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October 12, 2003

Kopi Luwak in Groton

A few weeks ago I mentioned a rare coffee with a rather unusual method of processing that was available in England from Foxbox. At the time I stated that I would pass on trying it, especially since it is not available (to the best of my knowledge) in the U.S. But what if a similar, and by all accounts, even rarer coffee was not only available in the U.S., but was being prepared by a roaster I know and trust right here in my own backyard?

Kopi Luwak (left) and regular unroasted beans-(c)2003 Mystic River Press/Phoebe HallI am not exactly a coffee snob, but I do love good coffees. Each place we have moved to, Tammy and I immediately seek out the local coffee shops that also sell beans, hopefully that they have roasted themselves. I first discovered Seaport Coffee Roasters, run by Joe Pangelinan and his family, when we first moved up here in mid May. His store is right down the road from the extended-stay hotel we used for 2 months while finding a permanent place to settle. I was not aware that he had in fact just opened for business the previous month.

This past Thursday Mystic’s local weekly newspaper, The Mystic River Press, ran an article in it’s “Currents” section about Seaport Coffee Roasters and Joe, particularly that he has obtained a unique and rare coffee known as Kopi Luwak. The article also had a good bit of background information about the store, it’s owner and the origins of Kopi Luwak. After reading the article I set out to see if they had an online presence to link to. The paper’s office is right next door to where I live, literally across a shared driveway from my front door, so failing to find an online presence, I went over and got permission from the author of the article and the editor to post it here.

I am now in the position where I feel I have to try this coffee, and I must admit that the opportunity is very intriguing, especially as I love full bodied brews. Joe is also a very good roaster and has always had an excellent recommendation ready for me when I wanted to try a different blend. So Monday morning I will make my way down to Seaport Coffee Roasters and try a cup of Kopi Luwak. Tammy has expressed an interest in trying it as well. We will let you know what we think.

Before I get to the article, let me say thank you to the staff at Mystic River Press for their permission to reprint the article and to use their picture, especially to reporter / photographer Phoebe Hall, who took the picture of the beans you see here and wrote the article. All copyright to the following and the image of the beans is owned by Mystic River Press and Phoebe Hall. I am reprinting it here intact, but I have added one hyperlink to a report cited in the article. I have not changed the wording, only linked to the actual report from the source online. Any typo’s or misspellings are purely my own, introduced in my transcription of the article. (I really need to bring the scanner online again)Following the article are a few more links of possible interest about Kopi Luwak and the Vietnamese weasel coffee I originally ran across.

World’s rarest coffee comes to Groton

by Phoebe Hall
Mystic River Press

On a recent episode of the popular crime drama CSI, investigators learned about a very rare type of coffee when an enzyme specific to a small Indonesian animal was found at a crime scene.

It turns out this animal, a mongoose relative known as the common palm civet or luwak, is especially fond of very ripe coffee cherries. But since it can’t digest the bean inside, it deposits them in its droppings on the forest floor.

Locals who would rather not climb the trees anyway, collect the beans on the ground and sell the coffee, called kopi luwak, at a premium price.

Just the kind of strange-but-true tale that always seems to pop up on CSI. But at least one viewer in the area already knew about kopi luwak. He had just spent five months trying to buy it.
“It’s worth it’s weight in gold,” said Joe Pangelinan, owner of Seaport Coffee Roasters in Groton.

Well, not quite. But it’s pretty darned expensive. When roasted, kopi luwak sells for $300 a pound.

Pangelinian, who opened his store in April, found out about the coffee from one of his customers, who he said called it “the world’s greatest coffee.” Sensing the perfect novelty for his coffee and ice cream shop on the corner of routes 117 and 184, he fired up his computer and started researching.

“Every place that knew about it I called, and they couldn’t get it,” he said. “So I started calling the Indonesian government.”

Happy to accommodate a potential customer, the government sent Pangelinan a small sample of kopi luwak with a certificate of authenticity. As soon as he opened the package, he knew he had something unusual on his hands.

