Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker

World’s most exclusive coffee brew now in Cape Town

Cape Town coffee connoisseurs — and the city is definitely home to a formidable concentration of coffee snobs — can finally relax. For a mere R80/cup, they too can now indulge in one of the world’s most exclusive brews: coffee made from Indonesian beans that have been eaten — and excreted — by cute palm civets.

A dozen-odd journalists slurped steaming cups of Kopi Luwak (priced at just under R3000/kg) at a tasting arranged by newly opened roastery and espresso bar Haas Coffee Collective in the Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, earlier this month. No squeamish moue at the aromatic beans’ odious origins was evident: remarkable how exclusivity and price can temper taste.

Actually, that’s not fair. The Kopi Luwak was fragrant, velvety-smooth and ever so slightly sweet; a fine, unaggressive cup of coffee that would be hard to dislike. Notably, it lacked the characteristic bitter tang of many coffees, and that’s where the civet comes in.

Paradoxurus hermaphrodites is a pointy-nosed creature that scours the forests of countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines in search of ripe coffee berries. If the hype is to be believed, it’s notoriously picky, choosing to devour only those berries that are perfectly ripe and ready. The berry “pips” or coffee beans pass intact through the civet’s digestive tract (they are protected by a parchment-like husk), though the enzymes in the animal’s stomachs put paid to any sharp flavour. At dawn, Indonesians go in search of pellets of civet faeces, wash and sun-dry the beans, and they begin their journey to the world’s most exclusive shelves.

“Only around 400kg of Kopi Luwak is produced annually,” Haas Coffee Collective partner Hanno Schwartz of Robertson-based Strictly Coffee said at the tasting. As a result, there’s very little available on the global market — but thanks to a good connection in coffee mecca Hamburg, Schwartz secured a number of kilograms for Haas.

Collecting wild civet dung is time- consuming, and humans are already looking for ways to make the job easier. Scientists are working on mimicking the effects of a civet’s digestive tract. And the beleaguered animals, already considered a local delicacy, are now also sought after by enterprising farmers who cage them and feed them coffee beans to speed up the harvesting process. However Schwartz is adamant that Haas’s Kopi Luwak comes from wild civets; he has a certificate to prove it.

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