Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cool Beans





One wonders how some foods were discovered. Who was the first to defy the conventional wisdom that tomatoes were poisonous and say, "Death be damned, it just isn't pizza without it?" What lovesick sailor slapped a tongue on the first oyster? Whoever had the gumption to saw into the first chicken-fried steak? Well, two out of three ain't bad.

We have a pretty good idea how the first batch of Kopi luwak, or Civet Coffee, came about, however. Civet coffee is made from coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a small mammal called the Asian Palm Civet. All the way through. The civet naturally prefers the very finest, sweetest beans at the very pinnacle of ripeness. Coffee bean farmers, who maintain a dicey profit margin as it is, naturally detest the civet. After attempts to interest the public in Fried-Civet-On-A-Stick fell flat, someone noticed that the coffee beans survived the trip through the mammals virtually intact, and thought: hmm. Let's brew some of this up and serve it to some obnoxious rich guy down at the hotel.

It was a hit. The coffee was proclaimed the richest and most flavorful in the world, "almost syrupy, thick, with a hint of chocolate." Some elements of the civets' digestive systems removed the bitterness from the beans and kicked in that certain something extra, which was not chocolate. "How are we going to sell this crap?" wondered the plantation owners, trailing a stick through clumps of civet poop, but that, of course, is the time-honored job of Marketing. And people were inclined to pay through the nose for the coffee. Good thing, too, because the gathering of fecally enhanced beans is very labor-intensive, as is the preparation of the beans (described as including a very, very, very thorough washing). Civet coffee sells for upwards of $99 a cup in London. Before you can say "Chock Full O' Doots," a new market was born.

Initially, only a few of the smaller coffee farmers collected the clumps of fecal matter, considering it their civet doody. Retrieval of the poop is a time-consuming process in the wild, where, according to Wikipedia, "a civet would defecate as a means to mark its territory." [Scientific aside: this is not the primary reason the civet defecates. And if the civet is fastidious enough to poop outside his living room, he is not necessarily "marking his territory," although I suppose it comes down to the same thing.] Eventually, farmers took to keeping civets on a short leash, and doot collection was simplified.

I do not know whether the coffee is as delightful as it is made out to be. I do know that there is a certain set of humans who are willing to pay $500 for something they wouldn't drop five bucks on. Somewhere in Asia today some man is forking over suitcases of cash for a vial of powdered tiger penis to get the same effect he could have gotten with a two-dollar porn video.

Fast on the heels of the genuine civet poop coffee market's success comes the effort to produce imitation civet poop coffee. "True civet-poop taste without the civet," says Marketing, and indeed there has been some success in replicating the civet's digestive enzyme complement and treating beans with it. The demand is expected to grow due to the dwindling of the civet population, brought about because most of the larger coffee producers would still rather kill civets than scoop poop. A lab in Vietnam got the jump on its competitors in producing simulated civet coffee during the Great Civet Constipation Epidemic of '98. Their efforts were the primary engine behind the proliferation of Grunt 'N' Grind franchises all over southeast Asia. Real or imitation, however, civet coffee is good to the last dropping.

33 comments:

  1. Since I (A) don't drink coffee and (B) therefore don't care where the beans have been, I skipped straight from your slur on chicken fried steak down to the comments section :)

    If you ever make it to BigD or Foat-Wuth-Ah-Luv-Yew, I will take you to a place in the FW Stockyards where the chicken fried steak is not only edible, it is delectable. You and I are in agreement that there is hardly anything worse than bad chicken fried steak. [I've certainly eaten my share of it!] And there is hardly anything better than the best chicken fried steak: tender on the inside, crisp on the outside, with impeccably seasoned cream gravy and a small (or not so small) mountain of mashed potatoes on the side.

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  2. Though I do drink coffee, I think I'll pass on the civet poop variety. Just like I passed on the $100 cup of tea at the japanese restaurant.

    The thing I don't get is why people ate jalapenos. Ok, I get the first time but after breathing and pooping fire, why would they do it again?

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  3. Lynn, PLEASE go back and read the post! If you don't, you'll be cheating yourself out of some very satisfying and energetic belly laughs. > Civet Doody! <

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  4. Dave Barry once ordered some of these beans, and was wondering how he could tell they were legit. Then he wondered, "What kind of world do we live in where I can be worried that my coffee beans WEREN'T pooped out by a weasel?"

    I think you have topped the Dave-ster here, and that's saying something.

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  5. Elizabeth BrewsterJuly 24, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Hmm. Kinda how I feel about wine and abstract art. Does the civet know how to use a paintbrush?

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  6. I was deeply amused when it came to light that some premium coffee or other at one of the snooty places had been surreptitiously replaced generic bulk coffee for a couple months, and no one had noticed. I love coffee, but one honest bean is pretty much the same as another.

    What is it about human beings and civets?

    ...Learn of the wise, and
    perpend: civet is of a baser birth than tar, the
    very uncleanly flux of a cat...

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  7. Why does that look like some health food bar? Do you think they've been pooped out too? So that there's some fruit/nut eating wombat somewhere that pushes out a granola bar for the great and the good?

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  8. Dale, you really class up this joint. Mme. DeFarge, it really seems possible to me that someone has discovered some weasel output that need only be wrapped up and sold. Then someone else is experimenting with the weasels to produce uniformity in the, uh, bars. Three Muskrateers?

