Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Coffee Luck with Kopi Luwak

"Rajani Maam, would you like to have some coffee?" Arun asked me as I relaxed in the sofa seat of his home in Kottara Chowki on September 19th, last year.

"Not at this hour. I normally avoid coffee after dark!" I replied.

Visibly disheartened, Arun reiterated that it was not usual coffee, but something unique he had brought from Indonesia during his recent visit. He said it is Kopi Luwak which is much different from how they process coffee.

I was about to say no again, but I exclaimed aloud, "Kopi Luwak? I think that sounds familiar and I think I have read about it somewhere before! Is it by any chance coffee processed from coffee fruit consumed by Civet Cats?"

"Oh you seem to know everything Rajani maam! I was talking about exactly the same coffee. Kopi Luwak is nothing but coffee processed from beans obtained from the Civet Cats! It is very expensive, but I feel lucky being gifted a pack of the unique coffee powder by an associate in Indonesia! The pack is still unopened, and I wanted to consume it with someone special. Let us have Kopi Luwak!"
Kopi Luwak Pack
I was thrilled to hear about something which I had never ever expected to taste in my life! Yet, a whiff of slight apprehension shrouded my mind that the coffee is processed in a strange and weird process, which normal humans with sensitive taste and slow response to acquired taste may not relish!

As we went deep into discussion about the coffee, a strong aroma of coffee emanated from the kitchen where Arun's beloved wife Nishita opened the pack of Kopi Luwak and wafted into the hall, reaching our nostrils at almost 25 feet away! Both I and Arun exclaimed in disbelief about the divine aroma of the product.
Kopi Luwak ready for consumption
Nishita came with two cups of coffee and its pale colour sort of disappointed me, thinking about the strong and dark South Indian filter coffee we consume regularly at home. As I took a sip, an array of flavours danced on my taste buds making me forget every negative thing I had thought about the coffee!

That light coloured sweet aromatic coffee had won my heart with its unique taste at the very first sip, and there I was, one of the luckiest people on earth having tasted the legendary 'Kopi Luwak'.
Dr. Arun Isloor with wife Nishita, sons Nishant and Anway
Dr. Arun Isloor is Associate Professor in Chemistry department, NITK, Surathkal. He is my brother in law Dr. Suresh D Isloor's nephew and son of Mohan D Isloor and Sheela M Isloor from Sirsi. He is married to Nishita, a scientist turned home maker. The couple have two sons, Nishant studying in high school and Anway in primary school. Dr. Arun has travelled extensively in connection with research on membrane technology for purification of water. He tours the Orient often and writes about food and culture of the places he visits. His articles have appeared in Kannada magazines, mainly 'Sudha'.

Here is the translated version of the Kannada article in Sudha magazine appeared on October 19, 2017 by Dr. Arun Isloor on Kopi Luwak, supposed to the most expensive unique coffee, processed naturally by the Civet Cats of Indonesia, then further processed and marketed by major companies all over the world for home consumption.
Expensive Coffee – By Dr. Arun M Isloor
Dr. Arun Isloor's article in Sudha Kannada Magazine Dt. October 19, 2017
Palembang, the second biggest port city, also the capital of Southern Sumatra stands over the banks of River Musi. In the Seventh Century, this city was dominated by the Hindus and was ruled by a king named SriVijaya. Next Asian Games will be held in this city. Beautification of the city is in progress. After travelling by a short flight of 70 minutes from Kualalampur landing at the Sultan Mohammed Badruddin Airport, I was received by Dr. Yerna Yaluvati, Epha and Eva.

On the way, Dr. Yerna took me to a famous restaurant. After ordering some of the popular local snacks, she asked me, "Would you like to taste Kopi Luwak?"

Until then, I knew that in Malaysia they called coffee as 'Kopi'. Out of curiosity, I asked about Kopi Luwak. She told me that she will tell me about it after I finished consuming the snacks!

