How far would you go when it comes to gastronomic adventures? Here in North America, we by and large stay away from foods that wriggle or writhe, that have come in contact with a cockroach or that have started to putrefy.
We will, or at least some of us will, drink coffee brewed from the dropping of an exotic animal and pay dearly for the privilege. The Indonesian palm civet, a catlike omnivore also known as a luwak, prowls the coffee plantations of Sumatra and eats only the ripest cherries from the trees. It digests the juicy red fruit covering the beans but not the beans themselves, which pass relatively undisturbed through the creature's gastrointestinal tract.
The beans do ferment somewhat from the enzymatic action of the animals' stomach acids. This process mirrors the efforts of coffee processors who ferment premium beans before roasting them in order to lower their acidity. The droppings are left on the jungle floor, where they are collected.
The extracted beans make their way to J. Martinez & Co. Coffee Merchants of Atlanta, where they sell out routinely to customers willing to shell out up to $300 a pound for this coffee treat called kopi luwak.
Martinez calls the flavor "musky" and "spicy," with overtones of cardamom. "I couldn't drink it every day," he says.
Corby Kummer, author of "The Joy of Coffee" wouldn't care to try the exotic brew ever again. "I found it mysteriously and disturbingly smooth tasting," he says. "And there was something wrong sweet about it. Frankly, it makes you a little ill when you think why that might be."
Kummer thinks the demand for kopi luwak is less about flavor than about the thrill of the unknown.
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