Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Caffeinated Pleasure - Fancy a Catpooccino?

How extreme could one goes when it comes to being an adventurous eater? At this very second, I could think of one gentleman who hosts my all time favorite TV show, Bizzare Foods on Travel channel, Andrew Zimmern. You might be nodding along with me right now, oh yes, he pushes it to an extreme. He travels the world in search for regional cuisines some of which considered to be strange, exotic or, most of time, disgusting to some people. Lizard sake in Japan, deep fried fertilized duck egg in the Philippines, cow's heart in Morocco, Mopane warms in Namibia, you name a few, without hesitation, Andrew eats them. He, in a way, is my idol when it comes to traveling and having courage to try new and or unusual cuisines. I consider myself adventurous but just an amateur comparing to Andrew. I have ( made myself ) tried a few, Tarantula spiders, red ants along with their larvas and some fried bugs on the trip to Cambodia, occasionally  some unusual meat, some stinky cheese and tofu etc. For sure I wouldn't start my day with those exotic items. I will be so content with just some eggs and a good cup of Joe. Speaking of which, an opportunity came knocking last month for me to taste and try what I  heard about, for the first time, many years back in New York City, Kopi Luwak.

Kopi Luwak, originated from Indonesia, it has its history almost as long as the coffee production culture in the country. In early 18th century during the Dutch establishment in Indonesia, the Dutch prohibited farmers and plantation workers from picking the coffee berries directly from the trees for their own use. I could only imagine how curious I would have been if I were one of the workers. To avoid any trouble with the Dutch, the workers collected only those berries that laid on the ground underneath and around the coffee trees. Some dropped down from the trees naturally while some were from these little tree animals droppings. Yes, you heard it right, droppings. The workers then washed them thoroughly, dried, light roasted and then brewed to enjoy a cup of coffee of those beans collected from the animals' feces while the bosses were sipping ones cropped from the trees. Doesn't it sound appetizing?

The little animal we are referring to here is the Asian palm civet, an Indonesian forest animal, somewhere in between a civet cat and a weasel. They are " frugivorous ", feeding on pulpy fruits and berries. The coffee beans that passed through the civet's digestive tract, semi digested and eventually excreted are described to have a very unique taste of being earthy, heavy bodied yet not bitter and musty. Sound intriguing to me! Because the production is limited therefore Kopi Luwak command a premium price tag. The beans are sold at about US$700 a kilogram. One brewed cup would cost about US$40-100. Ouch!

I am a coffee lover, quite selective kind but probably not a coffee connoisseur. I appreciate coffee for its wonderful aroma and taste yet not ready to spend US$40 on a cup of coffee. With that price I could get, may be, 2 bottles of a decent wine, I think I choose the later one.

Just a few times I came across someone mentioned about the coffee. When I first heard about the Kopi Luwak was from my Japanese friend in New York, I was amazed and, frankly, a little disgusted. Few years ago the name was mentioned in the movie" The Bucket List ". And just recently, on the trip to Bali, our tour guide recommended us to visit coffee plantation where we can have a taste of the Kopi Luwak, or what he casually called a Cat-Poo-ccino, for just about US$5 a cup. I thought to myself - Now! we are talking! But as we all know, there's no such thing as free lunch. I suspected it was probably a marketing technique of the plantation to get people's foot in the door. Though a bit skeptical we decided to check the place out.

The little guys' products
The plantation we went was located just a few kilometers from the famous Ubud town. The scenery along the way was breath taking, very green and serene with dots of small local woodcraft shops along the way. When we arrived, we were greeted by the staff who accompanied us for a small tour of their plantation. It was not very large site. There was area where they use to give visitors a brief education on coffee harvesting and processing. There were a few of civets in the large enclosure, size of a small living room. The staff said they were there for visitors to view the animal and the "products". As we walked along with the staff to the tasting terrace, I saw a few more civets, each was caged in the small cell of about 2 ft x 2ft. I asked whether all civets were caged in this plantation. His answer was yes.

Coffee and tea tasting set
As we were settling down at the tasting terrace staff offered us a coffee & tea tasting set and wondered if we would like to try the Kopi Luwak. I was debating. It was very tempting I would say but it wasn't the best day for me the take coffee as my stomach was hurting a bit also I wasn't sure I liked what I saw just now, caged civets. Although we made it all the way up here, at the end we decided to opt for just their standard tasting set and just enjoy the view of the rice terrace right next to the property. Before we left, we purchased couple of products from their shop but not the Kopi Luwak which were priced about $US40-60 per 100 gram. Ah! hello! I was there right at the origin of it,  not in Japan, not in US and how come the coffee carried almost the same price tag.

Bali rice terrace

Somehow what I saw at plantation in Bali reminded me of documentaries on meat/poultry productions in US. It was an animal cruelty act which, in my very personal opinion, should not be supported. Back here in Singapore, I did some more research on the Kopi Luwak productions and what not. There were some articles supported my thinking. The high price of coffee probably was the motivation for any unethical production practices.

With all the flood of information, I still keep Kopi Luwak on my to try list. But just a kind reminder that this coffee costs about US$700 a kilogram, the whole month salary of the new bachelor degree graduated folks in Thailand. In some reports claimed that the amount of coffee sold under Kopi Luwak name was more than the estimate amount of what being produced. So the coffee you spent or will be speding a fortune for might not be the genuine products after all. I will and would suggest, if you plan to buy some, it is better to conduct your research into ethics of the production before making decision to buy from any suppliers. You also have option to go for the new developed synthetic enzyme soaked coffee beans. According to the producers, the coffee have a taste close to Kopi Luwak with a competitive price to the ordinary coffee. More importantly, the production of this particular coffee involves no caging of animals, no animal cruelty acts...

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