Once upon a time, in the early eighteenth century, the islands that comprise modern Indonesia were referred to as the Dutch East Indies (yes, because they were being colonized by the Dutch during that time). They went on to establish coffee plantations on the islands. Unlike Java and Sumatra, however, it is widely argued that the first coffee plants were brought to Bali by traders from Lombok as late as the beginning of the 20th century. The rich volcanic soil and great climate have made sure that coffee is the perfect item to keep you refreshed when you’re back from that amazing Bali holiday.
And now to the origin of the most expensive coffee in the world…
Strictly in adherence to the rules of colonization, the Dutch treated the native islanders pretty badly and exploited them for their own benefit. So the farmers and workers who worked the coffee plantations were obviously prohibited from picking the coffee berries for themselves. The poor buggers were now even keener to try this forbidden fruit. Even the local species of musang and luwak (Asian Palm Civet) were allowed to freely eat the berries when they felt like it. Imagine the natives’ excitement when they found civet droppings with undigested coffee seeds (beans). They cleaned, roasted and ground them to make their very own beverage!
The news of this civet coffee soon spread to the plantation owners who loved the difference in taste. Kopi Luwak has always been expensive because of its rarity and the unusual process involved. The production of Kopi Luwak was completely independent of human input. With prices as hefty as $1000 for a kilo, the production couldn’t be left to chance anymore. A lot of Kopi Luwak today comes from civets in captivity, which raises some ethical issues and shouldn’t taste as good as Kopi Luwak from civets living in the wild as wild civets apparently are quite picky animals when it comes to coffee and only eat the best berries, which guarantees quality.
Kopi Luwak has a distinctly different taste from regular coffee, whether better or worse is a subject of incessant debate. The enzymes in the civet’s digestive system extract the bitterness from the bean, resulting in a smooth milder brew with a sweet aftertaste. Some people love it, some think it has no body and tastes thin. It sells because of novelty rather than taste; the story is a bestseller, who wouldn’t want to atleast try it once? I sure wouldn’t mind a cuppa, definitely on my list of things to do in Bali!