mountanos, president of M.P. Mountanos Inc., the first importer of Kopi Luwak into the U.S.
  • "The aroma was rich and strong, and the coffee was incredibly full bodied, almost syrupy. It was thick, with a hint of chocolate, and lingered on the tongue with a long, clean aftertaste." ~coffee critic Chris Rubin
The complex flavor and aroma of Kopi Luwak is attributed to the actions of the digestive enzymes affecting the proteins, which break down and leach out of the brittler, darker, and micro-pitted coffee beans, reducing bitterness. Canadian food researcher Massimo Marcone of the University of Guelph in Ontario has confirmed the changes using a scanning electron microscope, colorimeter, electrophoresis, and an electronic nose.

Care for a "crappuccino"?!

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