The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Wed, 04/01/2009 7:30 PM |
It’s the most expensive coffee in the world, sold at a price that would make wine lovers blush and tea experts smirk suspiciously. Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee, is a rare commodity sought by coffee connoisseurs around the globe because of its superior quality and rather “tricky” production. Maggie Tiojakin takes a sip of the black gold.
Joe Tarquinio is nervous. In half an hour, people will be coming into his small, quaint, roasting house on a crowded street in South Jakarta’s Radio Dalam area, to watch him roast six kilograms of pure, original, board-certified kopi luwak beans – which he purchased at no less than $600 per pound.
Quintino’s, a coffee manufacturer and distributor opened three years ago, may be considered new to the business, but its philosophy as it sets out to make its mark on the world is as old as the tradition of coffee drinking itself.
“The key is in the beans,” Joe, a boisterous, avuncular Italian-Australian, says when his guests have gathered. “You can’t have good coffee without good beans, no matter how well you roast it.”
And, today, the exclusively priced kopi luwak beans – laid out on the back counter in six medium-sized pouches – are the reason Joe’s audience is waiting with bated breath as he prepares for the ultimate test of his roasting technique.
“If I don’t get this right,” he says, walking over to the red roaster at the back of the room, “there goes my savings.”
He hits a button on the left side of the roaster, which is one of four distinguished Diedrich IR series, and lets it warm up for a few minutes. Next, he pours the contents of the six pouches into a large plastic container. The beans, pale green and smooth, make a loud whooshing sound as they fall; Joe watches them with great anticipation. Each pouch has a certificate attached: released, stamped, numbered and signed by an international board of researchers to certify its genuine quality and origin.
Several boards and agencies in Indonesia are responsible for certifying the quality of certain agricultural products, some of which are affiliated with boards and agencies abroad as a way to attain international recognition. What these boards and agencies do with coffee beans, is, essentially, to grade the shape, size and weight according to the worldwide standard of what makes good, production-ready beans. The certificates in Joe’s possession all declare the kopi luwak beans he has purchased are indeed the original kind, in an excellent condition.
“You have to be careful about kopi luwak,” Joe warns. “Most of what you find out there are fake versions of the real one.”
To avoid misconceptions among coffee consumers, traders, sellers, manufacturers and roasters have been very careful – if not selective – in presenting their brand of kopi luwak. At cafés and hotel lounges where this type of coffee is served, an official certificate is usually available for perusal by the consumers. Of course, that’s only fair, given it costs about US$30–$70 per cup. Yet for a roast master, the price is only half the issue, with the other half reliant upon technique and instinct.
“Here we go,” Joe announces. He goes to another counter, where different types of beans are showcased on a ceramic display plate next to a coffee maker and two portable speakers are plugged into an iPod. He sets the volume on high – the first track is Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” – then returns to the roaster, now charged and ready.
He carries the plastic container up the few steps to the hopper, a storage space on the top side of the roaster, where he dumps the entire contents of the container. He lets the beans sit there for a while, monitors the temperature until it hits the desired point (187–282 degrees Celsius), before lifting the lever and letting the beans drop into the rotating drum, which accounts for about half of the entire roasting machine.
Joe begins to perspire.
“[The process] takes about 15 to 20 minutes,” he says, over the roar of the roaster at work. “But this one is especially difficult to measure because of the small quantity.”
On a typical day, Joe roasts between 12 and 20 kilograms of coffee beans per batch. Anything less than that requires technical precision and slight alterations to the usual roasting method.
Every minute, Joe runs to the counter and scribbles something in a notebook (the fluctuating temperatures). Inside the drum, the beans are blasted from different angles by a surge of hot combustion gas, rotated simultaneously to ensure all the beans are evenly roasted. Joe picks at a small sampler sticking out from the drum, looks at the beans, smells them and checks for their color, which has become light brown.
“A few more minutes,” he says, returning the sampler tool.
As Joe dons a red apron, he admits his past reluctance toward the business of making coffee. Having spent 20 years in the food and beverage industry, Joe knew exactly what he would be getting himself into by pursuing his desire to open a coffee manufacturing company.
“I had always avoided it, you know,” says Joe. “Because there’s so much involved in the coffee business. But I also love coffee and I want to make good coffee.”
As a coffee connoisseur, Joe constantly tries to find new ways of presenting good coffee efficiently. The world being over-caffeinated as it is, he strives for creativity and sustainability where others find comfort simply in what’s traditional. At Quintino’s, Joe pioneered the “Qbag”: a small gauze bag containing a single serve of finely ground roast coffee, equipped with paper hooks to hold it on the side of the cup as it functions as a drip filter.
“It’s real coffee you can have anywhere at any time,” says Joe, demonstrating how it works. “All you have to do is pour hot water through the bag’s top opening.”
Asked why he chose Indonesia as his place of business, Joe lets out a quiet laugh. Although an ardent fan of Arabica brews, or perhaps because of it, he chose Indonesia for its international identity as the home of “Java”.
“People ask me why would an Italian make coffee in Indonesia?” says Joe. “And I tell them, where else would I go? This is the land of coffee.”
Consequently, the company has the catchy motto “Java from Djava”.
Over the decades, Indonesia has become known for growing Robusta beans, but, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (a non-profit organization co-founded by Joe and dedicated to promoting Indonesian specialty coffee), several highlands in the country are famous for generating some of best Arabica beans in the world. Including, yes, kopi luwak.
Twenty minutes or so into the roasting, Joe takes out the sampler and checks for signs of completion. Moments ago, the beans were “popping” like popcorn in a microwave. He shows his guests the end result: dark brown beans exuding a strong, familiar aroma.
He then pulls at another lever, and lets the beans pour from the drop door. They tumble onto an open tray below the rotating drum, where they are sorted and separated from stones, metal fragments, or other bits of waste that haven’t been removed. This is where the beans are left to cool off, before they are dropped again into a storage barrel via a small chute on the lower left side of the roaster.
Joe pulls off the red apron, turns off the roaster and carries the roasted beans across the room, where he reaches into the barrel for a handful of samples and dumps them into the coffee maker. The rest are kept in an airtight barrel, along with other barrels of roasted coffee beans. Joe, explaining it usually takes between three and seven days for the beans to develop their full flavor, offers his guests the “half-flavored” kopi luwak fresh from the roaster.
“This is just a preliminary taste,” says Joe, reaching for an espresso cup filled with warm kopi luwak straight from the coffee maker. He takes a sip, tastes it quietly and breaks into a smile. “Is it the best coffee in the world?” he asks himself and the guests, nodding his head along. “Well, yeah.” Then, he thinks about it. “Is it worth the price?” He laughs, unsure. “Let’s just say if money wasn’t an issue, then it is the best coffee in the world.”
Kopi luwak is made from coffee berries that have been consumed and passed through the digestive tract of a luwak, or Asian Palm Civet, then excreted (still in the protective layers of the berries). Research has found the enzymes in the civet’s stomach help to break down the protein concentrates that give coffee its bitterness. Once collected, the beans from the berries are cleaned and lightly roasted to sustain the complex flavors that developed during the civet’s digestive process.
Not the most visually enticing process of coffee making, perhaps. Yet Joe’s previous question continues to reverberate across the room full of early tasters: “Is it the best coffee in the world?”
Survey says: Yes.
PT Quintino's Djava
Jl. Radio Dalam Raya No. 99,
Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta 12140
Phone : (+62 21) 722 3437