What exactly is “weasel” coffee? Why is it so expensive? Does poop really make coffee beans better? We visit a dalat civet farm to unveil the mysteries of Kopi luwak...
If you are into Vietnamese coffee culture and up for a short getaway to Dalat, where most of the good coffee in Vietnam originates, you may want to check out Mr. Loc’s weasel coffee farm.
“Actually it has nothing to do with weasels, but asian palm civets, Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus.”
Civet coffee is famous and, at least in Europe, insanely expensive. Mainly because of its rather bizarre way of production. Imagine an animal that looks like 1/3 weasel, 1/3 cat and 1/3 racoon and loves eating nice and ripe coffee cherries. During the process of digestion, the cherries ferment and the protease enzyme enters the coffee beans, shortening the peptides and creating more free amino acids.
Just Another Way of processing Coffee?
There are different ways of processing coffee, the main two are washing and natural processing. In the latter one, the cherries are dried with the pulp of the cherries and peeled afterwards. This method causes fermentation and results in fruitier taste. Getting the fermentation work done by civets is another way to process the beans.
According to the friends of kopi luwak, how the civet coffee is called in Indonesian, the coffee beans are improved twice: First through selection and then through the digestion process. Wild civets only pick the best and ripest coffee cherries, which grants great beans and therefore great coffee.
However, the other side of the trade is the fact that civets eat other things as well, not just coffee cherries, and small mammals like mice are also digested. Paradoxically, this omnivorous diet improves the production of the enzymes that are needed to ferment the coffee and improve its taste. Yummy.
Apart from that, captive civets feed on the food that’s available, so the selection process is rather human made. To ensure the selection isn’t a waste, Mr. Loc looks for red berries on his farm, nibbled on by birds, which indicates that they are free of pesticides and perfectly ripe. The berries are then washed and given to the civets, who eat about 70% of the buffet if it’s well chosen.
“A few days later, Mr. Loc collects the droppings and leaves it out to dry in open air (not under the sun) for three days.”
During this time the civet’s special enzyme does its dance with the beans. They are then carefully washed and dried for 10 days in the sun, roasted and packaged. The finished product can be stored for up to a year.
The process subtly changes the coffee, makes it a bit toastier, less harsh. But like most things related to coffee it boils down to the kind of beans and their ratio, the roast and grind. At his farm, Mr. Loc feeds the civets a mix of selected Arabica and Robusta cherries. Westerners usually prefer Arabica, since this coffee species is more acidic. Vietnamese have a thing for dark, strong and bitter coffee, which comes down to Robusta.
Animal Activist Approved?
“If you are imagining poor, abused civets huddled up and shivering in cages, force-fed coffee berries until they defecate – well, it’s not that kind of horror story."
However, the civets are indeed in cages (in their natural habitat, they need about 17 sq km for roaming). Mr. Loc’s family is, from appearances, functional and nothing like the cannibalistic Sawyers from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, if you happened to imagine something like that. But it’s still not a pretty sight if you’re sensitive about animal captivity.
It’s All About the Mix
Coffee bean ratios are a clandestine process in Vietnam. Families and shops around the country have their secret halves and thirds – a bit of this, a bit of that. You walk into any Milano coffee shop in the country and they each have their three milk and non-milk coffee choices labelled simply as options 1, 2 and 3. The ratio is for them alone to know.
Mr. Loc gave us a taste of his three kopi luwak varieties. In a nutshell, the Kopi Luwak is subtly richer, a tad roastier and a smidgen smoother that the decent coffee you may find in small unbranded Vietnamese cafes. It’s earthier, the bitterness is less harsh and the aroma is softer when compared to a non-kopi-luwak equivalent. The cup was a tad sour from the Arabica, aromatic from the mocha, and produced a short-lasting bitterness (from the Robusta) that didn’t linger, leaving a roasty aftertaste.
“If you’re even a little enthusiastic about coffee yourself, it’s worth the visit and sip on your short getaway to Dalat.”
Directions From the City Centre:
From the Dalat market, go straight on Ba Thang Hai until you hit the intersection with Hoang Van Thu. Turn right here and keep going on Hoang Van Thu for 4 km. You will then see Cam Ly road. Ride about 800m then turn left onto Road 725. Drive for 30 minutes along the road. You will go through the Ta Nung Pass and see Mr. Loc’s coffee farm on the right, with a sign on it that says “Bao On”.
Other Things to Do in Dalat:
On your getaway to Dalat, check out our extensive Dalat destination section.