I can't say I was particularly enthusiastic to try out the souvenir my friend Eron brought back from a trip to Bali. The package of "Kopi Luawk," was sold to him as "poo-poo coffee," and its name is unfortunately not somehow lost in translation.
Kopi Luwak, it seems, has a crazy story that comes with a crazy price. It comes extracted from the dung of the cat-like civet, who eats coffee berries, digests the beans and excretes them, only to be collected then cleaned by local villagers who can sell the coffee for a ridiculous price, like $100 or more per pound.
Some say that because of the unique fermentation inside the civets' stomach, this is the best coffee in the world. When I brought a pouch of it to work, my coworkers were equally intrigued and disgusted. So we called in an expert.
We asked Stone Creek Coffee's Steve Hawthorne to come in for an official tasting, and Steve obliged. As one of only two "Licensed Q Graders" by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, Steve knows a little bit about good – and bad – coffee.
No fault of the civets, this coffee turned out to be bad. Very bad.
Steve explained that because of the high price it fetches, Kopi Luwak is now made with a very different process. The caged civets are fed cheap and inferior coffee berries, and their poop is collected on the spot. For ethical, not to mention price reasons, Stone Creek would never sell this stuff. And yes, Steve has had it before.
This specific poop coffee was very lightly roasted, and as Steve went through the scientific cupping tests, we watched him wince with each taste and spit.
Steve completed the test, then explained the results. He described the coffee as having an orange peel taste with a spoiled potato finish. He said he'd never tasted the potato flavor in coffee before.
When I tried a cup, I noticed how weak it was, even though it was brewed correctly. It tasted a little like tea; not at all bitter, but with almost no flavor at all. It reminded me of my first attempts to brew cheap coffee in college, when I didn't know where I was supposed to put the filter.
While it wasn't horrible tasting, exactly, the Kopi Luwak was the worst coffee I've ever paid attention to. It was worse than gas station coffee, worse than instant coffee. In fact, Steve graded it 62 out of 100, which is the lowest he's ever graded a coffee. He said Sanka would probably score better.
Later, I asked Eron how much he paid for the 100 gram (about 3.5-ounce) bag of coffee beans, and he said about $20. This stuff isn't cheap.
It's too bad, too, because I like good coffee, and if I'm going to drink something that sat in poop, it should be pretty great.
Lesson learned. I'll stick to Stone Creek.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.