I didn't fail to notice that the price of a cup of Kopi Luwak was more than four times that of normal coffee!

Minutes after I consumed the snacks, strong aroma of Kopi Luwak greeted me in a cup on the table. Though it looked like normal coffee, it had no bitterness but had a wonderful smooth taste! 

As Dr. Yerna explained me about Kopi Luwak, the coffee I had consumed almost came back to my mouth! Luwak, a kind of Civet Cat consumes the coffee fruit and excretes the beans along with the faeces. Those beans are separated from the faecal matter, cleaned and processed to make coffee powder named as Kopi Luwak!

I now knew why Dr. Yerna didn't explain about it in the beginning!

After the 3 day workshop, they had arranged for visit to nearby tourism spots. I asked Dr. Yerna if a demonstration on collection of Kopi Luwak can be arranged. But, Palembang had no such processing center. However, Epha told me that in a village near her hometown, someone is manufacturing this kind of coffee in a tiny scale, and she was ready to take us there, to show the demonstration.

Civet Cat or Jungle Cat (Scientific name: Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus) consumes ripe coffee berries and excretes undigested coffee beans. These beans are collected, washed thoroughly and sun dried. Then the beans are processed and ground into coffee powder. The technology involves two natural processes that is natural choice of ingredient and ultimate digestive process. Civet Cats pick only the select ripe berries for consumption. Then the beans are subject to second process during digestion that is fermentation of the consumed beans, adding maturity and unique flavour to them.

In the olden days, natives used to collect these beans from the deep forests and process them. In the changing scenario, since last 18-20 years they rear the Civet Cats in farms in cages, feed them with select ripe berries and obtain Kopi Luwak.

"Coffee beans collected naturally from the jungles are far superior in taste and flavour than this method", says Epha who accompanied me.

Many a times, the cats die due to inability to get adjusted to artificial environment, epidemic caused by not maintaining hygiene, congested cages and overfeeding of artificial food. Of late, animal care organisations have been raising voices against this.

Rs.50000/- per K.G.!

Naturally obtained best grade 'Kopi Luwak', supposedly the most expensive Coffee Powder in the world, is priced anywhere from Rs. 35000/- to Rs.50000/- per Kilo. The ones processed in farms cost between Rs.5000/- to 7000/-. Its production is found mostly in Java, Sumatra, Bali and Sulawesi islands and in a small way at parts of Philippines and Malaysia.

When Coffee plantations were developed in Indonesia, Kopi Luwak was also produced. Dutch colonials brought coffee from Yemen and started growing coffee as commercial crop in some parts of Indonesia. They had full hold over coffee production; they controlled the workers, not allowing them to even taste the coffee they grew! So the workers had curiosity to taste it. They also observed that Luwak cats were consuming coffee berries and excreting coffee beans. They thus found a way to obtain coffee beans by washing and drying the excreted coffee beans and preparing coffee powder with their own methods. Then the aroma of Kopi Luwak attracted the Dutch, and they too became addicted to it.

There are many controversies regarding Kopi Luwak and its supremacy. Those pioneers in coffee industry don't agree that Kopi Luwak is the best coffee in the world. They say it maybe the most expensive and maybe having unique taste and aroma, but never the best coffee!

I also contacted via email Dr. Maximo Marco of Guelp University Ontario Canada, who has done extensive research on Kopi Luwak. According to Dr. Marco, digestive enzyme ‘Protease’ secreted within gastric mucosa of the Luwak cats gets absorbed into the consumed coffee beans, converting the proteins within the coffee beans into peptides and amino acids. Later when these beans are roasted, a process called "Millard Browning" takes place and that imparts a great flavour to the roasted beans. Same process can be observed in bakeries while baking breads and cookies, which gives a unique aroma to the dishes.

