Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kopi Luwak: the myth, the reality and the tasting.

Kopi Luwak conjures up images of disgust as well as extremely good coffee...often at the same time. Why? Read on.

The ground beans from Liberica coffee, eaten, digested, cleaned, processed, roasted, being brewed using the Siphon method for a clean cup.

I had the opportunity to visit My Liberica coffee, an almost fully and vertically integrated coffee joint, just across the border in Johor.
Owned and operated by a passionate coffee lover, Jason.

Jason is in the process of converting his family palm oil plantation to a superior Liberica coffee plantation. And passionate enough to want to control every step of the process...from growing the beans, to processing (within the next 6 months, as he is currently building a processig facility), roasting, cupping, and final delivery to his own coffee shop. Very interesting.

The road leading into the plantation is only accessable by 4 wheel was quite a ride to where the coffee plants are.

While most high end coffee is Arabica, Jason chose to grow Liberica because it thrives well in the slightly acidic soil in his farm, and it is a lowland coffee varietal, similar but perhaps a bit more robust than Robusta. Arabica cannot be grown in lowlands, require a high altitude and cooler temperatures.Interestingly, Liberica plants are actually trees, if left without pruning and good husbandry, will grow to some 30m tall, while Arabica when left to its own vices will only reach about 4m or so, and thus typically known as a shrub.

The coffee cherries, ripe for the picking.

A husky shell covers the berry within, which is basically a bean with a thin fleshy layer, with a mildly sweet taste.

Typically two beans are found within each berry. But occassionally, a genetic anomaly causes one of the beans to be vestigal, allowing the berry's goodness to be focussed on the single good bean, resulting in a peaberry:

In the normal plantation process, the ripe berries are hand picked and sent to the processing plant for the husk and fleshy part to be removed, then the beans extracted, dried, washed, and cleaned. But nature has its own way...civet cats, in this case, wild ones pick the best and sweetest berries, and eat them. The cat breaks open the husk and eats the beans with the fleshy bits whole.

As shown above, this is the berry opened and eaten by the cat, and discarded. The beans pass through the cat's digestive system, and the bio process adds dimension and character to the beans, which are passed out of the system.

These are picked up by workers, and sent to the plant for processing. As this is a rather random process, the amount of kopi luwak produced thus is very small, thus making it a very expensive bean. In many other countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, the civet cats are kept in captvity in cages, and fed the berries. While at My Liberica, the cats are wild, and being omnivorous, eat other small animals, insects, fruits. Providing a more interesting and complex layering of flavours in the animal's digestive track.

The picked beans are washed of defecate matter, and cleaned throughly. The beans are then roasted, to just the start of the second crack, as Jason wants to preserve the character of the beans. And used exclusively at his elegant cafe in a high end part of Johor Bahru.

The cafe has divers of coffee apparatus for all the different methods of brewing coffee. From a La Marzocco GS5 taking pride of place serving out espresso styled drinks, to filter coffee and Jason's preferred method to brew the kopi siphon.

And the result, a bright, clean coffee, presented in a beautiful, porcelean cup, with gold edgings.

Before serving us the kopi luwak (RM50+tax per cup), Jason dished up the same Liberica beans, but not bio processed rather regular coffee processing, and roasted to rolling second crack...a la French Roast. The coffee was robust, heavy bodied, but rather one dimensional. In comparison, the same beans, but bio processed by the civet cat, and roasted a bit less dark, shows the same body, but with layers of flavours. Much more complex structure, with hints of berries, caramel, chocholate being obvious. A sweetish after taste is also noted. This is the first time I have been impressed with Kopi Luwak, given my adventures with them...Vietnam Weasel coffee which I roasted and pulled as a single origin espresso to the ibrik style kopi luwak I had in Jakarta recently.

Bravo Jason for your passion and dedication. It shows in the products you have selected to present to your customers, and it shows your respect and good taste in coffee. Highly recommended to try this cafe in Taman Molek. Their espresso is also superb, as is the cold drip ice coffee.

Read also, Tony's account of the same visit at Johor Kaki blog.

My Liberica
73 Jalan Molek 3/10, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
+60 10-760 7792

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