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This Coffee Tastes Like Shit!

Ivan had a root canal beautifully done in Taichung, Taiwan but there wasn’t sufficient time to complete the permanent crown before traveling to Amed, Bali. To complete the crown, we had to hire a driver to take us to the 911 Dental Clinic in Denpasar, Bali, 2-3 hours away from where we were

The road to Denpasar seemed too narrow to allow traffic to flow in both directions. Our driver approached pedestrians, scooters and children playing by the roadside perilously close. At any moment, we wouldn’t have been surprised to see bodies flying. We were exhausted just from sitting on the edge of our seats for the entire trip to Denpasar, so we asked our driver to stop for a coffee before setting back to Amed.

He mentioned that he knew of a good spot for coffee 1 hour away. We thought it was a long time to wait but figured it would probably be really worthwhile if it was so far away. I don’t know what kind of reasoning we used to come to that decision … it’s probably akin to someone spending five times more at an exclusive restaurant because “it must be superior if they charge that much more!”

photo by Marcus Schoepke
photo by Marcus Schoepke

We climbed into the mountains through ever-winding roads that became narrower and less trafficked. We are inveterate believers and figured it must be a terrific cafe with stunning panoramic views of the sunset because it was starting to get dark.

We were warmly received as we pulled into a parking lot and were escorted out of the car as royalty. We still didn’t realize what was up! Only when the uniformed staff began pointing out the coffee and cocoa plants did we realize that the driver had called ahead to let his friends know that he was bringing a couple of tourists for a Luwak coffee plantation tour.

This was laughingly not what we expected. All we really wanted was a simple cup of coffee. We reluctantly agreed to a hurried tour as if we had never seen how coffee was grown. We were shown a few token, scraggly coffee plants and sorry staff members grinding coffee beans by hand and slow roasting beans in a wok over a small flame.

Asian Palm Civet and Coffee Cherries
Asian Palm Civet and Coffee Cherries

The famous and ultra-expensive Luwak, or Civet Coffee, is actually comprised of the seeds of coffee cherries that have been eaten and then defecated by the nocturnal, Asian Palm Civets (cat family). They wander out of the Sumatran jungle at night onto coffee plantations and select the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. They are not able to digest the stone (coffee bean) which is then defecated. The beans are picked out from the fecal matter and cleaned off before roasting. The animal’s anal glands impart that elusive, musky smoothness, uniquely rich aroma and smooth, rounded flavour to the resultant roasted coffee. That’s the theory anyway.

This coffee sells for $30 to $100 per cup in New York City and London. Beans can be purchased on Amazon for about $150/pound. Harrods packages civet coffee in a Britannia-silver and 24-carat gold-plated bag selling for over $10,000 advertising that their coffee is sourced from wild animals and that only 500 kg of it is collected annually.

We ordered one sample cup of this infamous Luwak coffee for 50,000 rupiahs, or about $4, which is highway robbery in a coffee-growing country. (Indonesia is the fourth largest coffee producer in the world.) A normal cup of coffee in Bali costs less than 70 cents in US currency.

We were looking forward to trying the world’s most expensive coffee. (Perhaps you remember the Morgan Freeman / Jack Nicholson scene about this coffee that was in the movie, The Bucket List?)

“Disappointed” doesn’t begin to describe our experience. The cup had no distinctive top notes, no brightness, no complexity of flavor, no body and no lingering coffee taste. In fact, this coffee tasted like shit.

photo by Stefan Magdalinski
photo by Stefan Magdalinski

The truth is that Luwak coffee was originally produced by following the cats around and collecting their fresh droppings, which is the only authentic and humane method. The horrible reality is that now civets are kept in cages in unnatural conditions which often results in them dying within six months. Civet coffee is a cruel hoax to both the animal and the coffee aficionado. PT Barnum would have been proud of Harrods’ $10,000 scam.

Needless to say we didn’t buy any Luwak coffee, and certainly the driver made no commission for bringing us to this tourist trap. We never established how well our driver understood English. We were driving at breakneck speed along winding roads too close to the cliff’s edge. Not for a moment did we consider distracting the driver with questions about a cafe that seemed to be well off the beaten path.


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