Civet coffee, known in Vietnam as cà phê chồn and in Indonesia as kopi luwak, has become popular in recent years despite or perhaps because of its alarming production method. As you probably know, Asian civets eat the beans (in their ‘cherry’ or fruit form) and, after processing them with intestinal enzymes, they poop them out whole. Southeast Asian coffee farmers harvest the poop, retrieve the beans, and from there go on to make the smoothest, richest coffee in the world. First viewed in the west as scary or hilarious, civet coffee has taken off as a luxury product.
I’ve tried civet coffee (or, as it is called around our house, weasel-butt coffee) a few times and enjoyed it, but wasn’t sure if I was getting the real thing or one of the many fakes that are exported. After all, it didn’t cost that much more than a regular Viet coffee and to be honest, it didn’t taste that much different either. It’s a bit like Blue Mountain coffee: if you’re not drinking it in Jamaica or paying an unreasonable amount, it’s probably not the real thing.
Moreover, friends alerted me to the cruel conditions of many civet coffee farms. While the beans are traditionally foraged, the popularity of the drink has led to civets being kept in tiny cages where their, erm, processed beans are easier to collect. I don’t eat battery chickens and I don’t want to think of my coffee involving cruelty either.
I was thrilled, therefore, to read Karen Coates’ recent article about a scientific breakthrough (ok, slight exaggeration) that has enabled coffee-makers to copy the civet’s digestive enzyme process chemically. Vietnamese coffee company Trung Nguyen are selling this synthetic civet coffee online in the US and Europe, and they’ll sell you the little metal filters you need to make Viet coffee too. I probably can’t compare Trung Nguyen’s coffee to real cà phê chồn but it was undoubtedly better than the other versions I’ve had: rich, chocolatey, sweet with condensed milk.
Until my trip to Vietnam (hopefully later this year), I’ll be adding un-civet coffee to my regular afternoon routine.
Civet photo by W. Djatmiko. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 3.0 Licence.