R. KRISHNA KUMAR
Looking for a very expensive drink? How about coffee made from civet droppings?
HE is one in a billion, literally. Looking for droppings that are worth its weight in gold. Or, to be more precise, dollars. Connoisseurs swear by it, experts are divided over it, sceptics are dismissive about it and a majority are ignorant of it. But there is a premium for this dropping in the international coffee market as they are reckoned to be "naturally harvested and processed". You may call it weird and squirm. But these droppings, found in and around coffee plantations in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, are scooped up with glee. And here is why. Palm Civets - Paradoxus hermaphroditus - known to prowl around the coffee estates, have cultivated a taste for coffee cherries, pick the best of the fruit and gorge on them. The cherry is processed in the digestive enzymes of the animal and the undigested coffee beans are excreted and the farmers go racing for it. A kilo of this "naturally processed" coffee beans may command anywhere between US $300 to $600, making it the most expensive brew in the world. "Pure shit", one may fume. But that is what it is and is taken as a compliment!
And T.S. Ganesh at Biligiri Rangan Hills in Karnataka is the only planter in India promoting this variety of brew and manages to scoop up about 3 kilos of these droppings - labelled by him as Kari Beck (for Black Cat in Kannada) Coffee - every year. Born and brought up in Bangalore, Ganesh, 71, who gave up his electronics business, found his moorings in the sylvan settings of B.R. Hills and took up organic farming. "I was wondering what to cultivate when I saw lumps of coffee beans around the coffee plantations and instantly recalled an article I read in the National Geographic magazine about a variety of coffee called Kopi Luwak from Indonesia and I knew this was it ", recalled Ganesh.He tried digging a little deeper to ascertain if the exotica surrounding the civet coffee was borne by scientific analysis and sent samples to the Coffee Board but they drew a blank. Undeterred, Ganesh nevertheless decided to experiment with it. "The civet cats are nocturnal by nature and steal through the coffee plantations during the harvest season - November-December - gorging on ripe coffee berries and are responsible for the creation of this exotic coffee. I now manage to scoop up three kilos of the droppings and the world-wide yield is about 100 kilos or less and there is no way one can boost production as the cats in the wild can eat only so much and not more," explained Ganesh, who is yet to find a market for Kari Beck Coffee in India though there are inquiries from other countries.
The exorbitant price is perhaps due to its rarity as also the exotica surrounding the "naturally processed" coffee beans that are picked up and are absolutely odour free. They are washed in water and kept in it for a day, then dried and pounded to get the husk off and finally roasted. The civet cat helps eliminate a few manual processes and the flavour is more subtle than regular coffee. "I don't use chemicals in my farm and I suspect the civet cats would not touch the coffee cherries if they were sprayed with pesticides", says Ganesh who combines organic farming with his other interests: wildlife photography, HAM radio operation and astronomy.Serving a frothing cup of the world's most expensive brew, Ganesh explains that a lay consumer can hardly tell the difference but a few connoisseurs do, though most prefer not to be told of its origin.You may call it another marketing gimmick, but Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee is also being sold in gift boxes in a few countries to those who cherish novelty. To provide an out-of-the-box experience, perhaps.