“It looks different from anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. Compared to most raw coffee beans, which are green, raw kopi luwak is light brown—due to the fermentation process that takes place inside the palm civet’s gut.

When Pangelinan roasted the beans and brewed himself a cup, he found the taste to be one-of-a-kind as well.

“It’s very full bodied, with a carmelly type flavor to it,” he said. Compared to Sumatra coffee it has a thicker, almost syrupy texture, he said.

Coffee connoisseurs have the palm civet to thank for kopi luwaks’s unique flavor. Unlike human harvesters, who pick all the coffee cherries they can, the small, cat-like creatures select only the very reddest, ripest cherries, which happen to have the finest beans.

“You’re getting the cream of the crop,” Pangelinan said.

A recent study by the University of Guelph in Ontario found that despite its rather unsanitary origins, kopi luwak has even lower bacterial counts than regular coffee. Because the palm civet can’t digest the coffee cherry very well either, the bean is still encased in the fruit, or endocarp, when it’s excreted. The study found that removing the endocarp results in more thorough washing.

Chemical analysis also revealed that kopi luwak is indeed very different from other coffees in flavor and aroma.

“Kopi luwak is to a coffee drinker what caviar is to a fine diner,” Pangelinan said.

The Indonesian shippers Pangelinan spoke with told him he was the only person on the East Coast who had ever purchased the coffee for retail sale, he said. Only 90 kilograms (about 200 pounds) of raw kopi luwak were available for sale, Pangelinan said. He bought 5 kilograms for his shop.

Seaport Coffee Roasters will begin selling kopi luwak by the cup Monday, Oct. 13. Though Pangelinan wouldn’t say how much he’ll sell it for, several Web sites report that it sells for $5 a cup or more.

Naturally, Pangelinan hopes coffee lovers will overlook the rare brew’s processing—and its price—for the thrill of trying something new and very different.

“Some may find it unappealing,” he admitted. “But some might be intrigued.”

Seaport Coffee Roasters is located at 1279 Gold Star Highway. The shop will sell kopi luwak from Oct. 13 until supplies run out. For more information, call 445-5282

For other links:
As posted on my site:
For the Exotic Coffee Lover

Other sites covering Vietnamese weasel coffee:
Vietnamese coffee oddities and cultural miscommunication

The overall coffee situation in Vietnam, at the bottom of the page one paragraph relating to weasel coffee, which says that most weasel coffee today is synthetically prepared to simulate the passage through the weasel.

Off The Rails: A look at the nightlife in Saigon including a short passage about coffee quoted here (about 2/3 down page):

“Western style coffeeshops have also been steadily gaining popularity. The Vietnamese answer to Starbucks is the ubiquitous Trung Nguyen franchise, launched by a med-school dropout and now boasting well over a hundred locations around HCMC (and now a franchisee in Singapore as well). Although not as uniform as we expect from franchise outlets, each Trung Nguyen serves a range of coffees from 5,000 to 14,000 dong, specializing in the dense Buon Me Thuot style. Nguyen Dien, a young robotics engineer, enjoys the atmosphere, but notes that for the true Buon Me Thuot connoisseur, the potent sludge in our cups is “almost like water.” For adventure, try the famous Chon (weasel) coffee, roasted from beans that are purported to obtain their richer flavor after heaving been eaten and passed through a weasel’s digestive system.”


About kopi luwak I found:
The Coffee Critic: Kopi Luwak–An Indonesian Island Treasure by Chris Rubin
a very similar Chris Rubin article may be found also at Sallys Place

A specialty shop in Alaska, Raven’s Brew also has limited information on Kopi Luwak along with a picture of the palm civet. They currently do not appear to have any Kopi Luwak in stock however.

About.com’s Urban Legends and John Kissel’s Interesting Thing of the Day have both commented on the Kopi Luwak as well.

Posted by Eric at October 12, 2003 02:40 PM | TrackBack
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