Subject to 24-36 hours of digestive process within the digestive system of the Civet Cats, the coffee beans get party sprouted, and thus they lose their bitterness to a great extent. Scientists in Florida USA have successfully achieved this artificial partial digestion process in labs and have obtained patent! Some companies in Vietnam have dipped coffee beans in enzyme solution to obtain fake Kopi Luwak.

After getting information on Kopi Luwak from Epha, she took me to a nearby village and we went in search of a man named 'Agung'. In the backyard of Agung‘s house, in a shack there were around 4-5 cages. Agung told us that some days ago two Luwaks could not get adjusted to the cages, and they died!  They were caught using a trap just 15 days ago in the jungle where they moved freely, but it is indeed a misfortune, they could not sustain the congested 3'x3' cages in which they were imprisoned!

A sudden idea flashed to my mind. I recalled having witnessed Civet Cats running around the yard of our old Sirsi house, consuming fruits from the 'Fishtail Palm(Baini)' in our neighbour Prabhu's compound and excreting the seeds.

"Is it possible to make coffee from Baini Seeds?” I wondered!

I asked Agung if they are fed only Coffee berries or other food as well. He told me that they feed them bananas, jaggery and rice apart from coffee fruit.

From one Luwak, they obtain around 30-80 Gms of wet coffee beans. Every morning they collect the faeces, and then they wash them thoroughly to separate the coffee beans. Further they dry them in the sun, roast them to a certain level and then grind them into coffee powder in a mortar by manually pounding. Such process involves no machines, the process is laborious, and thus the coffee is very expensive.

While I was discussing about Kopi Luwak with Agung and clicking the pictures, his wife offered us homemade Kopi Luwak. I found its taste and flavour more exotic than the Kopi Luwak I had tasted at the restaurant on the day of my landing in Indonesia.

In recent times, Bali and other countries charge the travellers some fee and show them around the 'Luwak Kopi' farms. However, the way selfish humans with profit motive rearing those innocent cats in cages and subject them to pressure for obtaining coffee beans did not appeal to me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Independence Day Greetings

"As we celebrate Indian Independence Day, we would like to greet all our followers and wish that you all lead a happy and peaceful life!"

Here's Tricolour(Tiranga) Pudding topped with Vanilla Ice Cream for our readers. I made this with corn flour, sugar and fruit juices/crush.

Orange - Minute Maid Orange Juice
White - Lychee Crush
Green - Green Apple Crush

Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Year's Greetings

 "Wishing You All A Very Happy New Year!"
Eggless Chiku Banana Zebra Cake(Marble Cake)
Recipe follows soon.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

"Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings to all our followers"
Christmas Goodies - Chikku Almond Muffins, Karachi Lychee Halwa and Cheese Onion Crackers

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Green Chilli Pickle

It was first week of May, 1976. I was travelling with three other friends by the Bombay Janata Express train from Mangalore to Bombay via Arakkonam-Guntakal-Raichur. Our train reached Raichur station in the afternoon, it was burning hot outside as we hurriedly stepped out of the compartment and ran towards the vegetarian refreshment canteen. 

They served us piping hot meals with spicy sambar, daal and tasty side dishes. I tasted the green chilli pickle that was hot, spicy, tangy and full of flavours. It was like dynamite blast in my mouth, but the lemony tang made me ask for more! I must confess, that was one of the most memorable meals I had, and the first, if not the best green chilli pickle I tasted!

Same year same month, I visited my sister's home in Shivamogga. As I narrated my experience to her, she had a surprise for me! She went into the store room and came out with a big bottle full of green chilli pickle! She said she made it herself, following the recipe she got from a relative. No need to elaborate that the chilli pickle was awesome, because my sister is a perfectionist when it comes to cooking. My sister also had told me then, that the main ingredients apart from green chillies were lemon juice, salt, mustard seeds, methi seeds turmeric and hing. 

I very well remember the taste and flavour  of the two pickles I had that year and I being a lover of pickles and spicy treats, decided to make green chilli pickle when I had chance. That chance never came my way, for Meena is not a fan of pickles. Besides, we used to get two or three different kinds of pickles every year from my mother, and I was the lone eater who used to have them over the year myself!

