Brit and I are self-admitted coffee snobs, and we come by it honestly for two reasons. The first, is that unless we are having some sort of fancy latte, we take our coffee completely black: no cream, no milk, no sugar. We have our mother to thank for this, as she herself drinks it black and informed us when we took an interest in the beverage that “if we were going to drink coffee, we were going to drink it black or not at all.” so we learned to love coffee straight-up, for what it was. Drinking coffee black means tasting every little nuance of the roast: If it’s good coffee, it’s incredibly aromatic and full, but if it’s bad coffee, it’s disgusting, the muddy water.
The second, is one of my first coffee experiences took place at a coffee plantation in the rainforests of Costa Rica. Here, the beans are picked fresh every morning, and when you order your coffee, you wait for at least 30 minutes while they roast, grind, and make your cup fresh for you. So naturally after that, Tim Hortons just wouldn’t do. Apologies to all of our Timmies loving Canadian fans….
Traveling with our high standard for coffee means seeking out the best cup o’Joe wherever we go, and I just so happen to have spent the last two weeks in Bali, Indonesia, home to several coffee plantations and the world’s crappiest, most expensive cup of coffee: Kopi Luwak!
This s#!t is bananas…
The Palm Civet, known in Indonesia as the Luwak, is a cute but apparently not so nice tree dwelling cat like animal found all over Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, that just happens to be my new favourite animal. Why? Because thanks to its dietary habits, we get to enjoy some of the most unique, delicious tasting coffee (and chocolate) in the world!
When I say that kopi luwak is made of crap, I actually mean it: It is coffee made from the poop of the luwak, or rather, from the partially digested coffee beans extracted from its feces.
I headed over to the Merta Harum Coffee Plantation in Ubud to learn all about this special animal and unique, uh, bean blend.
THe Merta Harum Coffee Plantation, aka a coffee and tea lovers Paradise
If you ever find yourself in Bali, which I hope you do, you absolutely have to visit a coffee plantation. First of all, it’s basically free! You are taken on a free tour of the plantation and where your guide tells you about their farm and explains how the coffee is made. After the tour, you get to sample for free a whole flight of all the teas and coffees that they make there. The only thing that isn’t free is the Luwak coffee, which is 50,000 IRP (roughly 3.50 USD), and any desserts you would like to go with it (again, highly recommended).
How the luwak makes a truly crappy cup of coffee…
There are several steps involved in making a cup of kopi luwak, and it all starts with the cute little tree dwellers whose favourite snack just so happens to be coffee cherries.
Step 1: Just Eat It.
Though luwaks are omnivores, the ripe, red little coffee cherries are one of their go-to foods. Inside the coffee cherries are the coffee beans that we like to harvest.
Hmmm… maybe that’s why they are nocturnal?
The Luwak eats the cherry, bean and all, and then their tummies get to work.
Step 2: What goes in must always come out.
Inside the luwak’s stomach, while the coffee fruit is digested, the bean is not. While it bounces around in the little cat’s stomach, however, it goes through some chemical treatments and is fermented. It continues to do so as it moves through the luwaks entire digestive tract, and out the other end, among other things, comes whole, fermented coffee beans!
Step 3: Spit Shine
Okay just kidding, no spit is involved in the making of this coffee. At Merta Harum the beans are washed by hand, though other larger plantations will use machines. Once they have been thoroughly cleansed, the beans are then left to dry.
Step 4:Skin ‘em, roast ‘em, grind ‘em, and sift ‘em.
Now that the beans are cleaned and dried, the outer skin has to be removed to reveal the luscious coffee bean underneath. At Merta, they do this by hand, bean by bean. The skinned beans are then roasted for 45 minutes, having to be stirred continuously to avoid burning, then ground via a large mortar and pestle until fine, then sifted to get rid of any clumps. Larger facilities have machinery to do these steps, but at Merta it’s man-power or nothing!
Now, this unique coffee is ready to be brewed and enjoyed.
But what’s it like on the nose?
The resulting coffee from the luwak poop is bold, heavy, and full of warm caramels and rich chocolate notes, both in aroma and in taste. It’s less bitter than regular Balinese coffee, can be somewhat earthy tasting, and is, well, unlike any other coffee I’ve ever had in the best way possible.
In short: Do not let the unorthodox method of preparation deter you from trying this coffee. It’s delicious.
The tasting flights to end all tasting flights
Even if you can’t get past the poop, this tour is still worth going on. You get to see and learn about the coffee making process, and at the same time learn about traditional Balinese coffees and teas. To top it off, you get this massive tasting flight of coffees and teas made from the various plants and herbs that they grow at the plantation. Some of my personal favourite teas from the flight were:
The coffee was also incredible, and included:
- Coconut coffee
- Chocolate coffee
- Vanilla coffee (personal fave – it was almost buttery!)
- Ginger coffee (by far the most unique of the flight)
Our guide also brought us a traditional Balinese coffee to compare with the luwak one, and a pandan leaf tea. Alongside our coffees and teas, my friend Blake and I also had fried banana, a common Balinese dessert on most menus, and Laklak, which are little green pancakes made from sticky rice flour, coconut milk, and pandan leaf extract and served with fresh grated coconut and palm sugar syrup.
All told, the Merta Harum Plantation tour was one of my favourite experiences from my time in Bali, and Kopi Luwak is literally the shit. If you find yourself in Bali, get yourself to a kopi luwak plantation, learn about this unique product of the Indonesian province, and take some time to relax and enjoy the all the flavours of Bali.