Two years ago, we were spending a couple of days in Tagaytay and, as had been our practice, we went to Bag of Beans for one of our meals. They had a new item on their menu — coffee alamid — and my daughter, Sam, excitedly said she would order a cup.
We had heard of coffee alamid, of course, and all the notoriety that went with it, including the shock and disgust in people’s voices when they uttered the word “alamid.” To make a long story short, by the time we were through with dinner and it was time to order coffee, Sam started having second thoughts and finally discarded the idea altogether.
Personally, I wasn’t interested in coffee alamid. Living in an age of glitzy cafés most of which sell mediocre coffee, I am always wary of overpriced beverages and coffee alamid is reputedly the most expensive coffee in the world. In the US, a pound goes for $160 to $420; a cup sells for as much as $10. I’ve always wondered whether the price was due to its rarity, the labor intensive production, or a combination of both plus the hype it has generated.
For the uninitiated, coffee alamid — kopi luwak in Indonesia and kafé-laku in East Timor” — is known by the rest of the world as civet coffee. The Asian palm civet, also known as the toddy cat, is a nocturnal omnivore found in Southeast Asia and China. It feeds on small animals as well as fruits and coffee berries. When it eats coffee berries, the beans remain undigested. These undigested beans are picked from its drippings, cleaned, washed, dried and made into coffee. The theory is that the enzymes in the civet’s stomach do things to the coffee beans to give them great flavor.
Last weekend, my brother and his family visited and brought us a present — a jar of civet coffee beans. I tore the seal, opened the jar and the first thing I noticed was the glossy exterior of the coffee beans as though they were coated with oil. After dinner, I dumped half of the contents of the jar into the blender and processed the beans to a coarse grind. The aroma was decidedly fruity and sweet. The ground civet coffee beans went into the coffee percolator and, several minutes later, I was excitedly serving civet coffee to everyone who cared for a cup.
For Filipinos who associate good brewed coffee with the strong bitter (and somewhat sour) flavor of kapeng barako, civet coffee can either be a welcome change or a sorry disappointment. Civet coffee is mild, nutty, chocolatey and sweet. It doesn’t give you a jolt the way more full bodied coffee does. Drinking a cup of civet coffee is more like sipping a glass of wine — you pause between mouthfuls and allow the flavors to linger in your mouth. It is undoubtedly a wonderful accompaniment to a light dessert as civet coffee does not have the effect of drowning subtle flavors. Personally, I still prefer the boldness of Benguet coffee.