Two weeks ago, our door bell rang, my ex Bank colleague friend Munjandira Appaiah Venu appeared with a bag full of lemons from his family estate in Madikeri! He said, since I am fond of pickles, I can make any good pickle with them. There were around 32 of them.

I told Meena that I am making two kinds of pickles using them. One is 'Kanchi' or the salted lemon pickle while the other is green chilli pickle like the ones I tasted at the Raichur railway station and also the one made by my sister. Meena didn't object this time, as she can very well understand how useful lemon kanchi is for those who are down with illness. She also knew how much I love chillies! Besides, ever since my mother became aged(and subsequently left us two years ago), I have started making pickle at home myself, but never thought of green chilli pickle, because we get 'Presto' green chilli pickle here. Presto pickle has added vinegar and I wanted it with lemony tang. 

So here I am, with this recipe, which I formulated on my own. Green Chillies are abundantly available and so are lemons. It's the season. Weather is also on the cooler side, favouring consumption of spicy pickles. You can savour this with Congi, curd rice, rice and daal or even with idlis, dosas or chapatis.

Hope you all will like it and have a blast! 
Green Chillies(Slim long ones, preferably Mysore or Byadgi) - 400Gms
Lemons - 8
Mustard Seeds - 1 Tbsp
Fenugreek(Methi) Seeds - 1 Tsp
Asafoetida(Hing) - A generous pinch
Sesame Oil(or Refined Sunflower Oil) - 3 Tsp
Turmeric powder - 1 Tsp
Rock Salt - 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup salt

Wash, wipe, cut and deseed lemons and extract juice.
Heat a shallow pan and dry roast salt for 3-5 minutes on medium low flame.
Powder the salt in a mill, if using rock salt.
Wash the green chillies thoroughly, wipe them dry with kitchen cloth, remove the stems and cut each green chilli into 2-3 pieces lengthwise.
Apply roasted powdered salt and keep for 2-4 hours. 
Heat 1 tsp oil and roast mustard seeds until they splutter, roast fenugreek seeds and hing, allow to cool.
Dry grind the roasted spices into a coarse powder.
Heat 2 tsp oil and lightly fry the chopped salted green chillies on slow heat for 2-3 minutes, taking care not to turn them white.
Mix in the masala powder, turmeric powder and lemon juice.
Allow to cool down completely.
Fill into dry airtight bottle and keep for a week at least(preferably for 2 weeks), in a cool and dark place.
Mix the contents with a dry spoon every alternate day.
Green Chilli Pickle will be ready for consumption.
You can preferably store this pickle in a fridge to retain freshness and crunchiness of the chillies.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Karachi Halwa(Bombay Halwa)

Diwali, the most celebrated festival of lights is here again, and I have come out with Karachi Halwa(Bombay Halwa) in two flavours for our followers.
Strawberry flavoured chewy Karachi Halwa
When I talk about Karachi Halwa, my memory dates back to the mid Sixties, when my brother Shashikanth got his job in Bank Of India and settled in Bombay. Every year when he visited home town, he used to bring two types of halwas from Bombay, the popular Mahim Halwa or the Ice Halwa and the chewy sticky Karachi Halwa. Those days we called it Bombay Halwa. This halwa was formulated by the Sindhis from Karachi before Independence, when Karachi was part of India, and trade activities were brisk between Bombay and Karachi.

Karachi Halwa is a chewy Indian sweet meat made with arrowroot powder or corn starch, loaded with the goodness of almonds, pistachios and other dry fruits. In Mumbai it is available in different colours and flavours, sold in every nook and corner by mithaiwalas and this sweet has a prime place among Diwali Sweets. Typically they make this adding hydrogenated vegetable oil or vanaspati, but this tastes awesome when we make it with pure ghee. The chewy sticky halwa releases vivid flavours as we bite into the crunchy roasted nuts embedded within. Fine halwa comes in two textures, soft and sticky. Soft ones can not be preserved for more than 2 weeks and they also smell old sooner. Sticky ones can be preserved for over a month. The whole process requires nothing but patience, for you may need to keep stirring the contents for one to and one and half hours.

