Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheers to Kopi Musang

The shop front

KOPI Musang is probably Muar’s best kept secret among coffee lovers and if you love gourmet coffee, you will understand why.

And no, it is not another brand. You would have heard of Kopi Musang by another name — kopi luwak or palm civet coffee as it is better known. It is said to be the most sought after gourmet coffee in the world.

The coffee gets its name from the musang (or luwak), an Asian palm civet. The animal eats the coffee cherries and passes out the beans the next day.

The defecated beans are collected, thoroughly washed, dried in the sun and roasted. During the journey in the civet’s intestines, it is believed that the digestive juices of the animal improves the taste of the coffee, making it less bitter.

In Muar, just across the express bus station by the river, check out the Sai Kee coffeeshop. You can’t miss the huge “elephant coffee bean” signboard. For those who know their kopi, Sai Kee is the maker of the famous Kopi 434, Muar’s pride.

Hooked at first sip

I had the opportunity to try kopi musang in Muar recently and met its operator Kiar Juan Pooh, who is in his mid-50s. Kiar, who is managing director of Kopi 434 (the number being the original phone number of the shop when it was established in 1953), said he discovered kopi musang in the mid-80s.

“I was approached by a coffee planter who wanted to sell his farm to me. I wasn’t interested at first but the price was irresistible, so I agreed to take over,” he explained. “Because the original owner could not take care of his farm, the coffee cherries were left to ripen on the trees.

This is how it looks like, brewed.

The beans that have been washed and entirely cleaned

“One day, one of my workers brought me a bag of beans he had collected. I asked him what they were and he said that they were beans eaten and passed out by the musang.

“He said the beans must be the best because as the civet picks only the best coffee cherries. He had collected the beans, which were in clusters, and had even washed them for me. He said if I was brave enough, I could try roasting the beans and see if they made good coffee.”

Kiar kept the beans in his factory for sometime before curiosity got the better of him and he roasted the beans and tried making coffee with them.

“I was not sure if it was safe to make coffee from beans that were defecated by the musang,” he said. “One day, with a few friends, we decided to try it.”

After the first sip, he and his friends were hooked. The discovery was kept a secret and shared only with close friends and as a surprise for coffee lovers he came to know or met.

Limited supply

Today, although he serves kopi musang at his shop, Kiar said, he has a little more than 20 kilos of the beans left. One Japanese coffee lover who came to know of his possession offered him several hundred US dollars a kilo to buy the beans but he turned the offer down.

“My kopi musang beans are for locals,” he said. “If I were to sell it to the Japanese, local coffee lovers will not be able to taste what kopi musang is.”
Here's a cup - from the conoisseur himself

Kiar added that although the best beans are collected from the wild, they are becoming quite rare with the dwindling population of civet cats. In neighbouring countries where civet coffee is hugely popular, coffee beans are also fed to civets kept in captivity and the beans collected after the animals defecated.

Kiar has set a daily limit to only serve 200g of kopi musang. He added that he would be suspicious should someone turn up at his shop daily to drink kopi musang, adding that he might have to reconsider serving it.

Dirt cheap

Although I am not a coffee lover, I tried a cup of kopi musang. It tasted less bitter and smoother.

Kiar warned me that some of his customers who drank kopi musang for the first time, had told him that it made their bodies feel hot. I did not sense a similar feeling, perhaps I had been so used to drinking coffee that the caffeine made no impact. However, I did notice that the fragrance of the beans and the coffee’s aftertaste lingered for over two hours after I drank it.

Later when I told colleagues who were coffee connoisseurs about kopi musang, they said I must write about it. They tell me that to have drunk kopi musang at RM15 a cup is a steal — elsewhere around the world, drinking civet cat coffee would have set me poorer by at least a few hundred ringgit! And that would have left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

How to get there

The shop is located at 121 Jalan Maharani, opposite the Bentayan Express Bus Station (or Pagoh Bus Station), along the river promenade. You can’t miss the huge signboard but if you still cannot find the outlet, call 06-951 3046 for directions. You can park your car at the huge car park near the bus station.

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