Poop-coffee war brewing

Lovers of the world’s most
expensive coffee, found half-digested in the dung of the wild civet, fear that
its unique taste may be spoiled by planned farming of the animals.

Collectors hunt for the coffee
cherries in the droppings of civets in Indonesian plantations to make a brew
enriched by the bushy-tailed, cat-like animal’s stomach that sells for as much
as $770 a kg in London.

But as demand rises, producers have
spotted an opportunity to increase supply by breeding the civets in cages and
feeding them the coffee cherries. Production has started on a small scale.

Experts say the flavour relies on
the civet’s finicky feeding habits and varied diet to create the enzymes that
enrich fermentation of the beans, so caged animals would produce a different
coffee.

“I think wild civets offer
more variants to the taste,” said specialty coffee expert Edi Sumadi.
“Inside the cage, the civets’ diet is regulated, they’re not free to pick
following their instincts, so the enzyme inside their digestive system is
monotonous.”

Perkebunan Nusantara XII sells the
civet coffee for $130 a kg from factories or $250 a kg in cafes on Indonesia’s
main island of Java, though the price multiplies as exports reach countries
such as Korea, Japan, Italy and the United States.

“It’s far tastier than any
other coffee,” said the firm’s Danu Rianto. “To maintain high
standards we have a standard operating procedure.”

The coffee does not appeal to
everyone. Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took some as a gift on
a visit to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, only to find local
media dubb it “crappucino”.

But now that Indonesia’s highest
Islamic authority has certified the brew as no longer “haram”, or
banned for Muslims, in the world’s most populous Muslim nation — so long as the
beans are well washed — producers, including Perkebunan Nusantara XII, are
eyeing a bigger market.

In Jakarta’s cafes, a cup of civet
coffee, known as “kopi luwak”, sells for around $9 to $11, and is
attracting more interest.

“The taste is very smooth, the
smell nice, and hey, it’s not entirely haram after you wash it,” said
Andrea Guna, a first-time taster.

“The price is double that of
Starbucks, but the taste is way more than double.”

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