by Ned Hickson
Some of you are probably familiar with the civet cat, a tree-dwelling marsupial related to the mongoose family that looks like a cat and sprays its enemies with a stinky oil.
Naturally, we humans harvest that oil and make it into perfume, which in turn is used by department store clerks in the women's section to spray enemies with during the holiday shopping season.
What many of you may not know is that civets have entered the coffee bean producing business -- something that is fast becoming the most frightening beverage concept since the introduction of New Coke.
(For those of you with a weak stomach -- or who happen to be drinking coffee at this very moment -- neatly fold this section of the paper, then prepare yourself an Ajax mochaccino to cleanse your pallet with before reading on.)
Let's start with a little history.
Bean growers on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi have long regarded civets as pests because of their propensity to climb coffee bean trees, eat only the choicest berries, and talk incessantly about their stock portfolios while emitting a shrill sound similar to that of a espresso machine.
However, at some point, someone suffering from the biggest case of caffeine addiction in the history of man decided he was desperate enough to "harvest" the civet droppings as a way to get his coffee fix.
Though the trail leading to the identity of this "pioneer" is not complete, coffee genealogists have determined that it was someone visiting from the Seattle area.
From those humble beginnings comes the coffee bean known as Kopi Luwak -- which, loosely translated, means "Butt Coffee."
O.K., I made that part up.
It actually means "coffee" (Kopi) "weasel" (Luwak), which isn't much better -- and a name advertising agencies won't be rushing to trademark any time soon.
Which brings us to our next question: how to market such a product?
Getting folks to buy something that, as its biggest selling point, can boast of being pre-digested by a skunk-like animal is going to be a tall order for any add agency to swallow (at least, not without liberal amounts of cream and sugar.)
And with an average sticker price of $200 per lb., don't bother looking for it in the bulk coffee section of your local supermarket -- unless, of course, U.S. manufacturers come up with a "generic" equivalent (the only thing more frightening than Kopi Luwak itself.) Given that the U.S.D.A. allows a certain amount of "foreign matter" in processed meats and canned goods, what kind of standards would be kept on a product that begins as "foreign matter" in the first place?
Let's move on.
There are a number of Kopi Luwak suppliers in America, with M.P. Mountanos Inc. being the first company in the U.S. to import the beans after trying them out several years ago. According to the company, the decision to purchase 70 kilos of the beans was finally made after a seven-year search for a "reliable" and "stable" supplier.
Whether that's in reference to civets cats or growers, I'm not exactly sure.
What I am sure of is the potential market this opens up for us here in the Northwest, where pre-digested black berry jam can be found in abundance along most logging roads in the spring.
For anyone interested in pursuing this venture, I wish you the best.
As for me, I'm content in just bringing you the straight poop.