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.

 

 

 

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Simple Chocolate Mousse with Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt and Cocoa Nibs + Cherry Blossoms in Seoul

chocolate mousse with pink peppercorns and cocoa nibs 

Spring in Seoul has brought along a reemergence of cherry blossoms and (for me) chocolate (not that my relationship with chocolate ever actually went into hibernation… but … whatever).

Here’s what it looks like right now.

 cherry blossoms 1cherry blossoms 2cherry blossoms 3magnolia blossoms

yellow blossomspink cherry blossoms

 

One of my elementary classes recently read a book called “The Story of Chocolate” by Usborne books, which is a fun little thing full of interesting facts. Most of the books I am forced to read with my students cause uncontrollable eye rolling and confusion on my part. They often include bizarre Korean publications of classics like Pinocchio where our protagonist has a nose made from a sausage and is born from a talking log (a few slight liberties where taken from the original). You can imagine my excitement when I began reading The Story of Chocolate with my students and found I was actually interested and (gasp) learning something.

 

Apparently, the first chocolate eaters were monkeys. The clever little guys ate the luscious white pulp from the cocoa pods and spat out the bitter beans found within. Mayan farmers saw the monkeys doing this and copied them. They continued to discard the beans until they discovered the pleasant aroma coming from the beans that were left to roast in the hot sun. They tried the beans and realized they weren’t so bad after all. The beans were ground into a paste and turned into a drink. Cocoa beans became the drug of choice and were soon worth more than gold. It was even used as a currency. The Mayans eventually shared their secret with Aztec traders, who were conquered by some Spanish guy who stole a bunch of beans and brought them back to Europe and so on. We’ll call this the abridged version.

whipped cream peaks 

So anyone who hasn’t been living in cave all their life has tried chocolate at some point and probably loved it. Humans have had a major love affair with chocolate and we will do just about anything to get our grubby little paws on some. Understandably so. It turns out that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and has the ability to make us happy in more ways than one. Heyyy!

 bittersweet chocolate chips

Pink peppercorns (baie rose) pair rather well chocolate and are also an aphrodisiac. Heyyy! Thought to be part of the piper family tree, pink peppercorns aren’t actually related to pepper. In fact, they are the dried berries of the shrub Schinus molle, commonly known as the Peruvian peppertree and have been confused due to their similarities in size, shape and pungent flavour.

 

Where pepper has an intense, sharp and biting taste, pink peppercorn has a softer and more delicate flavour that adds sophistication to any dish. And just look at the stuff. They are elegance incarnate.

chocolate mousse with pink peppercorns and cocoa nibs bite

Simple Chocolate Mousse with Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt and Cocoa Nibs

Ingredients

    • 1 quart of heavy cream
    • 12 oz of bittersweet chocolate
    • 2 tsp of vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp sea salt
    • 1 ½ tbsp of coarsely crushed cocoa nibs
    • 1 tsp of crushed pink peppercorns

Directions

Whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. TIP: Perform stiffness test by dipping whisk into the cream and lifting up. If the peaks keep their form, it’s done.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When melted, add salt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, take 1/3  of the whipped cream and gently fold in the chocolate. Once fully incorporated, add another third and continue to fold. Repeat with the rest of the cream and fold until the mousse is uniform in colour. Then, fold in the cocoa nibs.

Sprinkle pink peppercorn bits on top when serving.

Heyyy!

Magpie!
Magpie!

Flavour Pairing: Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Yes: chocolate. And since you ask, yes: beets.

Dusted with cocoa powder and basking in glory

It was in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (one of my food bibles) where I first heard of chocolate and beetroot being paired. I think my head exploded a tiny bit when I saw the two foods listed side by side. Once I’d gotten over my initial shock of the idea, I found it made perfect sense to combine these two flavours (and textures, I might add). To my surprise, Segnit’s critique of the pair was rather negative. She wrote that it tasted like “a cheap chocolate cake that’s been dropped in a flowerbed”. No matter. Nothing could deter me from trying it. I was hooked.

Holy red and brown goodness

In fact, Segnit’s comments only fascinated me more. I wanted to start a chocolate and beetroot movement. Somehow I felt I had a duty to get the word out, because certainly no one else had the thought of making this sort of thing before…right? A quick web search proved me wrong and revealed that chocolate and beetroot cakes are everywhere. And in all sorts of forms: molten lava cakes, sweet breads, brownies and cupcakes. They looked good and the bakers/reviewers/eaters couldn’t stop raving about how gorgeously the two complemented each other. I felt the need to catch up with these baked goods. The challenge was on. ON!

 

Based on their individual flavour merits, beets and chocolate are meant for each other in cake form (or a gorgeous liquid nitrogen ice cream. Anyone?).  Here are a few reasons why:

beets for beet cake

Beetroot: Beets are unique for their sweet and earthy character. These qualities together have a tendency to turn people off. As a beet advocate, I find it tragic when people decide they don’t like beets based on one or two poor experiences. Like the time they tried plain boiled beets (or worse… canned beets!) or were the victim of someone’s boring, mushy cooking. The genius in the complexity and tones of beets is how they accent and respond to other flavours; sour, salty, herby and in the case of this recipe, sweet. The beetroot not only compliments the chocolate in flavour, it also makes the cake incredibly moist and light while still providing that rich chocolaty experience we all want when eating cake. Yum, yes and yeah. 

Chocolate: Chocolate has a wide variety of flavour due to the multitude of processing it undergoes. Cocoa beans, fresh off the tree, are bitter, astringent and pretty much horrible. Once processed, chocolate falls into the roasted flavour category. Left unsweetened, chocolate is still quite bitter, but the roasting process introduces a rich nuttiness that responds incredibly well to sweeter flavours. I like to think of cocoa powder as a black canvas ready for lightening, and since it’s sort of a black hole of roasted goodness, it is very forgiving and accepting. Chocolate regularly opens its loving arms to coffee, mint, fruit, nuts and chilies. I found no reason that beets shouldn’t also be a part of that following.

More? Yes, please!

Did chocolate beetroot cake disappoint? No, it’s only surged my expectations higher. There were no flowerbeds in my kitchen that day.

Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

For the cake:

    • 1 ½ cup beets, boiled and mostly blended (about 2 or 3)
    • 1 cup cocoa powder (or melted bittersweet chocolate)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ cup black tea (or water)
    • 1 cup butter (melted)
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 5 eggs (separated)
    • ¼ tsp salt

For the icing:

    • 1 cup icing sugar
    • 1 cup plain yogurt
    • 3 tbsp cream cheese
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Peel and quarter the beets. Boil for about 30 minutes. Blend the beets in a food processor (I left a few small chunks unblended for a pleasingly colourful effect).

Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.

In a large bowl mix cocoa, tea and butter together until smooth. When it mixed well, add egg yolks and the blended beets.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

In yet a third large bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in sugar until it combines with the egg whites. Then fold in the chocolate/beet mixture. Once combined, fold in the dry mixture until smooth.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Test your cake by poking it with a fork. If it comes out clean, your cake is done.

While the cake is baking, combine your icing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cream cheese to achieve a thicker consistency. Add more yogurt to achieve a runnier icing. Let your icing set in the fridge.

Let your cake cool. Then ice it. Then drool over what you just made.

Join the chocolate beetroot movement.