If you've ever wandered the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam, you've probably noticed an entire street dedicated to the sale of locally-grown coffee. You've probably also noticed the coffees' colorful names, with the most colorful being "Weasel Coffee," a moniker often accompanied by a picture of a weasel.
What you might not know, unless your curiosity has led you to delve deeper into the reasons for this coffee's strange nomenclature, is why precisely it's called Weasel Coffee. Warning: The answer to this question might make you sick – literally.
Weasel Coffee Comes from Where?
Officially known as Kopi Luwak, an Indonesian phrase that literally means "Civet Coffee," so-called weasel coffee is grown throughout throughout the coffee belt of Southeast Asia, including the famous fields of Da Lat, Vietnam and Sumatra, Indonesia. Although its sale is most ubiquitous in Hanoi, you can find it in most large cities of the region, from Jakarta, to Bangkok, to Kuala Lumpur.
As for where Weasel Coffee actually comes from...well, that's a dirtier matter, you might say. And it's seriously "dirty matter": Weasel Coffee entails coffee beans that are eaten and pooped out by the Asian Palm Civet, a type of weasel indigenous to Southeast Asia.
The Logic of Weasel Coffee
For better or for worse, Southeast Asia is a region known for culinary oddities, so you might not find it too shocking if you heard that local people simply liked making coffee out of poop. But the reason Weasel Coffee is so prized is surprisingly wholesome – dare I say "clean"?
The thinking goes like this. Civets are smart creatures, and generally only eat the tastiest of the coffee berries, from which beans derive. Well, part of this process is nasty: It's thought that digestion itself (i.e. turning food into poop) is a great deal of what causes the delicate flavor of Weasel Coffee to emerge.
Weasel Coffee Controversies
If Weasel Coffee sounds fishy to you, you're not alone. Many travelers and locals alike find themselves unable to taste any difference between the taste of Weasel Coffee and other coffees. This causes some to wonder if there's actually a point to consuming it, while others simply doubt whether their coffee ever saw the insides of a civet's body.
The sadder controversy involves the treatment of the animals. In the old days, before Weasel Coffee was popularized, demand was low enough that people would harvest Weasel Coffee whenever it was, um, "available." These days, however, many producers of Weasel Coffee have taken to farming, turning these wild, rambunctious creatures into pint-size livestock, to say nothing of the often brutal enclosures that keep them from breaking free.
How Expensive Is Weasel Coffee?
If you've ever shopped for coffee at a market in Southeast Asia, you know it tends to be cheap, whether by the bag or by the cup. Ca phe sua da, Vietnamese iced coffee, can almost universally be purchased for less than a dollar a serving, with bags of the beans used going for less than that in many cases.
Weasel coffee is an exception to this rule, and in a big way. It's not uncommon for the street price of this to exceed 15 million Vietnamese dong per kilo, which is only slightly less terrifying when you convert these amounts to U.S. dollars and pounds: The price of Vietnamese Weasel coffee is well over $300 per pound, although you might be able to bargain that down slightly depending on your skills and the receptiveness of the seller.
Of course, there are some caveats. For example, the most expensive weasel coffee comes from domesticated weasels, since producers can verify the..um, source of the specimens. Wild-harvested weasel coffee is cheaper, but is also less likely to be—how shall we say this delicately?—pure.