I’m a coffee lover and I remember the first time I heard about the worlds most expensive coffee – kopi luwak or civet coffee. You have probably heard about it too, and I think it was the movie the Bucket List that made it famous. The nocturnal Asian palm civet (a cat/ferret-like animal) is said to eat only the best and ripest coffee berries, and in its digestive track, fermentation occurs. Once it’s passed through the intestines, the fecal matter is collected with the beans intact (only the fleshy berry part is digested) and then the beans are roasted to produce a smoother, less acidic brew. Mmmm cat poop coffee – cat-poo-chino ha haa 🙂
I admit I was fascinated, disgusted, but desperate to try it due to the expensive and exclusive nature of it. At the time, it was ridiculously difficult to find, and too damn expensive, so I gave up on thinking I would ever try it.
But then low and behold, I discovered that right here in Bali the most expensive coffee in the world is grown and processed! OMG! I found out, too, that there are tons of coffee plantations offering tours, and most of them were happily inviting people to see the ‘coffee makers’ (the civet) and to try (for a small fee) the cat poop coffee! I’ve read that a cup of kopi luwak can sell for anywhere from $25-$50, but here in Bali you can try it for about $5.
I was so thrilled! I had it all planned, I would do a coffee plantation tour, and a chocolate tour on the same day – heaven!
But then I dug too deep I guess, and my over-researching discovered the ugly truth behind this tourist draw. As with the elephants in the tourist trade, wherever there is money to be made, there is likely to be animal abuse too. I found out that some producers are now caging the animals and force feeding them coffee beans. The animals are often in distress and are malnourished, surviving only on the coffee berries they are fed. Without a balanced diet their health deteriorates, which also leads to an inferior quality of the coffee bean. The civets are also nocturnal animals and many are being kept in small cages in broad daylight. Darn it! What to do…
I probably spent over three hours trying to find an ethical producer of the kopi luwak so that I could try a cup and not feel like I was contributing to and supporting animal cruelty. The more research I did, the more confused I became, and I felt frustrated.
In the end I decided that I would still go on a coffee plantation tour (organized by our hotel), and decide how I felt about things once I saw what was going on firsthand. I wanted to see a real coffee plantation, and learn about the various types of beans and how they grow.
We arrived at a place called Teba Sari Bali Agrotourism, and we were happily greeted by our tour guide. She escorted us through a jungle-like trail pointing out various types of plants and trees. Along the way, as I was expecting, we were introduced to the ‘coffee makers’ the civets. There were two rather large cages, bigger than I expected, each holding a small cat like creature. Their eyes were open, which surprised me, but she said that as nocturnal animals they had special eyes and they were indeed asleep. It saddened me to see caged animals, and it was obvious this was a well worn circus show for tourists. There was poop with the coffee beans under their cages for us to ‘oh and ah’ over as well.
I asked her how many civets they had, and she told me there were about 200 in the wild in their plantation. I really wanted to hear that I guess, but I’m not sure if I can believe it to be the truth. I saw three caged civets in total.
Anyway, we quickly walked through the trail till we arrived at the back of the gardens where there were several tasting areas set up. We were given the menu to show us all the types of teas and coffees we would be tasting for free, and we were asked if we wanted to try the luwak coffee for 500,000 IDR ($5). I decided that I would try it, and I hope that I can trust what she said about their animals being free and wild. There was also some nice rice wine and coconut spirits to try – both were good. 🙂
The coffee was good, but then again so were all the free cups I drank too! LOL The Luwak didn’t have any strong flavour or character really, it was just a nice cup of coffee. I’ve read that it’s less bitter too, and doesn’t have the same diuretic effect as regular coffee.
After the coffee tasting and buying was done, we headed to POD chocolate factory. Online it said they offered tours and tastings, and that you could also try your hand at making chocolates! It took awhile to find the place, and as we pulled in I remembered that there was an elephant trek next door to the factory. I tried to look away and stay focused on the goodies. At the reception desk they asked if we wanted the tour, but it turns out it is a hike/trek through the forested areas, and we were not prepared for that, so I opted to just make chocolates instead.
The reception lady proceeded to show me four jars, this one has the raw cocoa bean, this has the bean without the outer shell, this is the roasted bean, and here is some raw cocoa you can eat if you want. Umm, okay, not exactly super educational, but interesting I suppose. I was then lead to the store area where there were more jars for tasting, this time it was the final product. We tried a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate, a white chocolate and another dark with a higher percentage of cocoa I think? It felt again like an assembly line tour, and it’s a bit of a blur.
I received a form with options to make either a dark or a milk chocolate, and I was allowed to choose three toppings from a long list which included raisins, cranberries, cashews, coconut, sprinkles, and many other options. I went for the nuts – cashews, almonds and hazelnuts – yum! I put on my apron, and she brought me a chocolate mold in the shape of little elephants, three shot glasses with my toppings, and a bag of melted chocolate to squeeze into the molds. Umm, okay, again not what I was expecting, but heck, chocolate is chocolate, so yippie!
Some into the mold, some into my mouth and repeat. We then had to wait twenty minutes for them to set, so we wandered over to the black bear area. I don’t quite understand what POD is trying to be – a zoo? an elephant camp? a chocolate factory? there were eagles in a cage too, and an adorable white parrot named Tina to complete the show.
All in all, the day was pretty good. I learned some things, drank some delicious coffees and teas, and ate chocolate. In the end, however, I do feel a bit bad that I might have supported animal cruelty by touring and sampling the luwak coffee. I will continue to educate myself, and hopefully in turn I can pass along what I learn and educate others as well.