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.

Luwak-pooh
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.

Review: The Bean Providore, fresh coffee to your door each month

I’ve liked the Bean Providore on Facebook for a while now. So I was pretty excited when they asked me if I’d like to review their service here.

This is what they do

It’s $35 a month, which is quite reasonable for postage of 400gm of high standard specialty coffee.

Here’s what it looks like when it arrives – it was a bit of a thrill getting a selection of coffees that I hadn’t had any hand in choosing. This is the adult lucky dip. I used to love the lucky dip option at toy shops… it was the same feeling. Right down to the crepe paper.

This month’s delivery had a nice range.

I cracked open the Guatemalan first.

One of the difficulties of a 150gm bag of coffee is that if you make any mistakes dialling in your shots you’ve wasted a fair proportion of the bag. Which is fine. It just gives you less wiggle room.

My first shot was a little bit of a gusher. It was drinkable. But a little washed out. I weighed, and dosed (and weighed) 18g of it into my 18g VST basket. And I repeated that with a finer grind for subsequent shots.

The subsequent shots were pretty special – it was a really complex coffee.

The next bag I opened was the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – a perennial favourite, though tracing Yirgacheffes has become more difficult because of some changes in the Ethiopian coffee market.

My first shot, again, was a little fast – but it was still rich, fruity, and gooey.

The second shot was much better.

It’s a great service. I could get used to having people take a lot of the work out of sourcing coffees for me (if I wasn’t a sucker for being involved in every part of the journey from green bean to cup). They also sell Kopi Luwak.

Coffee Bean Review: Plantation Coffee Roasters Costa Rica La Lapa

So a little while back I reviewed a cafe called Shucked. Shucked made my top ten cafes for 2011, largely on the back of the sensational single origin they served up, which was, drum roll, a Costa Rica La Lapa.

When I wrote that original review, one of my criticisms of Shucked was that I didn’t know who roasted their Shuck’n’Awe blend and that sensational Single Origin. One thing led to another, and their roaster, Shaf, from Plantation Coffee Roasters got in touch with me to let me know a) he roasts for Shucked, and b) he’s a new roaster on the scene in Brisbane. Again, one thing led to another, and suddenly I had a bag of the very same Costa Rican coffee in my hot little hands to review.

Now. Initially I’d planned to do all sorts of fancy stuff like using the Costa Rican in my Chemex, and putting it through its brewing paces. But I didn’t. Because it was just so good through my espresso machine. Tasty. Not quite the lemon meringue tasty that Shucked served up. I’m not packing a fancy La Marzocco. But sweet. Citrus. Tasty.

Here it is going through its paces in my lab/kitchen.

Plantation Coffee Roasters is working on a roastery of some sort. In the mean time they’re roasting coffee for the following locations:

Shucked Coffee House
9 Creswell St , Newstead

Venice Gelato Cafe
shop22/315 Brunswick st
Fortitude Valley

Star Fish Cafe
12 Goggs Rd
Jindalee

Sunshine kebabs
Eastern Rd
Browns Plains

If you’re interested in finding out more about Plantation, find them on Facebook here. I can highly recommend checking out their wares at Shucked.

Coffee Bean Review: Costa Rica De Licho from Cup

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Cup in West End. But when we were perusing their wares during our recent Coffee Crawl I decided to splash out on some single origin beans to review. And I settled on a One Third Kilo bag of Costa Rica De Licho beans. And I’m glad I did. Wow.

These beans were ok at first. In fact, for the first couple of cups I would have called them average. But then, something magical happened. 10 days post roast these beans just went nuts. Or fruits. Apricot I reckon. Sweet, with a lingering apricoty flavour. It transformed. Somehow. The coffee I had at home, in my dining room, on Tuesday this week, was just incredible.

I got a little bit sciency, and towards the end of the bag I was pulling incredibly slow shots, and weighing the result. I do very much love a slow poured shot.

This De Licho bean is something special. It’s “honey processed” – and if you’re like me you have no idea what that means. But I’m now educated and here to help. It appears that by cutting down on water use in processing the coffee it’s more environmentally friendly. The beans are dried with the fruit’s flesh on on raised beds. The flesh becomes sticky, and the sugars concentrate – the guy in this video suggests it’s like a candy-bar of coffee parchment. Here’s some info from coffee traders, Mercanta, who confirm the apricots I tasted were real.

Finca Los Lajones – Honey Coffee Processing from Jarda Tucek on Vimeo.

I loved this coffee so much I bought a few kilos from MinistryGrounds to roast myself.

Coffee Bean Review: Dandelion, and Driftwood

Last Saturday, given a spare couple of hours and a hankering for breakfast/brunch outside the house, my wife and I decided to head over to Dandelion and Driftwood to try out their food menu. On previous visits we’d stuck squarely to the coffee. That’s what Dandelion and Driftwood are building their reputation on (contrary to some reviews you may have read in the Courier Mail today – seriously, I know Alison Cotes, I spent a few days with her, spread over a few visits, in Townsville. She’s nice. But this review is a little ridiculous. Why would you not start off at a place that prides itself on tea and coffee by drinking the tea and coffee? And why go for the fancy and expensive stuff if you’re just going to bag it for being fancy and expensive).

Anyway. Here are some obligatory photos of the food – because this is ancillary at best to what we’re talking about here.

That’s my toasted man-wich – bacon, egg, cheese, man sauce and potato chips.

Robyn chose the toad-in-the-hole. A triumph of hyphens.

Both were pleasant. But really, like I said. The coffee is the star attraction.

The latte art on this coffee lasted all the way to the bottom of the cup:

This Kenyan was particularly good.

And Robyn tried the tea – which came served in this sensational tea set. Tea isn’t my cup of, well, tea. But it was pleasant enough to drink.