    I feel bad about the chicken-fried steak slur, I really do. I had "Gummi bears" in there at first, and then I decided I was the only person who didn't like Gummi bears. In penance I will visit Lynn in Texas and have her feed me. That's pretty much what I do for fun everywhere.

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  9. Is this really true? Are you making this all up? It is so hard to believe that peole will really drink coffe from beans that have been pooped out by a civit or any other animal? You certainly found all the humor in these droppings! I guess the "scat" is in the bag now and waiting to be brewed!!

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  10. Murre,

    Bill walked in on me while I was snorting my way through this post. So it got read aloud. I think Chock Full o' Doots is my favorite.

    'Coons that eat pawpaws and persimmons make quite similar power bars. You've got my wheels turning. Surely someone somewhere will want to pay a lot of money to eat coon crap. Lord knows we have plenty around here.

    Wish I had the steam to prep some posts, but I'm strung out from the road. Mighty glad to read yours, though, Murrelet.

    For the record, I hate anything Gummi. Don't care if it's a sea creature or plantigrade, hate 'em all.

    xoxo
    jz

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  11. I would ALMOST rather drink a cup o'dooty coffee than eat that damn oyster. How do you know you aren't eating their doo-doo too? Gag!

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  12. Only you, Murr. ;-) I'd already decided to stay away from Casu-marzu cheese as I don't like to pick maggots from my teeth, and I'm not of the religious persuasion to be using Panchgavya medicine(ingredients include cow urine and dung). But messing with a woman's coffee is just crossing the line. I'll think twice before I enjoy the aroma--ya never know.

    OMG, it does look like a health food bar.

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  13. I love all your posts, Murr, but I'm particularly drawn to the poopy ones like a fly to...uh...a post-Civet coffee bean.

    'Civet doody'. My gawd, I laughed so hard I think I'm going to need several organ transplants.

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  14. All the finer people are drawn to the poopy posts, Lisa. It's natural, and I'm here to pass them along. Right now I'm making a mental note to scrutinize the cookie jar at Julie's house if I get invited back, and I'm trying ever so hard to not look up "Casumarzu cheese."

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  15. I had to read this out loud to a friend. The combination of $99 for a cup of coffee and beans that are pooped out by a civet is a bit beyond belief. Delicacies seem to have no limits especially when combined with ingenuous marketing. But equally absurd--some profiting from a "civet's doody" while others are trying to irradicate the unsuspecting critters. A glimpse into our world's hamster wheel.

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  16. Read it aloud to Shel, as I do all your posts, but didn't tell her who wrote it. After we finished breaking up at "Grunt and Grind" (amazingly, I made it all that way without really losing it) her first remark was "You have to send that to Murr." My comment was, "Could anyone else have written it?"

    Me, I wonder about the first guy who considered eating a lobster.

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  17. Seriously, my fondest dream is that people will read my stuff aloud to their SOs.

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  18. Actually the unprocessed civet product looks like some thing my Mom used to bake out of puffed wheat and chocolate (long before granola bars were invented)

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  19. Makes you wonder about that "puff" in puffed wheat, doesn't it?

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  20. You wouldn't believe the fava beans that come out of me. $900 on Saigon's open market last week.

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  21. As a long-time Chock Full o' Nuts fan (which, incidentally started as an actual shop selling nuts, not coffee) I'm not sure I'll ever forgive you for Chock Full o' Doots. But damn fine piece.

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  22. Yeah, I always wondered how we know that certain mushrooms are poisonous; like you can't test them on a goat 'cause they'll eat anything. Somebody in history took the fall for culinary science.

    When we were in Japan we used the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. We didn't ask what anything was until AFTER we tried it. Though Nancy balked one time and asked if the offered item was "animal or vegetable" before trying it. Turns out it was lotus root.

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  23. I don't know why, but that reminds me of the comedian who had a policy that if he opened the refrigerator and couldn't tell if something was meat or cake, he threw it out.

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  24. Nice post about high-priced coffee. Just curious, though: Where do you get $2 porn videos?

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  25. Trust my readers to know when my research is lax!

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  26. Lordy, you're not kidding! I had to go look it up, because I thought this was a joke.

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  27. Loved the chocolate flavour concept.

    Having recently seen the lobster process, I was also wondering who thunkavit first.

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  28. Lordy, you're not kidding! I had to go look it up, because I thought this was a joke.

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  29. Nice post about high-priced coffee. Just curious, though: Where do you get $2 porn videos?

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  30. I don't know why, but that reminds me of the comedian who had a policy that if he opened the refrigerator and couldn't tell if something was meat or cake, he threw it out.

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  31. Actually the unprocessed civet product looks like some thing my Mom used to bake out of puffed wheat and chocolate (long before granola bars were invented)

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  32. Is this really true? Are you making this all up? It is so hard to believe that peole will really drink coffe from beans that have been pooped out by a civit or any other animal? You certainly found all the humor in these droppings! I guess the "scat" is in the bag now and waiting to be brewed!!

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  33. Though I do drink coffee, I think I'll pass on the civet poop variety. Just like I passed on the $100 cup of tea at the japanese restaurant.

    The thing I don't get is why people ate jalapenos. Ok, I get the first time but after breathing and pooping fire, why would they do it again?

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