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All We Can Eat
Posted at 01:30 PM ET, 01/04/2012

This Sumatran civet coffee is cra...really terrible

Civet coffee: bad to the last dropping. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
One of my Christmas gifts this year came straight from the digestive tract of a civet cat. Well, maybe not straight from the digestive tract. I’d like to think there was some sort of cleansing step between excretion and my coffee cup.

Sure, I’d read the Times story from 2010, which, between the Baby Ruthlike logs in the main photo and the dire warning of fake civet coffees on the market, was enough to make me pine for Maxwell House. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to try my first cup of coffee prepared with beans fermented in a civet cat’s digestive tract — beans widely considered the most expensive in the world. Is this the coffee drinker’s equivalent of an anal fixation?

My wife, Carrie, paid dearly for this measly two-ounce packet of civet coffee, or kopi luwak, from Sumatra, which was then shipped to the United Kingdom for roasting. It was eventually sent to the United States in this vacuum-sealed package in which the beans were conveniently pre-ground because, you know, caffeine snobs really love coffee that has lost all of its essential oils.

Civet Coffee from pre-ground beans, ideal for the perfect cup of stale coffee. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
My first whiff of those ground beans was not immediately off-putting. I detected earthy and fungal aromas, which hinted at good things to come in the cup. I prepared the coffee in my Hario V60 dripper, which was perhaps not the ideal method for a perfect four-minute steep, but I couldn’t imagine using my automatic drip coffeemaker for this tasting.

The results?

I was dumbfounded. I had not tasted something like this since college, back when each cup of coffee was still a thrill, not a tool to stimulate the senses in the morning.

It tasted just like...Folgers. Stale. Lifeless. Petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water. I couldn’t finish it.

A few days later, I upgraded my system to the Clever Coffee Dripper and prepared a cup, steeped precisely four minutes, from the ground civet beans. Same result: a cup of coffee as flavorless as wet cardboard.

These beans cannot be the stuff that civet coffee enthusiasts rave about. I will have to find another source for the beans and report back again. Any suggestions on trustworthy civet coffee sellers?

By  |  01:30 PM ET, 01/04/2012

Tags:  Tim Carman

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