Coffee Bean Review: Kopi Luwak, The Bean Providore

This is crap coffee. In the most literal sense of the word. But it’s also up there as one of the weirdest, most unique, and interesting coffee experiences going round… perfect for the coffee snob in your life. Or just to treat yourself with something a little off the wall.

Image: Freshly harvested Kopi Luwak

Now. I should put in a bit of a disclaimer – well, two disclaimers off the bat…

1. Kopi Luwak, which initially sold for upwards of $1,200 a kilo, has become a murky ethical issue, as people seek to capitalise on the brew’s popularity by battery farming civets – the cat like animal that poos out the beans. No cup of coffee is worth cruelty to animals.

2. This wild harvested Kopi Luwak was provided to me by the Bean Providore, for the purpose of this review. As you’ll see – I’m not entirely unbiased when it comes to Kopi Luwak, so I probably should not just declare that the coffee was provided for this purpose, but that I have an if not vested interest, at the very least, an emotional interest, in seeing the Kopi Luwak legend grow. They sell their Kopi Luwak at $55 per 100gms. It’s not cheap.

The big question is – is it worth it?

A little about the Kopi Luwak Story

Kopi Luwak is famous. Of all the cool stories in the world, I’m connected enough to this one to feel a little sentimental about these little logs of excreted coffee beans. You can read more about how in this piece from my archives. But Kopi Luwak is a global media juggernaut – and I wrote the media release that started it, and was involved in the campaign that kept fanning the flames. Bean Scene ran this profile of my friends Allan and Michelle Sharpe, who launched Kopi Luwak into the cafe scene as a $50 coffee, called me to ask if I’d be interested in the story – which I was. And the release I wrote at 3pm one afternoon hit the front page of the Courier Mail the next day. We served up Kopi Luwak to a room full of travel writers a few months later. And the Sharpe’s Tea Rooms received coverage from That’s Life magazine, Sunrise, and then a host of global newspapers as the ball started rolling. Finally, they got a call from the producers of the movie The Bucket List.

Here’s a little clip from the Bean Scene article:

“When Allan Sharpe and his wife Michelle started serving Kopi Lewak coffee at their business, Harvey’s Range Heritage Tea Rooms outside of Townsville, he was hoping for an article in the local paper.

Five years later, Allan laughs at the memory, as he counts the number of media outlets where his story ended up: The New York Times, The London Times, The Washington Post, World Press and Reuters World News to name a few. For a while Townsville Enterprises were tracking the value of the coverage, but he says they finally stopped at $5 million.”

This story was, and remains, the biggest news story I ever broke.

I enjoyed several cups of Kopi Luwak at the time, as I brought journalist after journalist to the Tea Rooms to sample the $50 cup. And while I don’t think any 8 Oz beverage is worth $50, the experience clearly is. That’s why the Tea Rooms maintained pretty steady sales of the drink for years.

A little about the coffee

The story goes that the coffee cherries selected by the Palm Civet as they wander the plantations by night are the choice beans, and then the acids in their stomachs chemically alter the coffee bean so that it’s not bitter.

It’s a particularly earthy and mellow cup of coffee.

Now. I don’t want to disparage my friend’s and their cafe (which is a fantastic little spot, half an hour outside Townsville – the oldest building in North Queensland. The Harveys’ Range Heritage Tea Rooms) – but my coffee making, and coffee appreciation, have both come along way since the days of drinking slightly too hot coffee in regional North Queensland. And a few factors, like not selling a huge volume of the coffee regularly, and a gap where the roasted coffee made its way through customs, means the beans I was drinking then were no doubt less fresh than the beans I like to drink now.

Enter the Bean Providore, and this fantastic mail order service they offer. I liked the idea of reviewing fresh Kopi Luwak, made on a machine I’m familiar with, where I was in control of the variables.

So here’s how it went down.

The beans are a nice light roast. Not the overly black stuff I’ve seen served up as Kopi Luwak elsewhere.

I started off with a double shot flat white, I dosed 20gm of coffee into my VST basket, at a standard espresso grind, and ran the shot for a slightly long pour than 30ml – a 66mL double shot, I stopped the pour at the first sign of blonding.

I was pretty happy with the way it poured.

And the way the shot looked…

But the proof of the coffee is in the drinking.

It was pretty good. The milk leaves you with a pretty different flavour profile to the tasting notes for espresso. It was chocolatey, with a hint of rich earthiness, with a really coating mouth feel, and a lingering, pleasant, aftertaste.

