University brews up artificial civet coffee with even more flavour

TAIPEI - The National Pingtung University of Science and Technology announced yesterday that it has invented the biochemical version of the much-coveted civet coffee that is costly because of the extraordinary manner the coffee is produced.

Also known as kopi luwak, the coffee is the seeds of coffee berries that are consumed and defecated by the Asian palm civet, and currently costs up to NT$15,000 (S$651) per pound due to its rarity.

The coffee brewed from the said civet's faeces is said to possess as many as 31 special aromas, but the biochemical version made by the university claims to have an extra 11 fragrances.

The brew was finally perfected after seven years of research, during which the university scientists gathered the mycelium of civet faeces, and tried to produce an environment similar to the insides of a civet cat's stomach and intestines so as to successfully produce the final coffee brew.

The university's vice principal, Hsieh Pao-chuan, yesterday launched the new coffee with the school's Department of Food Science.

According to Hsieh, he had wondered whether he would be able to produce the same kind of coffee beans from a similar environment after understanding how the "special aromas" of the civet coffee came about.

"I took a team of students to gather samples of the civet faeces in Indonesia, and returned to Taiwan after having collected faeces from 30 or so civets. We analysed the bacteria and the mycelium in the faeces, and tried to find perfect matches for the 136 mycelium we discovered.

In the end, we found 16 that would produce a similar environment for the coffee beans to ferment, and we put the civet's main diet - Sumantra Mandheling coffee berries - into the fermenting machine," said Hsieh.

It would take up to 16 to 24 hours for the civet to defecate the berries after consuming them, said Hsieh.

"So we controlled the fermenting time and set it at 24 hours each time. And then we put the coffee beans into a machine to analyse the aromas within, and successfully produced civet coffee in an artificial manner."

"There are 11 new aromas and the beans are more hygienic this way," Hsieh continued.

The original and naturally produced civet coffee is said to contain the taste of chocolate, milk and almond, while the brew made by the Pingtung University of Science and Technology also tasted of passion fruit, caramel and even a hint of floral fragrance.

"When you are drinking coffee, you should place the tip of your tongue against your upper gums, take a sip and swirl it around your mouth before swallowing it. This is like tasting red wine, and will be able to taste the different aromas," said Hsieh.