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Thailand - Doi Chaang Coffee

August 30, 2009
Combined

This will be a combined review, both of us having received samples. For a description of Bob and Jim's evaluation procedure, see our reference page.

We are reviewing three different coffees on this page; two are coffees "partially processed" by civet cats, and the other is a conventional Arabica peaberry.

In Southeast Asia, various species of civet cats eat coffee cherries, digesting the pulp, and either spitting out or excreting the coffee beans. Therefore, the civets offer an alternative to wet or dry processing for going from cherry to green coffee. Civet coffee, collected in Java and Sumatra, and marketed under the name "Kopi Luwak," has garnered the reputation of being uniquely deep and complex-tasting. It commands a very high price, sometimes in excess of $100 per pound.

The high price means that growers try to expand the supply, sometimes by dubious means. In Indonesia, civets are caged and force-fed. Also Robusta beans are mixed with Arabica. Finally, the beans that the civets have stripped of pulp and spat out are mixed with those that they have swallowed and passed through their digestive systems.

Other countries in South East Asia also produce civet coffees. Vietnam's regular coffees are of such poor quality that their civet offereings have not created much of a stir. However, we now have the opportunity to review civet coffees produced by the Doi Chaang plantation in Thailand, known for its meticulously prepared coffees, and unique cup profile . These coffees have been gathered from wild civets, using only Arabica beans, and the "spat-out" beans have been separated from the "passed" ones. These two civet coffees are just as meticulously prepared and flawless as their regular coffees. And, no; there was no hint of scat in the aroma of the green beans or in the early roast.

This has afforded us at Coffeecuppers a unique opportunity to taste the same coffee wet processed and "civet processed" either by spitting and passing. For the first time, the effect of the civet's digestive system on coffee taste can be investigated quite clearly.

There were no unique added civet flavors in these coffees; neither were any flavors removed. But the effect of the civets was unmistakable. In the regular peaberry coffee, and to some extent in the "Spit," the body was buttery, the acidity crisp, and the flavor sweet, reminiscent of snowpeas in demiglace. In the "Spit” lot, the flavors and buttery aspects were slightly flattened. In the "Pass” lot, the light cupping roast tasted flat, and had poor body and acidity. It tasted slightly woody and thin, like past crop coffee.

As brewed drinks using the light cupping roast, (drip, French press and vacuum pot), the “Pass” was completely flat, green tasting with very little flavor. The “Spit’ had some life with clearly higher acidity compared to the “Pass”, a sweet, slightly herbal, rather classic cup character and smooth body. The peaberry was lively, leguminous and more intense than the civet coffees with medium body and a medium-long finish.

But this is not the whole story. In the espresso shots, everything came out reversed. The regular prep and "spit" tasted thin and lacked sweetness, scoring in the low 80s. The "Pass" was a heavy bodied, sweet cup with lots of middle flavors and the complex notes of snowpeas and distillates. It scored an 88. The story with the cappuccinos was the same; the regular coffee was unsatisfactory, while the "Pass" was very good.

So what gives? We guess is that the effect of the civet's digestive tract on the passed beans is quite similar to pulped natural processing. In pulp natural processing, the skin is removed, as in wet processing, but the beans are allowed to dry on patios, as in dry processing, only more quickly. Pulped natural coffees are often flat tasting when cupped, while at the same time making excellent espresso. Illy and Terroir, along with many other espresso experts, no longer use dry processed beans for espresso, having switched to pulp natural. It is ironic, but the civet's digestive tract seems to be the equivalent of this cleaner method of processing beans for espresso.

If this is true, the unique qualities of civet coffee make it unsuitable for light roasts, but quite suitable for medium and darker roasts, especially when used in espresso.

Bob’s Cupping Scores - Peaberry:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

4.0

Wet Aroma (1-5):

4.0

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

7.6

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

7.3

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

7.5

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

7.5

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

87.9

Bob’s Cupping Scores - Civet Passed:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

3.0

Wet Aroma (1-5):

3.0

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

6.6

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

6.5

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

6.2

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

7.0

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

82.3

Bob’s Cupping Scores – Civet Spit:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

4.0

Wet Aroma (1-5):

3.8

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

7.5

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

7.2

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

7.2

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

7.3

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

87.0

Jim’s Cupping Scores - Peaberry:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

3.8

Wet Aroma (1-5):

3.4

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

7.6

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

7.1

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

7.4

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

7.6

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

86.9

Jim’s Cupping Scores - Civet Passed:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

2.9

Wet Aroma (1-5):

3.1

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

6.9

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

6.7

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

6.9

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

6.5

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

83.0

(Total score for espresso – 88.0)

Jim’s Cupping Scores – Civet Spit:

Dry Fragrance (1-5):

3.6

Wet Aroma (1-5):

3.4

Flavor/Taste/Depth (1-10):

7.4

Finish/Aftertaste (1-10):

7.1

Brightness/Acidity (1-10):

7.4

Body/Movement/Mouth-Feel (1-10):

7.1

TOTAL (subtotal + 50)

86.0

  • Lighter Roasts: The peaberry has buttery snowpea and demi-glace flavors, the “Pass” is flat, while the “Spit” is intermediate, but more like the peaberry.
  • Darker Roasts: Caramel flavors emerge in the “Pass”.The peaberry and “Spit” lose their flavors.
  • As Espresso: The peaberry and “Spit” are too light bodied and angular tasting. The “Pass” is heavy-bodied, creamy and sweet.

 

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UPDATED: August 30, 2009