The aroma of Vietnamese weasel coffee

by Forager on June 26, 2009

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 th
e 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 1188A
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

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen June 26, 2009 at 1:57 am

Lol…'something different'…now I know what he really thought!

Umm coffee and excrement…def a conversation starter!

2 Stephcookie June 26, 2009 at 3:19 pm

I can't believe they change $50 a cup. Wow. I'd try it, but not for 50 bucks! I wonder why it was so oily, I like the sound of the caramel overtones though!

3 pigpigscorner June 26, 2009 at 10:11 pm

This is new, I've only heard of cat's but not weasel's. and $50 a cup! It better be darn good =P

4 Forager June 27, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Hey Karen – You're absolutely right. This stuff is only for the truly adventurous. Wonder if it's safe for vegetarians?

Hey Stephcookie – I have no idea why it was so oily and the possibilities that come to mind aren't great… And if I didn't find it in Vietnam there is no way I'd pay $50 for a cup of coffee – no matter where it came from. Let alone something's backside!

Het pigpigscorner – Yeah, I hadn't heard of this before I went to Vietnam either. It was admittedly pretty good, but I would be disappointed if I'd paid $50 for a cup.

5 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella June 28, 2009 at 11:18 pm

This is so interesting! And I had no idea it was so oily-the beans look so slick and dark! Hehe I get the feeling Nonno likes what he likes but at least he's open minded enough to try new things! :)

6 Chris June 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm

oh you're brave…! I don't think I could suppress my subconscious like that, even if it did get rid of the bitterness (I'm the type that loves the smell of coffee, but needs a lot of milk and sugar to drink it down..)
I wonder if it would be less oily if dripped and served with sweetened condensed milk the way they do it in Vietnam?

7 Ed June 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

I love weasel coffee made with the Vietnamese dripper. You can get it on Victoria St Richmond as well and costs about $10 or $15 for a couple of hundred grams.

8 Forager July 1, 2009 at 1:07 am

Hey Lorraine – No, I didn't think they'd be oily either. Most disconcerting. And yes, Nonno is very indulgent with us.

Hey Chris – I'm not sure whether the dripping would help. We make the espresso using a traditional Italian stove top coffee boiler. Maybe it does help..

Hey Ed – Well, there you have it! Those prices are much more reasonable than $50 per cup. I'll have to get the details off you when I'm next in Melbourne! Thanks for dropping by!

9 David Ford December 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I bought some Weasel coffee beans at Ben Thanh markets last week.  The beans are so oily that they clump together to the point where they will not go through the grinder.  The hopper is coated with oil.  Is there any way I can treat the beans to remove some of the oil, without reducing the flavour of course?

Some non-Weasel beans from Buon Ma Thuot in the central highlands is bought at the same time are nearly as oily, so perhaps the oiliness is a product of the roasting process rather than of the animal gut.

Cheers

David

10 Forager December 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Hey David – We used a small personal grinder where you can get access to the grinds as opposed to those large industrial ones with the grinding chute. Perhaps that will help? I don't know how to reduce the oil, but like you doubt it actually imparts much flavour. You could try freezing the beans and grinding them frozen – this won't reduce the oil, but it might harden the oil and keep it brittle and not sticky during the grinding process. Good luck and let me kow if you find a solution!

11 Matt February 13, 2012 at 12:33 am

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for your wallet), the coffee in Ben Thanh market hasn’t been anywhere near a civet cat but has been through a synthetic process to emulate the digestive process of a weasel. Which is why it costs less than $3000/kg. [ref: http://www.trung-nguyen-online.com/legendee.html

12 lai van phong March 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm

The Vietnamese -Premium Weasel Coffee – weaselcoffees.com
What is the Weasel Coffee ? The definition of Weasel coffee sometime make coffee drinkers wonder and curious ! today – weaselcoffees.com ( The one of the Best Coffee producer) will reveal about this,

Daily Delight, Mr’s Phong Private Researve and Masterpiece of weasel coffee from vietnam will refresh you after or begining a new day
1) Weasel : or Civet : the name of animal lives in Buon me thuat or highlands of Tay NGuyen , south of vietnam, this animal love eating the best and ripest coffee fruit. ( Just eating Coffee bean without eating much other bean, some people beleave that this animal also eat the Soyal bean or vegetable.. fruits. They choose the ripest and sweet bean in the garden or wild hills
The Civet or weasel

