In Which I Drink Civet Coffee

When it comes to exotic foodstuffs, sometimes it becomes difficult to know whether something is merely weird or if someone is actually putting you on. Take Kopi Luwak, for example, known in the vernacular as “civet poop coffee.” My wife and I had dinner with friends a while back and in the course of the evening’s conversation we got to talking about this stuff. Supposedly delicious and rumored to be the finest coffee in the world, the beans for this particular brew are collected from the business end of the Asian Palm Civet, a small Indonesian critter that looks like something that Paris Hilton might keep as a pet. The civet eats the coffee fruit for its pulp, while the seed (what we know as the “bean”) gets (allegedly) transmogrified during the digestive process into something Magically Delicious.

Nobody could agree on what a civet actually was (opinions ranged from monkey to weasel) but we could all agree that this coffee was weird. Fast forward to Christmas, when my wife and I opened a gift from our friends, which turned out to be a canister of Alamid-brand Philippine Civet Coffee. We had a good laugh and set the tin near the espresso machine, and promptly continued to grind our usual New Orleans Coffee Roaster’s blend.

There it sat, untouched, as a novelty item. But I couldn’t ignore it. Each morning I’d see the little civet face on the logo staring at me, looking for all the world like a raccoon cross-bred with a daschund. I was intrigued by its cuddly mien, along with the earnest marketing blurb on the label:

“The civet chooses, by way of its sense of smell, the sweetest and ripest coffee berries. Just before sunrise, forest dwellers climb the mountain and pick the civet droppings on the forest floors.”

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. Clearly, I had to do something. The tin was mocking me. Also, the particular blend touted itself as “Smooth Classic.” I knew it was time.

I saw that my friend and colleague Todd Price wrote an article on Sucré’s super high-end Slayer coffee machine, a boutique contraption at their new Lakeside location costing about as much as a certified pre-owned Lexus. I reasoned that if anything would bring out the subtle nuances and elegant top notes of this coffee, it would be the Slayer. So with Sucré owner Joel Dondis’s permission, my wife and I drove out to the new store to taste the goods. The Slayer is beautiful, with more chrome than a classic Chevy and elegant wooden paddles above the group heads for controlling the water’s flow over the grinds. Under the skillful hands of their barista, I soon had a steaming double shot of Kopi Luwak sitting before me. I inhaled deeply, drawing in its aroma. I admired the thick crema on top, akin to the head on a fresh pulled pint of Guinness. A pause. Then, carefully, a sip.

It tasted like … like … espresso.

Oh well. Perhaps the subtleties and nuances were lost on me and I couldn’t appreciate it. I couldn’t discern much difference between this and the shots I pull at home. Rich and full-bodied certainly, but nothing more. I didn’t taste the mountain dew, the notes of the berries, or the scent of the coffee flower blooming in the sunrise. Oh well. The main thing is that I didn’t taste the civet, either. Which was, of course, my primary concern.

If you are interested in your own steaming mug of Kopi Luwak, visit the website.

Jay Forman is the dining editor for New Orleans Magazine and the author of a monthly Table Talk column.

 

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