“It’sa the most expensive coffee in de worrrld.” Our very Italian Walks of Italy guide annunciated to us, a slightly buzzed group of 20 travelers from around the world. We had just arrived at the Caffè del Doge in Venice – the place to grab a quick cup of cappuccino done the only way, the correct way, the Italian way.
Our guide, a gorgeous statuesque blond woman with better dress sense than anyone in our group of tourists and travelers, directed us to the counter of the emptied cafe prompting us to order.
From 10 am to noon the sparkling wine, cicchetti and history all went to our heads. What we needed now was a shot of espresso and apparently, as the Venetians do, a shot of grappa to follow it down.
Willing to try most things once I went for it. The delicious Italian espresso in a teeny white cup with the Doge, the iconic Venetian symbol of both it’s success and failure as an empire. Down it went. The shot of deep black caffeine about to awaken me for a few more hours of experiencing Venice.
The grappa is another story. The powerful scent of liquorice filled my nostrils as I inhaled the clear liquid into my lungs. I have never been a fan of liquorice nor clear liquor/liqueurs. It usually is followed by a gasp for air if drunken quickly.
“Pour de grrrappa into de yourrr cup.” Our guide assured me. Instead of shooting it like some sorority girl being peer pressured, I instead poured it into my empty espresso cup like a dignified Venetian. Finally, I sipped. My face began to contort uncontrollably like a toddler tasting a lemon for the first time.
The tour was winding up but before we gathered our things our guide offered once more, “The most expensive coffee in de worrrld. Otto Eurrro.” She held up eight fingers rotating 180˚ ensuring all could see. The singular cup of espresso she was referring to was the infamous civet poop coffee. The civet, a cat-like monkey mammal who eats coffee cherries, has the digestive system to break down the outer skins of the bean. The farmers then harvest the resulting beans from their feces resulting in what is known as Kopi Luwak.
I and another traveler admittedly purchased a cup. The result? A muddy taste of earth and coffee served in a special black espresso cup.
As one does, I took a picture and posted it to Instagram. But one reader was quick to teach me a lesson commenting on the dark side of the coffee delicacy. I had to look into it. There I was in Venice with Kopi Luwak fresh in my belly wondering if what I just did was right or not. If my openness to trying anything once has gotten me into a moral conundrum. It did.
Little did I know at the time of purchasing the rich black espresso that there are some real problems with the treatment of the civet and their living conditions. Much like most of the animals we use for food production, the civet has been exploited for a gimmicky cup of coffee. To ensure you aren’t funding the poor quality of life of the civet you have to seek out cage-free Kopi Luwak.
On the flip side of this small farmers in Asia are earning extra money from an unexpected luxury item helping their families and communities. The World Animal Protection wants to help these farmers continue while also improving the quality of life for the civet mammals and allowing “connoisseurs”
and the occasional misinformed travelers like me to keep on trying anything once.
But the fact is I don’t know if the Kopi Luwak I drank was indeed harvested from the cage of a suffering civet. I do not know if a portion of my 8 euros went towards helping a farmer or community in need either. Nor do I know if what I did was wrong. I drank Kopi Luwak. It wasn’t delicious and certainly not something I would spend my money on even if it turned out the best coffee ever – which it didn’t.
But this story isn’t to look back in shame it is to pose a question. We all know how important it is to know where our food comes from at home. But when you travel this becomes a daunting task. How can you know where your food comes from with every restaurant, food cart and bar? All you can do is live/travel and take those opportunities to learn through the right and wrong.