December 26th-31th, Sprudge.com is revisiting some of our favorite stories from the very exciting past year in coffee. Enjoy!
Randy Goldman is a shy man.
That's not his real name, for starters. “I followed the market and did what I felt was the right thing to do,” Mr. Goldman told Sprudge.com, and for that, who can fault him? This is the man behind the infamous “Human Kopi Luwak” story that went viral last December, garnering coverage from the likes of The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and Jezebel. “I never wanted to get phone calls from newspapers and Good Morning America,” he told us. “I just wanted to sell coffee that had passed through my system.”
For a few days in December 2012, Randy's was one of the most highly sought after stories in the world, and all because of his listing on a Portland area Craigslist page for “Human Kopi Luwak“. While fielding calls and inquiries from feature writers – The Atlantic and The New York Times both came calling – Randy quickly sold nearly thirty pounds of coffee he'd eaten and pooped out for his eager customers. He summed up the zeitgeist succinctly: “I sold the coffee, made a couple hundred bucks, and took my old lady out to dinner.”
And then the processing dried up. Mr. Goldman's demand far outstripped his ability to supply, and without fresh coffee cherry to consume, he considered himself all-but-retired from coffee. The closest thing to a real interview he gave back then was this email exchange with the Willamette Week, And after that? Public silence. But behind the scenes, our off-the-record correspondence with Randy has been ongoing for 9 long months, since the initial media push. We'd long requested a chance to meet with Randy in person, but he consistently rebuffed our friendly advances, until finally we made Randy a big promise. What if Sprudge Editors were able to bring back to the United States a vac-sealed frozen bag of coffee cherries? Would he let us watch him eat it? Would he finally allow outsiders to observe his curious process?
Estacada, Oregon is just a half an hour away from Portland, but it might as well be three states over. The pace of life is a little slower; your boots sink deeper in the mud. Randy's got a pretty nice spread out there, set on 10 acres or so near the River Mill Dam. We'll cop to being a little nervous on the drive out. While Estacada ain't exactly Antarctica, there are some parts of Clackamas County that feel pretty darn rural, and we had no clue what to expect. After all, we were driving out to meet a guy who claimed to eat, poop, then roast his own coffee beans. Anything could happen.
“No direct photos, no GPS coordinates, no tape recorders, and no forwarding address for other bloggers” — These were Randy's four stipulations, and the agreed-upon terms of our visit. The coffee we were able to secure was grown at an elevation of 1500 meters, in the Cauca growing region of Colombia. Up until our visit, all of Mr. Goldman's coffee had been homegrown in the Cascade foothills — not exactly primo coffeelands. He sure noticed the difference: “This is really good, kind of tastes like jasmine and watermelon. Not at all like my other stuff, which kind of had a peppery thing going on.” We agreed to return after the cherry and seeds were processed in his digestive tract.
Eighteen hours later Randy called us. “The deed has been done. Come on by and watch me roast.”
Sitting in his kitchen, we surveyed the spoils. What should have been emerald green coffee beans were instead a sickly yellow color now, and we watched as Randy carefully placed the coffee in his HotTop Roaster and started to roast. “I'm more of a ‘full-city' kind of guy, y'know, but I know you guys like a lighter roast.”
After the coffee rested, we cupped. Sprudge brought along some samples of the same coffee, conventionally washed and processed in Colombia, then roasted by a reputable US micro who shall remain nameless. It was to be our control sample, a way to compare the same coffee to Mr. Goldman's own. He asked us, “Well? What do you think?”
The human poop coffee was musky and fruit-forward. As it cooled, it yielded a distinct nuttiness that teetered perilously on the brink of being unbalanced. Like all kopi luwak, Randy's suffered from inarticulate roasting, and compared to the normal-non-shit process, Randy's blend was a lot less appealing. If the normal process was a 94, Randy's was a sad 82.
We came away from the feeling that all the processing hullabaloo was a lot of work for nothing, with no tangible benefit to how the coffee might taste. But Randy didn't seem disappointed by our critique. In fact, he pretty much agreed: “I didn't think it'd do much for the taste, but I see Kopi Luwak selling and selling and know that the consumer wants to drink shit. So be it.”
We asked Randy Goldman, “Do you think this new batch will sell as fast as the last?”
“Sure, absolutely. I still have people contacting me about it. The wait-list has over forty people. Radio DJs, regional news outlets, reporters from Jakarta. They all want it – I just needed to get my hands on the goods.”
Pictures and notes in hand, we hopped back into the car and headed back in the direction of Portland, but not before passing along a business card for a reputable coffee importer. Journalists aren't the only one who see potential in human kopi luwak, and while shipping is expensive, Randy's new product will simply need to cost a bit more than his original home-grown operation. “I want to focus on quality as much as yield and all that, but the demand for shit coffee is skyrocketing. I'm just an enterprising man trying to make an honest living.”
Aren't we all, Randy. Aren't we all.