Sunday, October 09, 2005

Coffee Cats

It's not much of a stretch to say that we are a coffee crazy society. Caffeine fuels the daily buzz of commerce, and you can't really be a tech geek without an espresso addiction. Have you ever seen a coffee withdrawal rage? It's truly a scary sight, often associated with bleeding from the nostrils and frothing at the mouth (non whipped), so buy your damn espresso drinks fast, and don't make others wait too long in the Starbucks line. If you do wait too long in line it's called getting Starbucked. There are more coffee varieties, blends, and brews made from the beloved beans than ever before along with innumerable cafes dotting the city landscapes. You can see three Starbucks cafes in the same city block and you have to wonder what the marketing strategy is, but who would argue with their success? Just check the history of their stock price, and annual revenues from across the world. Coffee drinking is truly a viral phenomenon, so of course there has to be a coffee out there that boggles the imagination in terms of origin and price.

There is one type of very rare, expensive coffee called Kopi Luwak that has some connoisseurs turning their heads. The next time you say that a cheap cup of java tastes like crap you probably won't be talking about Kopi Luwak, but actually that wouldn't be far from the truth. That's because Kopi Luwak is made from the digested, and excreted coffee beans deposited on the jungle floor by the Luwak, a small, "cat like", marsupial also known as the parodoxurus, or common palm civit resident in Indonesia. These animals climb the coffee trees, and eat only the ripest coffee cherries. In the process of digesting an outer shell the inner coffee bean remains intact, and apparently the enzymes in the civit's stomach add extra flavor to the bean through fermentation. The resulting coffee or "poopachino" purportedly has a heavy body, and a strong, musty (?something to do with anal gland secretions), caramel taste with a complex and unusual flavor. At prices of up to $300 U.S. per pound you probably won't see it on the shelves at your local grocery store any time soon, but a few commercial coffee shops are starting to take notice.

The Luwaks used to be considered a nuisance or pest in Indonesia, and that put their lives at risk, so perhaps coffee production has actually helped a species survive and thrive for once. It would seem that small treasures can be found in unusual places and under strange circumstances just like picking a few beans up off the jungle floor for a cup of java. There must be secret laboratories somewhere working feverishly to chemically duplicate the civit's natural fermentation process so that cheap, similar tasting, synthetic Luwak coffee can be brewed. Coming to a Starbucks near you!

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