|Photo by Praveenp. Used under a Creative Commons |
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Peering at you from the foliage in the picture at the right is an Asian Palm Civet, a small nocturnal Southeast Asian mammal. Civets like to eat fruit - especially coffee cherries - but they can't digest the seeds. This trait has made the civet an essential player in the production of the most expensive and sought-after coffee in the world, a beverage called "cà phê chồn" in Vietnam.
Weasel coffee (which is how the Vietnamese roughly translate cà phê chồn into English) is a unique type of coffee which starts with undigested coffee beans picked from civet cat stool. The salvaged beans are washed, sundried, roasted and ground to produce a really amazing brew - the civet's digestive enzymes shorten peptide chains and create free amino acids in the beans, resulting in an aromatic beverage with much less bitterness than the average cup of joe.
Just before she came home from China, my altdaughter Sproffee vacationed in Vietnam and brought back a package of cà phê chồn. On Sunday afternoon, our families got together and, after a wonderful dinner of grilled steaks and freshly-picked garden veggies, we brewed a pot of precious poop java.
The ground beans have a rich, strong aroma of dark chocolate with a very faint background of toast and loam. I tried the coffee both black and served with sweetened condensed milk, which is how Sproffee says it is usually served in coffeehouses in Vietnam.
The brew is strong and dark-tasting, very similar to an espresso, but with much less bitterness. A slight sweetness takes some of the edge off the dark characteristic while emphasizing the chocolatey tones, but the flavor softens and mellows with subsequent sips. With the sweetened condensed milk added, the strength is subdued but I'm not convinced the coffee is better for it; it was a little too sweet for me and I think it's better either black or with my own preferred coffee adulterants, half-and-half and a small amount of sweetener.