Weasel gut coffee. Yum.
Yes, really from a weasel. Eaten, digested and, well, you know….. And yes, really, really yum. It is thick, rich, and has a hint of chocolate flavor.
Frankly, we don’t care whose intestinal tract this stuff may or may not have come from. The cups we had in Hanoi and the ones we have brewed since coming home are the best coffee, hands down, we’ve had in our lives.
The story goes like this: in the early 18th century, the Dutch established coffee plantations in Indonesia. But the Dutch wouldn’t let the locals pick coffee fruits for their own use. Weasels loved the berries and left the beans undigested in their droppings. The Dutch didn’t care what the locals did with weasel glop so, voila, a new coffee was born.
According to those who have studied all of this, the weasel’s digestive enzymes ferment the beans and break down the proteins, resulting in more amino acids. And since the flavor of coffee depends a lot on its proteins and amino acids, the theory is that this shift results in the coffee’s unique, mild, and slightly smoky flavor.
The beans are thoroughly washed, dried, and roasted. And yes, some paranoid North American scientist (who else?) tested the stuff for harmful bacteria and found none of any consequence.
All the guide books say the real stuff is breathtakingly expensive. One Philippine website sells it for $890 a kilo. And of course, there are imitations, Coffee Primero (www.coffeeprimero.com) in Florida, peddles its version for $16 a pound). Trung Nguyên Coffee Company (www.trung-nguyen-online.co.uk/trungnguyen.html) in Vietnam does the same, proudly bragging about how it has duplicated the unique weasel gut taste.
The coffee in Vietnam is called “cafe chon,” after the Vietnamese word (chon) for weasel. There, it is priced according to the percentage of weasel coffee, from #1 (80 percent) to #6 (30 percent) or full on chon (100 percent). Should you be in Hanoi, we got our stash from Ca Phe Gia Truyen Kim Lai in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Through what has to be an all time coincidence (six degrees of separation and all that), I happened to be visting not only Florida but Gainesville a month after Vietnam. So I called Ken Barr, CEO of Coffee Primero who graciously spent hours letting me taste his coffee and a bit of our Viet stuff.
To do this right, you have to make the coffee the Vietnamese way, either using one of their tiny silver cups that are like a single serving French press or an actual French press, where you put the coffee on the bottom of the glass pot, let it steep for a few minutes, then drop a sieved plunger on the grounds. A generous serving of sweetened condensed milk goes on the bottom of your cup.
Ken actually makes 10 versions of his “cat” coffee (his replication of the weasel brew), but only sells three of them. What I discovered was you have to make his coffee REAL strong but it does come close to real weasel coffee.
He also fingered, sniffed then ground my own beans. So did we get real weasel coffee for $20 a pound? At first, Ken said probably not since the beans I bought in Vietnam are of irregular size and include (gasp!) husks … a huge no no in weasel coffee circles.
But then he tasted my coffee and his eyebrows rose.
“Huh! No bitterness.”
So maybe I got Vietnam’s version of weasel rejects? The real stuff, but ugly beans not fit for export?
“I think you’re on to something there,” he replied.
Oh heck, who cares? My Viet coffee is still beyond fantastic. As a matter of fact, I think I hear my French press calling me right now.
Check out Trung Nguyên Coffee Company ‘s terrific Coffee Ice Cream recipe.
— by Yvette Cardozo, RFT Contributor