Most types of weasels found in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and China are meat-eaters. However, one type of civet in Buon Ma Thuot Province in Vietnam only eats fruits, with ripe coffee cherries as its staple. Being a nocturnal animal, it only feeds at night , round of 10pm to 3 am , this time supposed tobe best for degestation

Wild weasels run and walk around the coffee plantations, Tay Nguyen highlands, southern hills eat the best and ripest coffee fruit and then after some time, leave their droppings or that’s called ” Dung” around with the coffee beans relatively undigested and intact. However, the enzymatic process that happens inside their stomachs give the undigested coffee beans a rather earthy, chocolaty flavor and special smell after produced when roasted and ground. This unique, distinctive taste is priced by coffee connoisseur who pay heavily for this special type of coffee. With only around 700 kg of weasel coffee harvested per year in Indonesia and Vietnam,

The Wild Weasel coffee is beleaved the most expensive coffee ( wild weasel – the weasel or citvet which is wild and not feeded by farmers and humans)
the farmers have to collect theirs droppings or “Dung” when they go inside the Jungle or highlands.
Farming Weasel coffee: which is feeded by farmers , now there are many coffee plantations in Tay NGuyen which feed Weasel and raise weasel, civets at home or their plantations…. The Farmers force the Civets and weasel to eat all the time and everyday , this make the production and “weasel coffee” is not as well as Wild Weasel coffee and cheaper

Love of cherrie
According to the research done by Professor Massimo Marcone at the University of Guelph in Canada, during the weasel’s digestive process, enzymes pass through the bean’s pectin layer and penetrate inside the bean, changing the protein and molecular structure, adding sugars as well as creating smaller molecules. This cause the delightful taste and distinctive aroma of weasel coffee.
Buon Ma Thuot in Vietnam is one of the only two coffee-growing regions in the world where authentic civet coffee is produced. Weasel coffee from this region has an excellent chocolaty taste and distinctive aroma that is markedly different from those produced in other areas. This is partly due to the non-meat diet of the weasels and partly due to the topography of the area, with its basaltic soil and mineral-rich Dray Sap waterfalls making the area more fertile. All of these factors make Buon Ma Thuot’s weasel coffee popular and Great, we call Great of Coffee
The Average price for Authentic weasel coffee – Weasel coffee on Farm in Buon Ma Thuat now cost round of 700 – 1200$/killo

The Wild Weasel Coffee : cost at least from 1500$/killo to 3500$/killo
There some coffee in hanoi such as some street shop with name of ” Weasel coffee ” is not the authentic and real or pure weasel coffee, I live in Hanoi for more than 7 years and drink coffee dailly, i tasted and smelled of this many times, most of this Weasel coffee is mixed – coffee , or coffee mixed with Soyal Bean and Grounded-Sugar Corn and some others China-spacy added. people will never know where is the real and authentic weasel coffee ?? not easy to distinguish.
Warnings: If somebody sell you a ” weasel coffee” cost 20 – 40 $/ 100gram – ==> should check it, check and test with other normal coffee.
The authentic weasel coffee: 70 -100$/100gram; reliable and also need to check
The best way is : should buy weasel coffee from someone reliable , like your closed friend and directly at farm…
Some weasel coffee is mixed with 40-70% of authentic weasel coffee bean, this also called weasel, but cheaper and not as strong as 100% weasel coffee favor
in Sanfrancisco , there is a Sole Vietnamese premium weasel coffee Distributor in USA, weaselcoffees.com , here you can buy authentic weasel coffee and iced-coffee, and cherries coffee, all Buon Me Thuat coffees are available here

The coffee is produced with the special method from Buon Me Thuat Manufactory and then shipped to Us by Airline or ship in a week, this coffee named Daily Delight, Mr’s Phong private researve or Masterpice, with reasonable price, the coffee here with various types used for gifts, business, home-drink, …

13 Forager March 31, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Hey Matt – Well, that does make sense I guess. Although, I’m not too concerned that I haven’t sampled civet cat poo!

Hey Lai – Er.. thanks for your enlightening essay
Forager recently posted..Win one of five Hide and Seek Sydney: Feeling Peckish guides! My Profile

14 Phuc February 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Excuse me Forager, do you miss understand between “Ben Thanh Market” and “Binh Thanh Market”? (I found it from your writing: 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. ) Ben Thanh Market is a very famous market in the District 1 Hochiminh City, Binh Thanh is another District’s name, about 10 kms from Ben Thanh, and there are several markets in Binh Thanh District. Several foreigners missunderstand between the two names and take a taxi to the wrong destination.

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