Sure, there are expensive coffees out there. Jamaican Blue Mountain, which runs upwards of $40 per pound, is one of the best you can buy – but it’s not even close to the astronomically expensive Kopi-Luwak, which rings up at a whopping $300 for a pound. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning. And, well, it’s kind of a crappy story.
The island nation of Sumatra is known for its excellent coffee. When Dutch colonists overtook the island centuries ago, they propagated the native resources, including coffee beans, which were sent back to Europe. There were none left for the Sumatrans. There were, however, plenty of coffee cherries (the fruit that encases the bean) to be enjoyed by luwaks: tiny marsupials that are basically tree-living meerkats, which ate the best fruit, and hence the best beans, before they was harvested. The fruit they digested, but not the beans, which passed through their digestive tract whole. You see where I’m going here. The Sumatrans gathered up those beans, and discovered that they had black gold on their hands… literally. It all means that - wait for it – the most desirable coffee beans in the world have been pooped out of animals.
Which is not to say that you’re paying $300 for luwak doodie. The beans are gathered, dried, washed and roasted at 400 degrees before they get anywhere near Caffe Bon-Ami in Cranston, the only purveyor of Kopi-Luwak not just in Rhode Island but all of New England. I arrived on a sunny morning to find Malcolm, the owner of the café, waiting with an 1830s King’s Court Belgian siphon coffee press to brew me the world’s most expensive cup of joe (which he calls, to my immense delight, his poop de grace). As we waited for the lengthy brewing process – if you’re going to drink something this extravagant, you want it brewed properly - Malcolm made me a from-scratch pecan Belgian waffle and explained that the enzymes the beans are exposed to in the 12 hours they spend in the luwak’s digestive tract neutralize all of the bitterness we normally associate with coffee, and drastically alter the flavor.
So how does it taste? Completely unexpected. The brew isn’t particularly aromatic; it has the most mellow yet robust flavor you can imagine. It tastes like coffee, but nuanced, immersive coffee. All of a sudden I realized that I was tasting this the same way I taste a fine wine: swirling the cup, breathing in the aroma, examining top notes and bottom notes, appreciating the mouth feel (which is surprisingly smooth and light compared to normal coffee). The difference between Kopi-Luwak and Starbucks is the difference between boxed wine and a 20-year- old Bordeaux. I won’t be brewing any at home – the difference would be lost on a drip coffee machine – but I’m not going to lie: the coffee I drank the next morning suddenly tasted a lot less enjoyable than it did before my $300 coffee experience.