Pho is a small chain of family owned Vietnamese cafes. They have 5 branches in London and one in Brighton (UK). There are two branches in the west end, one in Clerkenwell, and one apiece in the Westfield shopping centres in Shepherds Bush and Stratford E15. Their food is both good and modestly priced but it was only recently that I noticed they sold weasel coffee for £5.95 a cup. This struck me as cheap for the world’s ‘most expensive’ coffee – since I remembered reading newspaper articles a few years back about how the brasserie at the Peter Jones department store in London’s Sloane Square was selling a single cup of this rare brew for £50 (US $79.00) a cup.
Pho offered the following description of the coffee in their menu: “For the more adventurous try one of the rarest coffees in the world exclusive to Pho in the UK – Chon Ca Phe aka Weasel coffee. This coffee is eaten, digested and then passed by Vietnamese weasels – a process that dramatically enhances the flavour of the deliciously tasty roasted beans! Served with or without condensed milk.”
I talked to a waitress about the coffee and she said that although a lot of people expressed interest in it and wanted to ask her questions about it, not so many actually ordered and drank it. What put people off it seems is the fact that after the weasels ate the beans they then passed through their digestive tract. A weasel eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through weasel’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness than other types. Weasel coffee is widely reputed to be the most expensive in the world – with prices reaching as much as $160 per pound.
I’ll try almost anything once as long as it doesn’t entail cruelty – and my understanding was the shat out coffee beans were recovered from the poo of wild – or at least free range – weasels. At Pho the coffee came in a filter cup and I had to wait for the hot water to pass through the filter before drinking it. Since I usually drink espresso I didn’t bother adding the condensed milk that came separately. The coffee was reasonably strong and definitely less bitter than I’m used to. To make a comparison with whiskies, the weasel coffee was like a smooth Speyside – whereas the espresso I make at home is more like a smokey and fiery Islay. And yes you guessed right, Islay and not Speyside is my whiskey of choice. I don’t want a smooth whiskey or coffee, I like the kick of Islay and bitter espresso.
So I’ll leave Chon Ca Phe to those who are grooved by Speyside whiskey – the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee is not for me! And can anyone tell me whether a reassuringly expensive £50 cup of weasel coffee is any better than one that costs £5.95 from Pho?
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!