By Gregory Peduto
From beans plucked from cat poop to coffee flavored with monkey spit, java aficionados ingest some nutty stuff in the name of finding the ultimate buzz. These caffeine-imbibing daredevils are constantly on the lookout for the most exotic varieties of beans that combine the best taste, smoothest flavor, and the wackiest backstory. Here are just a few of the most exciting blends they love to brew over.
The Indonesian drink known as Kopi Luwak or civet coffee might be the rarest cup of joe on the planet, and for good reason. Made from the feces of a coffee bean munching cat, this Southeast Asian brew has one of the most unique flavor on earth. But why drink the stuff? According to a study conducted by Massimo Marcone of Guelph University, enzymes in the cat's digestive tract alter the bean's proteins. And since proteins control bitterness, the civet coffee has no acidic taste. The bigger question is: How safe is it to use coffee beans plucked from cat poop?
Quite safe, apparently. Farmers wash the droppings before roasting them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But the process does make Kopi Luwak the most expensive coffee on the planet. Prices range from $50 a cup to $600 a pound. For anyone gutsy enough to try it, the beans can be purchased from Animal Coffee. Of course, the brew isn't without its critics. Some folks think the musky flavor imparted by the cat's anal glands make the drink taste like, well, crap.
On the island of Taiwan, coffee farmers let caffeine-crazed monkeys do the work for them. Once the bane of the plantation, bean thieving Formosan Rock Monkeys raided farms in search of their next buzz. The pests destroyed whole crops by sucking on coffee cherries and spitting out the pits, that is until a local peasant learned to work with the creatures. The farmer discovered that the monkey-sucked beans possessed a distinct vanilla flavor. Coffee lovers go bananas for the monkey spit brew and its fantastic aftertaste, but consumers should prepare for sticker shock.
Monkey java is rarer than Kopi Luwak and prices can be as high as $27 for 8 ounces. With harvests that range from as little as 8lbs to 600lbs a year, Formosan monkey joe is virtually unavailable in the U.S., but Paradise Roasters offers a close cousin: a bean sucked and spit by an Indian rhesus monkey.
For those who prefer a drink that's never entered an animal's digestive tract, Indian Monsoon Malabar might be the ticket. Back in the days of sailing ships, unroasted beans shipped from the Malabar region were subjected to a constant wetting and drying process during the long journeys to Europe.Â The steady moisture gave these beans a world-renowned spicy flavor. But when coal steamers cut shipping times in half, the shorter journeys eliminated the aging process and killed the taste. Thankfully, some clever Indian farmers quickly figured out the secret. They started leaving harvested coffee cherries in sacks during the monsoon season in order to replicate this flavorful bouquet. So, what exactly is the taste of monsoon in your coffee? Anyone with seven bucks to spare can pick up some beansÂ here.
The Indonesian coffee beans munched by the civet cat are derived from the robusta bean, a low cost filler crop. Brazilian planters, on the other hand, start with the finest Arabica beans on earth. But how do they compete with theÂ big cat's digestive process? In trying to solve the problem, Brazilians turned to a local bean stealing pest, the jacu bird, a plump flying Amazonian turkey. Unlike civet poo, jacu dung removes the bitterness without imparting the manure flavor, and the drink is a relative steal at $13 a pound. Pick some up at Sweet Maria's, here.