From the first time I heard about Indonesian civet cat coffee many years ago, I’ve been inexplicably dumbstruck yet at the same time so very intrigued. For those that aren’t familiar with this peculiar coffee, let me enlighten you.about the er.. production process. Civet cat coffee, known as kopi luwak in Indonesia where it originates from, is the most expensive coffee in the world, sold anywhere between $100 – $600 per pound in the US. You can get it in Australia too – a small cafe called Heritage Tea Rooms in Townsville sells it at $50 per cup. Why does it command such prices? In short, because of the peculiar bean production process. The civet cat eats ripe coffee berries as part of it’s normal diet and whilst the beans are passing through it’s digestive system apparently the civet cat’s stomach enzymes break down protein responsible for coffee’s bitter flavour. The beans are then defecated by the civet cat, collected, washed (and I hope they’re washed really, REALLY thoroughly), then lightly roasted.
Vietnamese weasel coffee is essentially the same as civet cat coffee, except that the animal doing the digesting is a weasel. These unique production processes apparently ensure a “smooth and mild” coffee taste. What would that taste like? Would you.. er.. taste any gamey flavours? Or taste any other aromas? The mind boggles.
So when I saw weasel coffee for sale in the Binh Thanh markets in Ho Chi Minh, buying some to try wasn’t even a question in my mind – only how much. Not surprisingly this coffee is much cheaper in Vietnam than the inflated overseas prices and the special weasel blend selling for a more respectable 40,000 VND per 100g (approximately $3AUD/100g). I’m not sure how the special weasel blend differs from the normal weasel blend but my imagination instantly populates my thoughts with possibilities and permutations. As the co-pilot’s Nonno is an absolute coffee fiend, drinking countless cups of espressos each day, we figure that this is the perfect type of souvenir for him.
Back home at Nonno’s house, we peer inside our precious packet, where the beans glisten and shine – usually a sign of good coffee Nonno tells us. We are hesitant but venture a deep sniff of the beans and are rewarded with a strong and heady coffee aroma.
Wasting no time we put the beans into a grinder to get the coffee brew under way. The beans are quite moist, and oily compared to the beans we’re used to. The ground coffee almost has a stickiness to it’s consistency and it clumps in moist heaps in the grinder. It’s largely futile but I attempt to dis-engage my brain and adopt a “best not to think about it too much” strategy and make the coffee.
The first impression of the coffee is that the oiliness we observed in the ground coffee has transferred to the liquid form in our cups as the brew sparkles and glints reflecting the bright sunshine streaming through the window.
The oiliness becomes even more apparent when I add my customary dash of milk to my espresso (yes, I add milk to my espresso and endure all sorts of “baby” taunts from Nonno but it’s the only way I can drink it). As I peer apprehensively at the oil slick sitting on my coffee I am aware that again it’s best not to think about this in too much detail and before my brain can engage and tell me otherwise, I sip the coffee.
The coffee has retained it’s rich aroma throughout and has a smooth taste with caramel overtones. I can’t taste the oiliness or the bitterness that the production process supposedly removes. I take another sip and allow the coffee to roll around in my mouth, coating my tongue, trying to discern all the facets of the coffee that I might detect. But my subconscious which has been until now bobbing around in the murky depths finally surfaces and reminds me of the peculiar coffee production method and warns me that if I try too hard I might detect rather unpleasant flavours.
When I tell Nonno that somewhere in Australia, someone is selling this peculiar brew for $50 per cup he raises an eyebrow in surprise. And what does this coffee connoisseur think of this coffee? He peered down his glasses at his cup and his exact words were “something different“. He thinks it’s a good coffee, but a bit oily. I’m not convinced it fits Nonno’s coffee connoisseur standards. He likes his coffee the way it is. Not from the back end of a weasel.
I personally don’t mind the flavour. And it makes a great conversation topic when adventurous foodie and coffee lover friends drop in to visit.
Where I purchased Vietnamese weasel coffee:
Lien Saigon, at Ben Thanh markets. There are 4 stalls within the markets:
Stand 1396; tel: (+84) 39031667
Stand 1327D; tel (+84)39130109
Stand 1321; tel (+84) 90 392 3948 and (+84) 39125365
Where to get it in Australia:
Heritage Tea Rooms (where they affectionately call kopi luwak “cat poo coffee”)
Lot 6 Thornton’s Gap Road, Hervey’s Range, QLD, Australia; (07) 4788 0199
Heritage Tea Rooms website