I am fond of this halwa which I wanted to make long ago, but somehow never tried until recently. First I tried this recipe from NDTV Food Channel by Chef Niru Gupta, but with my own variations. I also added strawberry crush which is readily available in 750ml bottle. That enhanced the taste of the halwa, making the eater crave for more and more!
Saffron flavoured soft Karachi Halwa
Second attempt was, making this with saffron flavour. This time I reduced the amount of added sugar and also set the halwa faster, which made it firm but soft. You can add amount of sugar in the proportion 1:1 but you can also increase the amount of sugar upto 1:2, that is for 1 cup arrowroot powder, you add 2 cups sugar. My preference is 1:1 for soft halwa and 1:1.5 for chewy one. Adding any fruit crush which has sugar in it, calls for reduction in amount of added sugar proportionately. In such case, my 1:1.5 formula works wonderfully well. Please also note that the total volume of added ghee should be not less than 100 ml for 1 cup of arrowroot powder and proportionate sugar. If you add more ghee, it floats over the top after setting the halwa, and can be used for making some other sweet dish or can also be used for pouring over Puran Polis. I didn't add cardamom to this halwa, as it spoils the flavour of strawberries as well as saffron.

Happy cooking, "Happy Festival of Lights to you all"!

Sugar - 250-500 Gm(1-2 Cups depending on your requirement)  
Arrowroot Powder - 1 Cup(115 Gm)
*Red/Orange/Green Food Coloring(As per the flavour you choose) - 3-5 Drops 
Strawberry/Orange/Pineapple/Lychee/Grape or any similar tangy fruit crush - 1/4 Cup(Optional)
Saffron - A generous pinch(Optional)
Lemon juice - 2Tsp or 1/2Tsp Ciric Acid dissolved in little water(I used lemon juice concentrate)
Ghee - 100 to 110 Ml
Almonds - 40 Gm 
Pistachios - 30 Gm 
Melon Seeds(Magaz) - 30 Gm
Water - 4-5 Cups 

Roast nuts and chop almonds and pistachios.

If you use saffron, soak it in little hot water and keep aside.
Dissolve sugar in 2 cups of water. 
Stir and boil for 5 minutes.
Mix arrowroot powder with sugar syrup.
Add 2-3 cups cold water to make a thin solution.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin cloth.
Cook, stirring constantly with the wire whisker or wooden ladle, until the mixture thickens into a semi transparent gum.
Add lemon juice, food colour, optional fruit crush or saffron soaked in hot water.
Lemon juice/citric acid prevents sugar from crystalising. 
Keep stirring on medium heat, taking care not to char the contents.
When the mixture starts to stick to the base of the pan, add 1 tbsp ghee.
Keep stirring constantly with preferably a wooden ladle.
Now you can increase the heat to high.
Keep adding one tablespoon ghee every 3-5 minutes until the mass begins to foam, and forms sticky lump.
When stirring becomes difficult, the contents move with the ladle in one sticky mass and ghee oozes from the sides, switch off the flame.
Fold in the nuts. 
Pour into a greased tray. 
Smoothen with a greased spoon. 
Allow to cool completely.
This takes over 2-3 hours.
Cut into 1 inch squares and store in an airtight container.
Karachi Halwa with Lychee flavour
*As per flavours you choose, you can add these colours:
Strawberry/Raspberry/Cranberry - Red
Saffron - Orange Red
Pineapple - Yellow
Orange - Orange Red
Grape/Mixed Berry - Purple
Lychee flavour - No colouring
Plain(Without any added fruit pulp or flavouring) - Green 


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