The Cruel Realities of Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. Poo Coffee) + Adventures in Coffee Reduction

You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.

 Balinese coffee

I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around. 

 coffee plant

I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.

 kopi luwak beans

Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.

 Coffee samples

In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.

 cocoa beans in BaliBali mystery plantspices in bali

Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.

 

I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!

spiced coffee and red wine reduction.jpg

Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup strong coffee
  • 1/3 cup red cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass

Directions

While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.

Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.

Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lotus flower in Ubud

Lotus flower

Winter Heat in Bali

flower in Bali with bee 

 Winter always seems to be a run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off sort of season- Christmas shopping, vacations, New Years plans, work parties, house parties and numerous deadlines. We all find our ways to survive the cold and for me, cooking is one of the best paths to warmth.

 flower in Bali

Another great way to get warm is to go on vacation! To Bali! On the beach! Bali warmed (burnt) me for five whole days of perfect perfection. It was a trip of several firsts that I won’t soon forget.

 spotlight flower

I like to think I’m a fairly experienced traveler who strives to experience new things and meet new people. I’ve Couchsurfed in stranger’s homes and made lasting friendships with people all around the planet and I always try the traditional dishes and cuisine, strange or not, but this was my first time traveling by myself. Yup. Nearly thirty countries, three continents and this was my first time going it alone. I’ve used friends/lovers as comfort crutches when traveling in the past but this time I didn’t feel uncomfortable when I realized that no one could go with me. I surprised myself when I found the ability to navigate a map, keep my head when I got lost and start up conversations with others. For some people, these skills come easily. For me, they had to be learned and experienced.

 coconut, snorkel and rum

I snorkeled with sea turtles just off the Gili Islands. I’ll never forget this. I surfaced to clear the fog from my snorkels and a man a few meters was yelling at me. He had a thick accent so I didn’t understand what he said, but then he asked if I wanted to see it. I figured if a stranger is yelling at me to come look at something in the ocean, I should go. I approached the scene and screamed underwater when I saw a MASSIVE turtle swimming around and munching on grass. I was close enough to touch it at one point, but didn’t. I was so content being close to it. The experience brought me to tears.

This one's for dad.
This one’s for dad.

Gili sunset 

I dined constantly on fresh tropical fruit. This was not a first, but a noteworthy part of my trip. Pineapple,  coconut, papaya, snakeskin fruit, passion fruit, some weird little red thing, mango, you name it, I ate it (except bananas). I couldn’t stop. It seemed like a fabulous idea at the time, but it returned to kick me in the ass at the end. Let’s just say, I’m really glad I had an aisle seat on my flight home, as my regular trips to the bathroom would have been a lot to ask of someone else to roll out of their comfy airplane seat.

gorgeous tropical fruitfruit stand in Bali 

Needless to say, my next few postings will be highly influenced by Bali, Balinese cuisine and/or culture and will most likely include a few photos of my experience there. I wish I had something more poetic to say at this point, but for now, I’d rather just let the photos do the talking. Do enjoy. Let me know what you think.

volcano in Balimonkey statue in UbudSacred monkey forest wall Ubudflower offerings in Bali