Vietnamese coffee is internationally known for its authentic flavor, a unique combination of sweetness from the sweetened condensed milk and bitterness from the Robusta coffee beans. In addition to being the world’s second largest coffee exporter, Vietnam is also known as a big producer of one of the most expensive coffees in the world, the weasel coffee, which has its beans collected from weasel's poops. Have you heard about the weasel coffee?
On a recent trip to Da Lat, a city of Lam Dong Province in the central highland of Vietnam. I got the chance to be part of a day trip to a couple of province’s coffee plantations and visited a weasel coffee farm. Here I got to try a numerous kind of coffees, including real Vietnamese weasel coffee. So, in this article I would like to share with you about Vietnam weasel coffee.
How the weasel coffee was found?
According to Liem, a weasel farm keeper, once upon a time when the farmer went into his coffee farm during the harvest season. He found out that all the ripen berries had gone, only green ones left on the tree. While he was wondering what happened to the ripen berries, he noticed there are several blocks of coffee beans sticking together in the form of an animal's poops on the ground.
He decided not to waste the beans, so he collected all the poops and brought them home. After washing and drying the beans in the sun, the farmer found out that those “poop coffee” have better flavor than the regular coffee. That motivated him to look for more of that animal poops on the ground in the coffee farm to bring home.
One day, he went to the farm while it’s still dark to see which animal that has been eating his coffee berries, and he found out that it was the weasel that eats all the ripen berries and poops out the coffee beans he had been drinking. As its instinct, the weasels climbed from trees to trees to find the sweetest and ripest coffee berries to eat. Unlike the rodents that eat the fruit’s flesh and trigger off the seeds, the weasels just slightly chew the berries’ flesh and swallow the beans.
What happened to the coffee is that, once the berries get into the weasel’s stomach, the flesh will be digested but the beans are synthesized with digestive acids and enzymes in their stomachs, which will aromatize the beans when roasted.
The farmer also discovered another strange feature of the coffee he collected from the weasel poops, that the digested beans are perfectly protected by a thin silk pellicle around each bean sticking together in the form of the weasel poops. That thin layers were developed by the weasel’s enzyme, fermenting the beans and keeping them unharmed from the surrounding environment.
From then, the farmer spends more time to pick up all the weasel poops, which is a block of coffee beans sticking together.
After the Vietnam war, Vietnam’s jungles and coffee plantations were vastly damaged and destroyed by bombings. The habitat of wild weasels therefore influenced, coffee farmers no longer encounter weasels in their farm. Hence, no more lovely-brown weasel poops with coffee beans.
To meet the demand for weasel coffee from connoisseurs of coffee, the farmers gather and raise weasels in their own farms. Beside feeding the carnivore animal with meat, fish, banana and other fruits, they feed them ripen coffee berries. Even though, the weasels only eat the best berries among those picked by the farmers. They leave behind yellowish berries, unyielding or over-ripe berries. This was how weasel coffee farm was initially created in Vietnam, and is why the farmed weasel coffee today is still as good as in the old days.
What makes weasel coffee taste better than regular coffee?
The weasels only select the best and ripest coffee berries to eat, and during the digesting process, the bitterness of the bean is mostly eliminated while the enzyme chemicals will be absorbed in the beans and make them less caffeinated. Therefore, the digested beans once roasted will become more aromatic with vanilla smelling. Weasel coffee is smoother and richer with caramel chocolate flavor, less bitter and tastier to drink.
Why weasel coffee is more expensive than regular coffee?
Weasel coffee is more expensive than regular coffee because each weasel only produces about 1 kilogram (2,2 pounds) of coffee a year. During the harvest season from October through January, the farmer can only feed the weasel with coffee berries on two separate days a week, as the weasel have to eat something else like bananas or chicken soup on the other days.
After those two-coffee-days, the weasel poops are then collected in the morning and kept in 6 months for fermentation before being washed and dried for three days in the sun (like regular coffee) for roasting.
Because of that long process, some Vietnam weasel Arabica coffee sells for about 1000$ per kg, and you can order a cup of strong Vietnamese-style weasel Arabica coffee for about 5$ while the weasel Robusta coffee could be a bit cheaper. A same kind of coffee, known as Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee, is also popular in Indonesia and the Philippines where the prices is up to $600 per kilogram.