Civet Coffee? Don't believe it. That was the firm opinion of our Vietnamese guide, Tien, when we asked him about Kopi Luwak. Civets are cat-like animals native to South and Southeast Asia who feed on pulpy fruits, like the coffee cherry. When they eat the coffee whole, it passes through their digestive tract and is passed with the bean still intact. These beans are then gathered up and roasted like "normal" coffee. The coffee is so rare--and its flavor purportedly so unique--that it's currently the most expensive coffee in the world.
But Tien didn't buy it. As we walked past stalls of knockoff purses and sunglasses, he explained a lot of civet coffee was counterfeit. To meet the rising demand of coffee connoisseurs and curious tourists, the market had a few type of fake kopi luwak available. It might be completely fake, just regular coffee beans, but there was also an odd, gray-area of farmed civet coffee. Tien thought the farmed civet was the worst, because it wasn't true to the civet's natural habitat or diet.
So we passed on it. Until the last day. It was then that we stumbled across a large store that only dealt with coffee beans. When I say a large store, it was 8' x 8', which was remarkable compared to stores that were just a card table set up on the street corner. They had twelve different grades of farmed civet coffee and then "wild civet," which was $25 US for 3 oz (approx $130 lb). They had canisters of coffee on every free space on the wall, but the wild civet coffee was kept separately. When we ordered the wild civet, the owner pulled out a large plastic bag from behind her desk. Opening it, we saw a black, basketball-sized lump of coffee beans. They looked oily and slick, sticking together like...well...an over-sized dung ball to be honest. After using metal tongs to chip out a small bag's worth of beans from the dung ball, we had our coffee in tow!
When it came time to brew, we found the beans were still sticky and gummy. They didn't smell odd; just roasted coffee with a slightly sweeter aroma. We brewed the coffee in a French press and tried it black. The coffee was surprisingly smooth, with a slightly unusual fruity and chocolaty flavor. It was good coffee, not the best I've ever had, but there was still a strange, sweetish finish to each sip. It reminded me of when I first tried Jamaican Blue Mountain. I was surprised how "normal" it tasted. The coffee wasn't the fireworks on the palate I expected. But everything was exactly right. It was a perfectly balanced cup of coffee - the perfect cup of coffee. In comparison, the Kopi Luwak was a bit wilder. It was both recognizable as coffee, but still a bit strange, like tasting a wild crab apple next to a grocery store McIntosh.