An article in today's New York Times gives interesting information on kopi luwak, the ridiculously overpriced coffee made of beans that have been through a civet's digestive tract, which supposedly ferments them to a sweet smoothness that drives connosseurs wild, and makes them willing to pay the incredible prices. Here's how the writer, Norimitsu Onishi, describes it:
Costing hundreds of dollars a pound, these beans are found in the droppings of the civet, a nocturnal, furry, long-tailed catlike animal that prowls Southeast Asia's coffee-growing lands for the tastiest, ripest coffee cherries. The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit -- essentially, incipient coffee beans -- though only after they have been fermented in the animal's stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste. As connoisseurs in the United States, Europe and East Asia have discovered civet coffee in recent years, growing demand is fueling a gold rush in the Philippines and Indonesia, the countries with the largest civet populations.
Seven or so years ago, kopi luwak began appearing in the news as it began being offered by specialty coffee roasters and a very few coffee houses, with a reputation as the caviar of the coffee world, with prices to match. A lot of people called to ask me what it tasted like. So I procured a few samples and ground and brewed them.
The answer: a bland, neutral coffee that tasted as though it had been treated to remove acid, with a distinctly sweet aftertaste. I found it distinctly unpleasant. It reminded me of horse meat, which I've had on numerous occasions in Italy, and which is very much like lean beef or bison but with an almost candied overtone that is somehow disturbing, probably because you know you're eating something your friends and cousins (or you) likes to ride and pet--the shibboleth against eating animals with names.