Here’s how it works: Civets eat the fruit of coffee trees, called cherries, but they don’t digest the pits, which are the coffee beans we know and love. Before the beans exit the animal, enzymes in the civet’s stomach work them over and neutralize the proteins that give coffee its bitter taste. After the beans are discharged, coffee growers collect the waste then wash and roast the beans, taking care to preserve the complex flavors that developed along the way.
The result is coffee that’s flavorful and almost entirely without bitterness – not to mention rare and very expensive. “Strong, but not at all burnt or acidic or bitter,” says coffee aficionado Len Brault, who brewed some kopi luwak (also called civet coffee or weasel coffee) for us. Len runs Heirloom Coffee, which imports its Bantai civet coffee from the Philippines, where civets have been saved from at-risk areas and brought to roam free in coffee plantations. If you’re feeling less adventurous we’re also offering a simulated civet coffee, Trung Nguyen’s Legendee Gold, that mimics the enzyme process without involving any animal digestive tracts.
We have Daily Grommet friend Elaine Canina to thank for this find. Elaine works at agricultural biotech start-up Agrivida and regularly attends Len’s coffee tasting events. She convinced Len to get in touch with us, right around the time Grommet regulars Matt Charde and Steve Curran were planning to dare us to try civet coffee. We’re grateful for all their efforts – and a little bit in awe of this unusual delicacy.