[FOUNTAIN]Even a drop is expensive

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[FOUNTAIN]Even a drop is expensive

A civet is pooping into a mug placed under its bottom. Wearing a grin, it produces droppings. That scene is a painted on a t-shirt made for Raven’s Brew Coffee, a U.S. gourmet coffee maker.
You can get this t-shirt on one condition ― buy a coffee package. A package of 110 grams, or 0.25 pound, costs $75. Called “Kopi Luwak,” it is very expensive.
The name “Kopi Luwak” is made of an Indonesian word, “kopi,” meaning coffee, and another word, “luwak,” meaning a musk cat. Civets live on coconut sap, which has natural alcohol, and coffee berries. The peel and the meat of the coffee berry is easily digested, but hard seeds within often survive.
In the process of enzyme digestion, the bitter taste of amino acid is added. That produces the unique fragrance and taste of Kopi Luwak, according to Stewart Lee Allen in the “The Devil’s Cup.”
Droppings of civets were used to make coffee. Coffee berries can be peeled by hand, but civet droppings makes things a lot easier.
There is another story about why civets started eating the coffee berry. In the 17th century, coffee was a luxury drink that not everyone could enjoy. Although coffee was introduced in Europe by the Arabs, it was still very expensive. King Louise XIV of France spent the equivalent of $15,000 to pay for coffee for his daughter.
The Arab world made every effort to prevent coffee trees, their golden goose, from being taken to the outside world. But monopolies and high prices can’t last forever. Dutch sailors stole branches of a coffee tree and brought them home. The East India Company grew coffee trees inside a greenhouse and then built a large-scale coffee farm in Batabia (the Jakarta of today), on the island of Java, Indonesia. From then on, wildcats on this island could eat this tasty food, wrote Tom Standage in “A History of the World in Six Glasses.”
Only 500 kilograms of Kopi Luwak is produced a year and Japan buys most of it, except for a little that is sold to gourmets in other countries, including the United States.
This designer coffee was imported to Korea and sold in one department store. A package of 50 grams costs 650,000 won, or $690, which means around 50,000 won per cup of coffee.
Who buys this expensive luxury drink? Most buyers are housewives in their 30s or 40s, which stirred a debate on the Internet as to whether they were just acting pretentious or not. The Arabic world’s monopoly on coffee was broken hundreds of years ago. But this gourmet coffee doesn’t seem to be for everyone.

*The writer is a deputy business news editor
at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yi Jung-jae
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