Coffee snobs will be familiar with civet coffee, also called by its Indonesian name kopi luwak, a kind of coffee bean that is fermented as it takes a trip through the digestive system of a small cat-like mammal called a civet. People pay good money for the pleasure of drinking this strange brew–it’s one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
Now a new coffee startup has a new take on the process. Instead of using live animals Afineur just ferments its “Cultured Coffee” beans before roasting them. This, says co-founder Camille Delebecque, leads to a taste that is inspired by kopi luwak, rather than a copy. It also means that nobody has to comb through the animal’s feces to find the beans.
Afineur’s process of fermenting the beans for a few days before roasting reduces acidity and makes the resulting brew less bitter, the company says. Lest you complain that coffee is supposed to be bitter, try thinking about it like this instead: Up until now, roasters have had two parameters they can vary to control the coffee’s flavor–time and temperature, the interaction of which creates the roasting profile and therefore the flavor. Now they have a third option.
Right now, Delebecque and his business partner, food scientist Sophie Deterre, have partnered with Brooklyn roasters the Pulley Collective to roast the beans. In the future, though, raw fermented beans may be available to other roasters.
The coffee is also good news for animal lovers, because no civets are used in the process. “[The] gold rush towards kopi luwak has had the consequence that most of the production comes from caged animals forced fed mediocre coffee beans,“ say Deterre and Delebecque. “While the fermentation process has been shown to reduce bitterness, overall the great majority of kopi luwak is, let’s say it, very bad coffee.”
The other big thing that Cultured Coffee has in common with kopi luwak is cost. A pack will cost somewhere between $50 and $100 when the Kickstarter campaign is over and the coffee is in regular supply. That’s not cheap, but neither is kopi luwak, which can run to a ridiculous $80 per cup.