Tuesday, November 29, 2005

'Kopi luwak', the world's most expensive coffee
Elvera N. Makki, Contributor/Houston, Texas
The Jakarta Post, Features News - Friday, February 18, 2005

Are you a coffee aficionado?

If your answer is yes, then you must try kopi luwak. It's the most expensive coffee you can buy here.

Another thing is, it is also the rarest coffee ever. You cannot find this in major cafes, even in Indonesia itself.

So beware of fake kopi luwak. When I was on vacation in Jakarta a couple months ago, I was intrigued by a kopi luwak advertisement in a well-known women's magazine.

Surprisingly, during the phone conversation with the marketing officer, he honestly explained that it was not genuine kopi luwak that his company was selling: It contained no kopi luwak ingredients. The company simply used the brand name solely for commercial purposes.

Kopi is Indonesian for coffee. A luwak (civet) is a tree-dwelling animal that lives mainly in Sumatran jungles, climbs coffee trees and eats only the ripest, reddest coffee berries.

Also known as Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, this animal digests the coffee beans in such a way that they turn out to be fully wrapped, clean and fairly intact when excreted.

It is not yet known how local farmers got the idea at the start to gather luwak feces, which contained coffee beans. Perhaps one thing that they did not expect was that they had found something valuable, which was to become an Indonesian best-seller.

At kopi luwak wholesalers, the unroasted product costs about US$250 per kilo while roasted beans may cost about US$600 per kilo. Several coffee shops sell it at a premium price of US$5 per cup -- beating the price of any other coffee for the same quantity.

"Of course, the rarity of this coffee has made it exclusive and pricey," said Lenny Cooper, the owner of LJ Cooper Co., an established U.S. company that provides world-class specialty coffee beans from around the globe, including Sulawesi and Sumatra.

The fact that luwak are not held in captivity and the way the beans are processed has made them extremely scarce.

"Only 250 kilograms of the beans are produced annually. My portion is around 40 kilograms," added Cooper, whose company has become the largest kopi luwak supplier in the United States.
Cooper mentioned that it took years to find a reliable, stable supplier of kopi luwak beans, which, unfortunately, is not Indonesian-owned but rather Daarhnour from the Netherlands; they put him in touch with the plantation owner in Sumatra.

From there, he has distributed the coffee to dozens of buyers, mostly in the western and eastern parts of the U.S., with his biggest client, M.P Mountanos Inc., located in Los Angeles.
"We have experienced a shortage of kopi luwak since last year. There has been no shipping for a couple of months," complained Cooper. "If I could get 10 tonnes of the beans, I would guarantee I'd be able to sell it all easily."

Cooper, who orders two tonnes of the beans every year, believes that importing kopi luwak is a very lucrative business, although it only contributes about 1 percent of his total business revenue, so that uncertainties over coffee shipment arrivals will not unduly affect his overall business.

"But I am not talking about total revenue here; rather, it is more about how to provide the most exclusive coffee to a niche market." said Cooper.

"I have been asked to sell robusta kopi luwak, which is cheaper. I refused to sell it: It's not the real thing!"

Furthermore, discerning customers would notice the taste, which is known to be uniquely earthy, musty and almost syrupy.

"I tried kopi luwak two years ago at a small gathering at my friend's house," said Maria Lopez, a Houstonian who describes herself as a coffee addict. "Frankly speaking, it was a no-no for me to drink a beverage made from animal feces; I mean, come on," she chuckled.

After her friend had roasted the beans, she could not help but try it. "The aroma was so damn good, very exotic, rich and strong."

"From the moment I sipped it, I knew it was Sumatran coffee, but it had a different flavor -- something between caramel and chocolate. It was very smooth as well."

It was a different story for Rinto Muhammadsyah, who tried kopi luwak at a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"I was just curious to try the most sought-after coffee in the world. At least I had the experience of drinking it." (*written by vera makki - http://kopiluwakstory.blogspot.com/)


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