It’s not $50 a cup anymore – it’s more like $11, so was it worth it? Throw in the added bonus of drinking something that was processed by an animal’s digestive tract, and I’d say yes. I wouldn’t drink it every day. But I’d bring it out on special occasions or as a special treat – and as a coffee lover, I’d be chuffed to get some as a gift. The great thing about the lower price point (though some of it, in part, is through the glut of unethical stuff readily available – though the number of civets allowed free range on coffee plantations has also surely increased), is that this isn’t a once in a lifetime, somewhat exorbitant, experience anymore. 100gms will do coffees for a dinner party – and that’s about the price many people pay for a bottle of wine.

I wanted this to be as objective as possible. So not only did I drink it as a short black – where it did produce the floral aroma and herby notes with a unique aftertaste.

I served some up to my little sister – who described it as choc-caramel, and delicious.

And a couple of friends – who are on a steep learning curve of appreciating specialty coffee – who said their flat whites were top quality, the kind of thing you’d drink in an excellent cafe, and you’d go back for more – and that there was a pleasant ashiness to the coffee, and a really buttery feeling in the mouth. Their words.

So in all, the four of us who sampled this bag called it a winner. And you can order it, and give it your own verdict, from the Bean Providore, who also do a fantastic subscription service where they’ll mail you a sample show bag of coffee every month.

Sunshine Coast Cafe Review: Clandestino Roasters, Noosa

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a specialty coffee shop in a semi-industrial estate in Noosa. Tucked into the back corner of a pretty well stocked deli, Clandestino is as undercover as a cafe can be while not truly being undercover – they’ve got a growing reputation amongst people who love coffee. And it’s deserved.

They’ve put a fair bit of effort into the little things – and – the bigger things, with this life sized plane flying over the bar area.

It’s a fantastic atmosphere – and if it wasn’t so cliched, I’d compare it to something you might find in Melbourne. It’s like nothing I’ve ever been to before – and the relationship with the deli makes it a knock out spot to spend a few lazy hours sipping and reading while you’re on a Sunshine Coast stopover.

They’ve also paid attention to their coffees – four grinders on the bench next to a rich, orange, La Marzocco, are stocked with rotating single origins, a seasonal blend, and, if you’re into that thing – decaf.

My first coffee was a Costa Rican Don Jose Micromill, a honey processed bean that was, as the tasting notes promised, full of cherry and chocolate notes.

My second was on their seasonal blend – which was a little bitter up front, but had a really nice finish and a lingering, sweet, aftertaste.

There are specialty coffee knick knacks, and shiny machines, all over the place – there’s a nice little brew bar, featuring a variety of pourover, clover, or siphon coffee, and a couple of cold drips sitting on the counter. They roast in house – right behind the bench. And the place oozes with atmosphere.

The vintage teaspoons are another nice touch.

It seems they’re pretty committed to educating the consumer – the tasting notes that are standard fare for good cafes these days, are supported by a huge map of the globe, marking the origins of the beans they source, and they offer cupping courses on site, but will also take them on the road for corporate events. Their beans are available for retail – and they wholesale, at least to another Noosa Cafe, Cafe La Monde.

There’s food available from the deli – and you pay for anything you consume when you exit, so you could potentially spend all day, and get three square meals, in the comfortably appointed cafe area.

You can check them out on Facebook.

The’s Visual Guide to Coffee Snob Christmas

Christmas is less than four weeks away.

Crazy. I know.

So what do you get the coffee snob in your life that won’t have them turning up their nose and regifting? It’s a conundrum. But is here to help. Here’s my guide to Christmas shopping in the under $100 category.

Click the image for a bigger version.

Visual Guide to Christmas

Here’s a bit of a guide to where to find bits and pieces around the web at the prices outlined above (most don’t include postage).

Brisbane Cafe Review: Cup Specialty Coffee Roastery, Woolloongabba

I love Cup.

If I’m meeting anybody in West End, that’s where I go (even if a megafranchise has tried to coin the idea that you meet somewhere that has horribly overroasted coffee).

But the problem with Cup at West End is that it’s so popular that sometimes seating (and parking nearby) isn’t so readily available.

This is the price you pay for consistently serving up amazing coffee, both the changing (based on season, taste, and goodness), but consistently grand Five Star Day blend, and a range of single origin delights. Produced on some of Brisbane’s nicest coffee kit, or served up as meticulously prepared filter coffee.

