At the bottom of every cup of ValBeMar’s Kopi Luwak brew, the most expensive coffee in the world, there lies a priceless morsel of Indonesian culture.
When the Dutch introduced the coffee plantation industry to Indonesia, the natives, who served as employees, were banned from obtained the luxurious beverage. As a result, they began to observe the habits of the Luwaks, also called civets, which are cat-like mammals who roam free on the plantations choosing the ripest cherries off the coffee plants for eating. The civets’ digestive system cannot digest the bean of the cherries, so each coffee bean goes through a transformative process before passing through and exiting whole to the ground. The beans can then be collected, cleaned, and used for brewing the finest coffee in the world.
What began as the poor man’s coffee is now exalted by wealthy social icons, including Oprah, and premier chefs. Each cup can cost anywhere from $35 in the states, or 80 Euros abroad. ValBeMar prides itself on seeking to educate the world on the importance of the product’s natural process. They hosted a private tasting for Food Mafia founder Stacy Johnson to relate just how precious this beverage is.
Can you tell me what makes this product so unique?
There are different types of beans [used for this type of coffee,] but we only use the best, which are Arabica beans. They only grow in certain altitudes in Indonesia. The plantation is the largest Kopi Luwak producer thay uses Arabica beans. Their production is very low—its only 600 kilos each year. We obviously depend on nature, and we can’t expedite anything at all, so everything is handpicked and there are many steps. There is a certification system in place that the Dutch installed to regulate the cleaning process of the beans. Once they’re clean and sun dried, they do the roasting on site. They only roast and package when there’s a demand for it so they’re the freshest possible product.
Because of the high price tag for each cup of coffee, ValBeMar makes a point of exposing some less-than-natural approaches to recreating this ancient process.
The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is the actual production plays a huge part [in the flavor of the coffee]. If they don’t understand that these animals should be wild to roam free and pick their own ripe cherries to produce the best quality coffee, then they would know the difference because there are a lot of plantations out there that capture the civet cats and force feed them. When you force-feed them, you’re picking the cherries, and their not allowed to pick and choose the best ones. Also, many of these plantations cage the animals, and the stress induced from captivity disrupts the enzyme reactions, which changes the chemistry of the bean. That lowers the quality. When you cage civets in close range, they tend to compete and then die out from bite wounds or bacterial infections. Our plantations has built a sanctuary for the civets to avoid competition and even assist in rehabilitating their population.
ValBeMar doesn’t yet have a storefront because they sell wholesale coffee directly from their website to luxury restaurants and hotels, but they hope to open a coffee shop in Manhattan Beach within the next two years. For now, they are pushing the product through expert chefs who also cater to a niche of people seeking high-quality products.
Visit ValBeMar's site for more information.
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