'Cat Poop Coffee' Is Coming To Chicago (Yes, That's A Thing)
May 16, 2017
ROGERS PARK — Antony van Zyl is an ambitious restaurateur, but he knows where to draw the line.
When he was configuring the menu for his cafe Nibbles and Nosh, which is opening next week in Rogers Park, he didn't spring for the Black Ivory Coffee — a rare $900 per pound brew made exclusively in Thailand that uses a process in which beans first pass through an elephant's digestive system.
Recognizing the exorbitant cost because of the unorthodox methods, he instead opted for Kopi Luwak, or what some call "cat poop coffee."
The process begins when civets, or mongoose-like mammals with slender cat-like bodies, eat coffee cherries, which contains a coffee bean inside of a round, tangy fruit.
Civets eat and digest the skins of the cherries but pass the beans, which are harvested from the creature's fecal matter, washed and readied for human consumption. The way enzymes act upon the beans during digestion help create the flavor.
Van Zyl said he pays between $30-$80 for a pound of his beans from Thailand and charges $12.50 for a six-ounce cup, about the size of a tea cup or glass of wine.
Two cups are brewed at a time using a Belgian balancing siphon coffee-maker: a glass and metallic percolating contraption resembling a piece of Victorian laboratory equipment that shifts from side to side as it prepares the java.
The elaborate process takes about 20 minutes and is meant to be shared between friends who aren't in a hurry, van Zyl said.
But "cat poop coffee" — why on Earth would anyone want to sell, or drink, that?
"It's so unique and so different," van Zyl said. "And partly because I like the idea of people spending a little bit of time sitting and watching the whole process go through."
He added: "It's just something that you don't find everywhere else."
Though some Chicago coffee shops have at times served the drink, it's hard to come across today, especially sold in individual cup level. Locals on food website Yelp have also sought out the strange brew over the years, but to little avail.
Van Zyl contends the flavor is worth the wait and cost, too.
While the roast has been touted as "chocolaty" by some online reviewers, van Zyl said he's afraid that evokes the wrong image for the already unusual cup of morning Joe.
Like most coffee, van Zyl said his isn't smelling of roses, but it is flush with full, but soft, overtones of cherries and nuts and is milder than the traditional liquid energy.
"Do I believe that the process makes that much difference? No, not really," he said. "I think it's interesting ... but the coffee itself is just quite good."
However, not everyone is keen with the idea of civet coffee, with some referring back only to its creation process for anyone curious about the flavor.
And, though van Zyl said his coffee is ethically-sourced, the practice of mass-produced Kopi Luwak has received criticism for what some charge is the poor treatment of the animals, some of which were force-fed the cherries and kept in cramped cages as the coffee grew in popularity.
Animal advocates have called for civet coffee farms to end, or, at least, transition into more free-range areas that allow the animals to still live relatively in the wild.
Regardless of the variety of opinions of the brew, van Zyl likely will complete his goal when Nibbles and Nosh opens next week: bringing a one-of-a-kind experience to Rogers Park and Chicago.
His store will serve other coffees at its coffee bar, too, and serve flights of cold brew alongside its boisterous menu of eggs benedict and whopping platters fit for a "Montana rancher" and lighter fare, such as an English breakfast.
But Kopi Luwak is a rare offering among the menu van Zyl said he hopes customers give a chance.
"Really, where else can you go to say you've had 'cat poop coffee?'"