FrontRunners: Good to the Last Dropping

Kopi Luwak, with a price tag of about $175 a pound roasted, just may be the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world. But it’s not the cost that some coffee lovers will find hard to swallow. The “processing” of the coffee beans, which are grown on the lush plantations of Indonesia, takes place in the digestive system of a catlike creature called the palm civet. Known as the luwak by Indonesians, the civet is a clever hunter and tireless forager that will eat almost anything. But when it comes to coffee, it becomes as discerning as the most sophisticated epicure, determined to feast upon only the ripest coffee cherries available. Its taste in coffee has placed the luwak squarely in the middle of a food chain that begins on Indonesian plantations and ends in western and Japanese cafés at $5 a cup.  

Enzymes in the luwak’s stomach digest only the outer pulp of the coffee cherries, and the beans, it is claimed, ferment as they pass through the digestive system, acquiring their unique aroma and taste. Because the luwak is a creature of such precise habits, laborers need only return to the same location every day to “harvest” the beans.  

Production is steady, but hardly robust, with an annual crop of less than 500 pounds. But then, sometimes it’s better not to have too much of a good thing.

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