I never thought I would be excited to look for some cat poop in the middle of a forest. Here I am on a narrow trail in a dense forest of Mt Malarayat, Batangas, carefully watching each step mindful if there are any animal droppings in path. Not to avoid them this time but to take a closer look. Yes it’s poop! But it’s not an ordinary poop since each set of these cat droppings is worth some serious money. I found a small pile still stuck together. The stuck up beans isn’t as offensive as I thought it would look nor does it smell like ordinary cat droppings. So this is how a Civet Cat poop is like. So this is where the world’s most expensive coffee came from.
It is so unlikely for me whose not really a fan of coffee to join a tour about coffee. But then again, this is no ordinary coffee but the sought after Civet Coffee. In Indonesia, this expensive coffee is known as Kopi Luwak. And since we almost have the same topography and climate as Indonesians, it’s no surprise that the same Civet Cat inhabits our forests, particularly the mountain ranges in Lipa Batangas and Mt Matutum in South Cotabato.
So what’s so special about this coffee? Well, the Civet Cats eat only the finest coffee berries judging from their smell. Once it reach their digestive tracts, the acids and enzymes affect the bean’s composition. The Civet Cats stuff themselves with these berries and excretes them early morning in large numbers. Yes their a mean berry and bean dispenser machine. These droppings are then picked, washed, sun-dried, manually sorted, precision roasted and served. Locally these Civet Cats are known as Alamid hence the name Alamid Coffee.
Coffee enthusiasts rave about how smooth, strong and unique the flavor is. Since I have poor perception of coffee, I can somehow compare its quality parallel to a wine which has a good body, smooth and round flavor that doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste on the throat. As much interesting the end product is, I was a lot more interested in the process from harvesting these coffee beans which made me decide to join this tour invitation by R.O.X.
From BGC, Manila we drove at least an hour and a half to Lipa, Batangas all the way to to the foot hills of Mt Malarayat. From our jump-off, we took this nice and scenic trail to a small hut/house up Mt Malarayat which is also the local’s headquarters when harvesting the Civet Coffee Beans. The 1 hour trek was fairly easy but I bet the trail would be a challenge when it rains because of the mud.
I heard there are other interesting trails where you could see small waterfalls along the way. But the trek also has some interesting flora, thanks to the locals who are pointing them out. Like this Tibig tree that only grows on grounds rich with water underneath. Or this beautifully colored Nipal flower yet warned us to touch since it makes your skin itchy that’s why it got it’s moniker of “Itchy Flower”. I’m glad to know the forest in this mountain range is still so rich.
Another point of interest are these very hospitable Batanguenos who harvest these Civet Coffee Beans. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning, traversing 3 mountains in a day just to gather what they can within a half year period between November-May. More than 5 years ago, these locals would avoid these droppings and admittedly, ate some of these cats. With proper education, these people learned how valuable the Civet Cats and droppings are and now are active in protecting them. One lady coffee picker, Lucinda who harvest these droppings with his husband admitted how their life got better from what they earn here than when she was working at a nearby Golf Resort. She had steadily provided for their kid’s needs and education and at off season do other profitable work like sell some fruits at the market.
During our poop search after lunch and coffee, I was amused on how sharp these Coffee Picker’s tracking skills are. Even if the Civet Coffee Beans are almost hidden under thick vegetation, they were able to spot them, even one tiny bean. It’s like they are seeing each of these beans glittering from afar like a piece of gold.
But it’s also amusing to note how some of these droppings were neatly “pooped” on the rocks. They told me that these Civets excrete on places they are comfortably positioned. I wanted to see an actual Civet Cat but that’s close to impossible, unless I camp in the forest at night since these creatures are nocturnal. But like humans they love to take in coffee when its raining.
Before we headed back to Manila, we paid a visit to Malarayat Coffee Farmers and Consumer Cooperative (MACOFA), Barangay Sto Nino, Lipa City. It is here where they showed us how they manufacture their Batangas “Kape” brand of coffee. Of course, we had an overflowing supply of their local coffee which I really liked (Especially their 18days Coffee) and that’s a compliment coming from a non-coffee fan like me. I even liked it better that the overpriced Starbucks I tasted.
Alamid Café Xpress
B1, Bonifacio Highstreet, Taguig City
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.