That’s a really long prelude to the actual point of this post (especially at 1,000 words per picture). We left the cafe with two little brown paper bags in hand (and one, empty bag in my pocket – I highly recommend hitting up the lolly cart while you’re at D&D).

The coffee bags, like everything else these guys do, came with a unique touch of class. Bags are sewn shut with an old school cotton spooled sewing machine. At least that’s how I’d describe it. This isn’t even their preferred method of selling beans, because storage is important they suggest what is essentially the coffee bean equivalent of a grab and go system – with specially designed coffee storage jars.

Here are the bags on my kitchen table and ready for testing. I’ve just finished off the Driftwood – having polished off the Dandelion in a couple of days. I’d say the Dandelion is definitely my favourite. It works heaps better in milk.

The Driftwood packs a punch – and when I gave a cup to my mum today she said “it is very rounded and reaches the back of the mouth nicely.” But the Dandelion. Oh. The Dandelion. It’s apparently the more feminine of the two – but wow, as an espresso it’s pleasant, but somehow, when you add milk, it’s magical.


I took this shot from down low because I stuffed up my attempt at latte art…

I whipped up a batch of syphon for each of them – and while I know it’s meant to be a tool for playing with single origins – I’d have to say the Dandelion was the standout syphon option too. The Driftwood was great as a slow poured espresso, and sadly, my last shot (just then) was a little bit of a failure – I think my machine, which had sat turned on all day, was a little too hot. It was tasty and full bodied, but it didn’t have the pizazz that its counterpart offers. So you’d have to choose between flair and substance.

The Dandelion, which was almost as good at home as it is in store. The way it works with milk is a little like alchemy. I can’t stop raving about the coffee from this place – and I’ll continue to send my friends there knowing they’ll be looked after despite what some so called “coffee snobs” might write in the newspaper.

Coffee Bean Review: Five Senses Coffee

I’m kicking off a new column (on a new blog) today – reviewing coffee beans. Reviewing coffee in cafes is one thing – but if you want to make coffee at home – and you don’t want to buy from the St. Eutychus coffee shop (and why wouldn’t you) – then this is the column for you.

Here’s the kit I’m using for the review – my compact ex-commercial Expobar…

And my Macap M4 grinder.

I’m weighing my dosing too – to ensure a scientific comparison between beans. 21 grams is my standard dose.

First cab off the rank was Five Senses Coffee. I’ve been following their blog for a while. It’s pretty excellent. They roast in Western Australia and Victoria, so when I ordered the beans on Monday morning I was not expecting to see them until today. But they arrived on Tuesday. What service. My only regret is not asking for a drawing of a bear fighting a unicorn. Which a recent customer did (inspired by a recent incident with a Dominos pizza order).

I ordered two 250g bags – one batch of their 24/7 blend, and the other a bag of their Dark Horse.

Five Senses have a beautiful typographic logo, and their zip locked one way valve bags are a visual delight.

I put both bags of coffee through their paces – as an espresso, a piccolo latte, a double shot flat white, and through the syphon (perhaps my syphon results need to be taken with a grain of salt for a little while – until I master properly).

It took me a little while to dial the grinder in properly, but both blends were pretty drinkable in all the above forms.

Dark Horse

This blend stood up best as a double shot espresso (it was even better as a slow-poured espresso – sometimes I like to tighten up the grind a little bit and pour the shot for a lot longer you get a rich oily shot as a result). The tasting notes for the beans suggest you’ll get “red capsicum and slight savoury overtones” – which might describe part of the taste – and was particularly noticable when milk was added. The milk seemed to neutralise some of the more acidic fruity flavours. The notes also suggest a “cherry” flavour – and while I’ve only ever really picked up the exact same flavours as professional tasters once (an Ethiopian Harrar – where it’s almost impossible not to taste blueberry once you know it’s there) – there was certainly a pleasant fruitiness to the short black, and a savoury twang that wasn’t unpleasant.

Here’s a video (using the iPhone Super 8 app) of the first shot.

The syphon accentuated both the fruit and vegetable flavours. It was a bit like standing in the middle of a good greengrocer and drinking the air (with a dash of “generic coffee” flavour thrown in – it did still taste like coffee).

24/7 Blend

This “flagship blend” promises to be a ripper with “everything you could want in a coffee”. Unfortunately drinking it didn’t make me rich or more handsome. But it did taste nice. The beans are sourced, direct trade, from PNG, where it appears they are pre-blended.

Here’s the back story:

“Made with the finest beans from a small collective of individual growers in Papua New Guinea, this is an exceptionally high grade coffee. And it’s a world exclusive to 5 Senses. Because the beans are not grown on a single plantation, we consider this a blend. It’s just blended at home in PNG, not here in Australia. These beans are grown by small groups of farmers who are passionate about their crop … just as passionate about great coffee as we are!”

I probably enjoyed this more than the Dark Horse, it was better balanced and closer to my preferred taste (I think at the moment I lean towards the chocolaty end of the spectrum rather than the fruity). It was really pleasant as an espresso but it worked better in milk. My wife preferred this one too. She said it was better balanced and less tart than the Dark Horse but that it didn’t have the same standout flavours. I agree.

Conclusions

Once you get over the weirdness of a coffee that tastes like veggies – both of these produce great cuppas with their own selling points. The service and attention to design detail mark Five Senses out as a quality operator and the commitment to direct trade coffee for their signature blend is admirable. If I was going to order again I’d probably go with the 24/7 – but they do have a batch of other blends and a host of single origins to choose from.

Five Senses sell 250gm bags of these coffees at $11 (plus postage) and mail them out super fast – a great solution to any coffee shortage – and admittedly a much quicker turn around than I can manage with St. Eutychus Coffee (because I roast to order).

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