August 26, 2010 / 6:54 AM / 7 years ago

Wake up and think twice about smelling the coffee

<p>A palm civet eats Arabica coffee cherries in a coffee plantation owned by state plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara XII, in Situbondo in Indonesia's East Java province August 4, 2010.Sigit Pamungkas</p>

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - Lovers of the world's most expensive coffee, found half-digested in the dung of the wild civet, fear that its unique taste may be spoiled by planned farming of the animals.

Collectors hunt for the coffee cherries in the droppings of civets in Indonesian plantations to make a brew enriched by the bushy-tailed, cat-like animal's stomach that sells for as much as $770 a kg in London.

But as demand rises, producers have spotted an opportunity to increase supply by breeding the civets in cages and feeding them the coffee cherries. Production has started on a small scale.

Experts say the flavor relies on the civet's finicky feeding habits and varied diet to create the enzymes that enrich fermentation of the beans, so caged animals would produce a different coffee.

"I think wild civets offer more variants to the taste," said specialty coffee expert Edi Sumadi. "Inside the cage, the civets' diet is regulated, they're not free to pick following their instincts, so the enzyme inside their digestive system is monotonous."

Perkebunan Nusantara XII sells the civet coffee for $130 a kg from factories or $250 a kg in cafes on Indonesia's main island of Java, though the price multiplies as exports reach countries such as Korea, Japan, Italy and the United States.

<p>Civet coffee beans are displayed in a coffee shop owned by state plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara XII, in Situbondo in Indonesia's East Java province August 4, 2010. Coffee fruit is fed to caged civets and their droppings collected. Perkebunan Nusantara XII sells the civet coffee for $130 a kg from factories or $250 a kg in cafes on Indonesia's main island of Java, though the price multiplies as exports reach countries such as Korea, Japan, Italy and the United States. Picture taken August 6, 2010.Sigit Pamungkas</p>

"It's far tastier than any other coffee," said the firm's Danu Rianto. "To maintain high standards we have a standard operating procedure."

The coffee does not appeal to everyone -- Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took some as a gift on a visit to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, only to find local media dubb it "crappucino."

Slideshow (4 Images)

But now that Indonesia's highest Islamic authority has certified the brew as no longer "haram," or banned for Muslims, in the world's most populous Muslim nation -- so long as the beans are well washed -- producers, including Perkebunan Nusantara XII, are eyeing a bigger market.

In Jakarta's cafes, a cup of civet coffee, known as "kopi luwak," sells for around $9 to $11, and is attracting more interest.

"The taste is very smooth, the smell nice, and hey, it's not entirely haram after you wash it," said Andrea Guna, a first-time taster.

"The price is double that of Starbucks, but the taste is way more than double."

Additional reporting by Sigit Pamungkas and Beawiharta; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Nick Macfie

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