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Exotic coffee is monkey business

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kopi Luwak coffee was once the reigning champion of excess.

At $160 a pound, it has been billed in recent years as the most expensive, exotic and perhaps disquieting of brews. Kopi Luwak is made from coffee beans that have been eaten - and excreted - by the palm civet cat of Indonesia. The phenomenon made great headlines.

Civet cats have competition, however.

Minnesota-based coffee purveyor R. Miguel, who is convinced that the beverage could thrill the low-fat latte crowd.

Monkey Parchment coffee is $300 a pound and is brewed from beans that have been chewed up and spat out by Rhesus monkeys in the distant jungles of India.

Yes. Chewed on by monkeys. The beans bear tooth marks.

"I was very skeptical of this coffee at first," said R. Miguel Meza, who traveled to the aforementioned jungles to sample the stuff.

"Unlike the other animal-processed coffee like Kopi Luwak, this was a coffee that was unusual from the rest, and proved exemplary. It is by far the sweetest and most complex Indian Arabica coffee I have ever tasted," Mr. Meza explained.

"Monkey Parchment seems to run the whole spectrum of flavors found in coffee from citrus to nuts, chocolate and vanilla. The coffee is extremely heavy bodied with a pleasant rounded acidity and seemingly no bitterness. Truly, a unique treat," he added.

Unique, indeed. There are only 25 four-ounce tins of the stuff available at this point, at $75 a pop.

The branding of the new brew has already begun, though, with the monkeys themselves cast as discerning beasts.

"It all begins with the Rhesus monkeys in Chikmagular, India. They always leisurely dined on the ripest and sweetest examples they can find throughout coffee estates," Mr. Meza explained. "After chewing on the fruit for several minutes, they spit the parchment-covered seed out onto the forest floor. The next step is less leisurely and becomes trickier."

He continued, "Trained workers search the forest floors of Chikmagular to find the few seeds that the monkeys have chewed on. Those preciously left-over seeds are then thoroughly rinsed, washed, processed and dried."

Their taste is a result of "the specific enzymatic breakdown of the fruit that occurs in the monkeys' mouth."

Mr. Meza, 25, has introduced the Monkey brew as part of new line for Paradise Roasters, a coffee specialty company owned and operated by his family.

Is it folly?

The fancy or specialty end of the nation's coffee market is burgeoning, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, which reports that sales approached $13 billion last year, accounting for almost a third of the nation's $44 billion coffee market.

Mr. Meza is not alone in his quest to stand out. Unusual coffee is not so unusual, even in these austere times. The rock groups Kiss and Styx have each come out with their own signature coffees, as have actors Wolfgang Puck.

Coffee A.M. offers 110 flavors of coffee beans, including Baked Alaska, Marshmallow Fluff, Toasted Chestnut, Christmas Cookie and Pistachio.