kopi luwak

Pronunciation: [KOH-pee LOO-wak]

This exceedingly exotic coffee commands the highest prices on the planet. The coffee plants grow on the Indonesian islands of Java, Sulawesi and Sumatra. Kopi is Indonesian for "coffee" and luwak is the local name for a marsupial (the common palm civet or paradoxurus); therefore, "civet coffee." What makes this coffee so unique is that the civet eats only the ripest of coffee berries, which are deposited relatively whole in the animal's feces, forming a log of berries. This might only be a colorful curiosity except for the fact that the enzymes in the animal's digestive tract ostensibly impact the coffee berry by eliminating bitterness and enriching the flavor. Why the natives ever thought to collect and wash the marsupial's droppings is still a mystery. Nevertheless, kopi luwak is produced by lightly roasting the cleaned beans. The resulting coffee is described by some as smooth, rich, heavy and full bodied with flavors of caramel and chocolate. Naturally, naysayers assert that the coffee's reputation is simply hype and there are myriad coffees just as good or better. There's a similar coffee produced in the Philippines called kape alamid and a small quantity from south India called karibeck kapi. Vietnam produces a version called weasel coffee (the product, as you may have guessed, of weasels), however today a synthetically processed imitation is more likely to be found. Kopi Luwak is available on a very limited basis at specialty coffee retailers.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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