It’s easy to see why Cup is popular. They’ve been picking up some pretty nice little cafe accounts too – including Blackboard Specialty Coffee on the Gold Coast, The Little Prince in Woolloongabba, and the Rogue Rennard in Paddington.

The lack of space, and the amount of roasting that must be required to service these classy outlets, has produced something beautiful. A new roastery/cafe in Woolloongabba. As I was driving home from this new warehouse space today I was thinking that with Cup, Grindhouse, and Uncle Joe’s on my route to or from the city there’s a nice little coffee crawl itinerary just waiting for a lazy Saturday morning. I’m feeling a little bit spoilt for choice in my corner of Brisbane’s south side at the moment. My Brisbane top ten is going to be even harder to come up with this year, especially given I haven’t even managed to get to some of my old favourites.

I mentioned the “cafe as fourth place” thing in my review of Reverends the other day, and in my opinion, Cup’s new warehouse has nailed it. It’s big. Open. And is, as far as I know, the only cafe in Brisbane boasting both a Slayer and a Mistral on their benches (I want to say “in the world”). While it’s the new home of Cup’s roasting operations, there’s also a nice Coffee menu on offer (Josh, the owner and genius behind Cup, says there’ll be very limited food in the future). And did I mention there’s space. And seats. And tables. And music. And coffee.

I’m a big fan of Cup’s aesthetic – from font choice, to the black/timber fitout at this place, to the big roasting robot painted on the wall in West End, to the choice of some of the most beautiful and technologically amazing machines available – so I like this place a lot. The machines and the roaster are the visual heroes. The coffee is the real hero (and according to latte art smackdowns, and the recent Queensland Barista Championships – they still boast Brisbane’s best latte artists). Everything else is functional and understated. Like it should be. Definitely a great coffee shop, the owners got inspiration from articles like the Just Love Coffee Cafe – What Is a Just Love Coffee Cafe Franchise?

It’s still in the very early days. But I like it. Very much. You can buy their beans online too.

(there’ll be a map here one day – but for now, the roastery is tucked into 43 Balaclava St, Wooloongabba).

Brisbane Cafe Review, The Rogue Rennard, Paddington

Paddington is a suburb made for good coffee – but pickings have, in my opinion, been slimmer per capita of trendy person, than they should be – sure, there’s Hamptons – who do a cracking breakfast and serve up a good cup of St Ali. And there are other places known for food. But if I was going to tell someone to head to an area of Brisbane for a guaranteed good cuppa – it wouldn’t be Paddington.

But. The trendy person:specialty coffee outlet ratio has been boosted in recent weeks with the arrival of the Rogue Rennard – French for red fox.

The Rogue Rennard is a Cup Specialty Coffee account (the second with a Francophile theme – see The Little Prince).

The Rogue Rennard’s website explains the name:

“Remmie “The Rogue” Rennard was a famous and talented explorer during the late 1800s. Credited by newspapers of the time with having discovered coffee, the Americas and also pioneering modern-day brewing techniques.

He was of course discredited of these claims not long after it was found that he had penned the stories himself after a 12-day cognac and opium binge – and not to mention that his discovery of the ‘new world’ would have been a few hundred years too late.”

They’re serving up the delicious Five Star Day blend – which is one of my favourites. And they’re serving it up with a bit of style and aplomb, in a little French themed space decked out with a bit of style and aplomb. If there were two words I’d use to describe my Rogue Rennard experience, replete with a couple of friends, and some good times, and some food (they’ve just got their food licence) – they’d be “style” and “aplomb.”

The service was fast and friendly. The coffee was good, with creamy milk served at the perfect temperature.

The clientele were stylish, they were greeted – often by name. This is a nice little place, in a nice little suburb, serving up nice little selection of food, at nice little prices.

They live up to their offer, in their own words…

You can follow the Rogue Renard on Facebook.
(map will be added when my Google Maps plugin gets fixed – until then – find them at 106 Latrobe Tce, Paddington)

Brisbane Cafe Review: Reverends Fine Coffee, Fortitude Valley

This morning’s coffee outing was a coin toss. I was in the Valley for a 10am meeting. We’d paid for 20 minutes of parking (we made the mistake of entering a parking station before seeing how much it cost. Ouch). And I was armed with a “to do list” of two – Reverends Fine Coffee, and Ltd Espresso – a new Cleanskin account two doors down.

