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Greenest Coffee In The World

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By Malcolm Jolley

Wicha Promyong inspects beans gathered outside of Doi Chaang.

Derek Zavislake is excited. More so than the often caffeinated force behind The Merchants of Green Coffee is usually (see Gremolata TV). It's mid-morning at Jamie Kennedy's Gilead Café off of King West in downtown Toronto. Zavislake has assembled a very small group of journalists and Chef Kennedy around a wooden round table set with espresso and regular coffee cups in the middle. We are here for a cupping (coffee talk for a tasting) of what might be the absolutely most rare coffee in the world, and also the greenest. But at $500 a pound, Doi Chaang from Northern Thailand may also be the world's most expensive.

Kopi Luak coffee from Indonesia and Vietnam has gained notoriety over the past decade for being the "cat poo coffee": beans eaten, digested and, um, expelled by civets – a small animal related to cats. The theory being that the quality of this coffee is superior because 1) the civet will only nibble on the ripest, least bitter beans and 2) the process of passing through the animal exposes the beans to enzymes which mellow and enrich the flavour of the coffee once it's been washed, roasted and brewed. As a matter of fact, Dr. Massimo Marcone, at the University of Guelph has mapped out chemical changes to the proteins inside Kopi Luak beans made by the digestive juices.

The trouble with Kopi Luak, explains Vancouver-based coffee importer John Darch, is that once demand for the exotic beans pushed prices up past $200 a pound, coffee producers in Southeast Asia began cage civets, or any old cat, and feed them beans – often of dubious quality. The Doi Chaang coffee, named for the village where it is gathered, we are about sip, he adds, is completely verified, certified Arabica beans nibbled by wild civets and collected in the forests of Northern Thailand. And to prove it he has brought with him Wicha Promyong, a Buddhist monk and organiser who pushed the cooperative at Doi Chaang to produce premium coffee and develop a premium product.

Promyong explains his village will never produce more than 100 or 200 kilos of civet eaten Doi Chaang coffee. If a typical one pound bag of coffee translates to roughly half a kilo, it's easy to see that the stuff is not going to be stocked on supermarket shelves any time soon. The good news is that Promyong's plan for increased production (current yields are about 50 kilos a year) focuses on reforestation. The only way to produce more wild civet eaten coffee is to produce more wild civets and to do that there needs to be more of there habitat. How better for the planet can this coffee be?

Environmental concerns generally, and rainforest destruction specifically, are top of mind for The Merchants of Green Coffee's Zavislake. Much of the worlds coffee is dried with ovens fuelled by surrounding trees. The "Green" in Zavislake's company name refers to the color of beans before they are roasted (roasted coffee goes stale after a number of days, so the best coffee is always freshly roasted), but also refers to the manner in which it is harvested and marketed. Zavislake is dedicated to sourcing coffee that is environmentally responsible and benefits the people growing the most. Doi Chaang coffee meets both these requirements, he explains as it is not only sun-dried, but it is also aged at and marketed from the Village, eliminating much of the middleman-based unfair trading that leaves most growers in a permanent state of penury.

But it's all very well if this rare coffee is good for the earth and its people. If it's $500 a pound and there will only ever be a few hundred pounds of it ever made a year, why bother with the tasting? Apart from the sheer thrill and fun, Darch and Zavislake explain, the point is to also taste the regular Doi Chaang coffe – not passed through a creature, but hand harvested, sun-dried and naturally aged in Thailand all the same. This Doi Chaang which is available through Drach's company in Western Canada, will be soon available through Zavislake in Toronto.

It's time for the tasting. Zavislake hand grinds the beans he's roasted that morning in a brass contraption that looks like a pepper grinder and brews the coffees, civet and regular, in two French presses. The coffees are poured and drunk black.

The civet coffee is without trace of bitterness. There are honey notes and an deeply mellow chocolately earthiness. It's sun-dried cousin echoes this flavour profile, but is brighter and fruitier. Of the two, the civet seems better suited to an after dinner sip, whereas the sun-dried would make a delicious morning cup.

Learn more about Doi Chaang coffee at www.doichaangcoffee.com or contact The Merchants of Green Coffee: www.merchantsofgreencoffee.com


So nice to read a good news story for once.
Post Reply By Susan in TORONTO on 4/20/2009 9:20:33 PM

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