Culinary Memoirs of A Biologist Who Loves Food

Kopi Kawa, When Your Coffee is Also a Tea

Indonesia is known for world’s most delicious coffee. You name it, from Java Arabica to Toraja Kalosi, we have a broad spectrum of coffee to try, even if you trace it, there’s a local coffee shop in Yogyakarta that sells these variants of coffee, up to the level when they included the farmers and their own methods as tool for classification. We also home for world famous civet poop coffee or “Kopi Luwak” (although recently, its popularity is shadowed by Thai elephant poop coffee, somehow). “Kopi” means coffee and “Luwak” means civet in Bahasa Indonesia.

Back to the Dutch colonial era, the Kopi Luwak was originally invented by local Javanese people as the result of when the Dutch took away the coffee beans for themselves to drink and trade. Leaving the locals to decided (I don’t know why and how they even thinking of it) to took the civet excrements, rinse them up to clean the coffee bean, and roasted the bean, which turned out to be more valuable than normal coffee. Although I’m not a coffee person as my dad, I could tell you biologically because the civet knows that they like only the most ripe coffee fruits. This also combined that the biological process on the civet body, the enzymatic process, further enhanced the coffee flavor. I remembered that some of the researchers are now trying to imitate this enzymatic process outside the civet body (this is because due to the high demand, some scumbags are force feeding the civet to bleed with the coffee fruit, while you are actually have to let the civet pick the fruit for you).

Well, that’s in Java. Their innovation are now one of the most expensive coffee in the world. It’s another story in Sumatra. In 1840, following 10 years earlier success of coffee planting in Java, Governor General Van den Bosch decided to grow a coffee plantation in Minang, West Sumatra with locals as slave labors. His iron-fist and strict rules obligated that no coffee beans would be spilled on the way. Leaving no chance for the locals to pick any beans.

Instead of picking the poop of the civets, the locals of Sumatra decided to pick the coffee leaves instead, drying them up, leaving the end product called “Kopi Kawa”. The name “Kawa” was originated from “qahwah” (قهوة) in Arabic, that means coffee. Don’t ask me why the name is translated into the abundant words “coffee coffee” here.

Now in present day. Lucky for me, I had a chance to try the Kopi Kawa myself in Jakarta. So I visit the coffee shop, Kedai Kawa Wahidin, located in Tebet, South Jakarta. When I look into their menu, their drinks are mostly traditional coffee based drink of West Sumatra. I was then ordered the Kopi Kawa, one original, another with milk as comparison.

Kawa Original (left), and with milk (right)

Closer look to Kawa Original

When the drinks arrived, I was amazed. So they placed the drink on a coconut shell. As for the first impression, it looks like tea with even darker color. It has, odd smell, very rich in metabolites (I could tell, it’s kinda aromatic and strong). Then I took a sip. It’s bitter and due to higher plant secondary metabolites accumulation on the leaves, it provides very strong, strange aftertaste and leaving an astringent flavor on your mouth. Honestly, the drink is not my favorite, but in the name of knowledge, I decided to try it anyway. And the one with milk, I was glad that they give me the sweetened condensed milk instead of liquid fresh milk, because it helps with the flavor a lot. But still, the flavor is too strong.

Final verdict, it’s okay to try it to satisfy your curiosity and for a challenge, and ultimately to understand, and to appreciate the local Minangkabau (West Sumatra) culture. I don’t say it’s bad, simply because I’m not a fan of coffee.

Location: KEDAI KAWA WAHIDIN, Jl. K.H. Abdullah Syafei no. 57B, Tebet, South Jakarta, Indonesia (Google Map: Link)


  • Kawa Original – IDR 9.5k
  • Kawa Susu (with milk) – IDR 12k

My notes: Take your friends, or family with you, you probably need them to drink with you!


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