Reverends (it feels like there should be an apostrophe there, but there’s not) won out. The stark, clean lines of Ltd will have to wait for my next inner-city jaunt.

Reverend is pouring shots from one of the most beautiful machines known to man – the Spirit – I didn’t get a photo of it, because I’m all about the undercover review – but it produces some pretty stellar results in the right hands. And clearly the guy making the coffees this morning had such a set of hands. They roast their own gear, and offer up a blend, and rotating single origins – today, an Ethiopian Sidamo.

My flat white on the Sidamo was creamy and fruity.

My wife had the blend, and it was so good our daughter wanted to get her hands on it right away…

My great disappointment was that the impending start of my meeting, and the exponentially rising cost of our parking, meant I couldn’t linger.

I love the ideas that cafes are a “third place” – neither your home, nor your office, but somewhere to linger and mix with people, somewhere to spend time. There are a few specialty cafes in Brisbane that give off that vibe – some of my favourites are Uncle Joe’s, Veneziano, Cup (and the new Cup which opens tomorrow sounds even more like it’ll tick that box), and Dandelion and Driftwood – though it feels more like a bustling spot that’s geared towards experiencing decadent morsels, especially for women. Most cafes that make great coffee in Brisbane are, as a rule, dedicated to producing consistently good coffee, rather than keeping people comfortable all day (though none of these places are inhospitable). I love the vibe that a good fit out, and friendly staff, can create, but I’m hard pushed to pick a cafe I’d want to sit in all day to study or read a book. Reverend’s is a comfy couch a way from being that sort of place. I love the grungy fitout, the “distressed brick” look, the fairly open space with relatively sparse seating… It was great.

Their attention to detail on some of the little things – like the pew out the front, and the branded serviettes, made it a bit of a standout.

The raspberry muffin I had was delicious too. So it was a thumbs up all round from me.
Reverend’s has a Facebook page.


Brisbane Cafe Review: West End Coffee House, West End

A Campos account. A Slayer. West End. Chairs from an old scout hall… what could possibly go wrong?

Not much as it turns out, though this little spot is solid without hitting the spectacular highs of some of the other establishments in the neighbourhood.

The double shot flat white was chocolatey and rich, the piccolo was not quite as good, and was, perhaps, a little hot.

The shop has a nice vibe, and some little bits and pieces to eat, and a Thai themed menu for more substantial meals. It’s a worthy addition to any West End coffee crawl itinerary.


Reverse engineered coffee…

I’m a bit coffeed out today. I spent the morning behind the machine at church – and I’m starting to understand why Tony Montana had the rule “never get high on your own supply”… But this video makes me want another round.

That video is via the Weekend Edition.

Here’s a shot of one of my shots from this morning.

Brisbane Cafe Review: The Little Prince, Woollongabba

We were looking for somewhere new yesterday, and decided to check out the Little Prince, which is a nice little coffee bar tucked into the Princess Theatre in Woolloongabba. They’re serving up Cup Coffee’s sensational Five Star Day blend, pouring shots from a La Marzocco (I was a little disappointed that the Mistral I’d seen on Beanhunter wasn’t in play yesterday), and serving them up with some pretty nice latte art.

The double-walled (not Bodum) glasses for the piccolos were also pretty nice.

Sadly, we were also eating breakfast – and my taste bud objectivity when it came to the coffee was a little clouded by the honey, yoghurt, and tasty muesli that I was eating at the same time that I was drinking my coffee. But it was a nice mix.

The staff were incredibly friendly (it helps that we’ve got a pretty cute baby girl who wins just about anybody over). It’s very family friendly – with a basket of toys. Like this one. To play with.

I’d say they’ve succeeded in creating a little place with atmosphere, good coffee, and a light selection of meals, that I’d be happy to sit in for a while.

It’s also especially handy to the Mater Hospital. Parking is a bit of a pain – don’t park in the free shopping centre car park next door – despite the shared name, the two Princess facilities have nothing to do with each other, and we came back to the car to get a stern talking to that involved the words “towing” and “lucky”…


A snapshot of Seattle

If Coffee making (not growing) had a Mecca – it’d be Seattle. Here’s a nice little doco segment on Seattle’s coffee industry from the History Channel.

It’s nice.

Creative design from the South

Get in touch with us!