Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee, thanks to the ingestion of the coffee cherry by the south-east Asian palm civet (small cat like mammal). It is then part-digested and defecated before being collected and made into this luxurious blend. The beans inside each cherry remain intact throughout the digestion process, with enzymes produced by the civet subtly changing flavour components; eliminating bitter tones and leaving instead delicate and distinctively rich, smooth, sweet notes.
Matthew Ross, founder of Ross Kopi coffee, is a champion of the ethical production of this luxurious coffee, and his exquisite blend is seen as the go-to for authentic ethically sourced kopi luwak across the world. British born, he now lives in Hong Kong, where he left his position as a derivatives broker to start Ross Kopi, and spends his time travelling back and forth to Indonesia where he sources his coffee, whilst also advising the Indonesian government on sustainability and the coffee process. The LuxPad spoke to Matthew to find out more about his bold career move, and ask him what he thinks makes the perfect cup of coffee…
Why did you make the move from a career in the finance sector to creating your own coffee empire?
At the age of 21 I had a very strong feeling about what I should do, it felt completely right, but I let my head talk me out of it. I regretted not doing that thing every day after. So I promised myself the next time I had that feeling again I would go with it. Everything in me told me I had to follow my gut and do the coffee. There are always a million reasons not to do something, the timing will never be right, the easy route is always there, but this time I ignored my head and went with it.
I am so glad I did.
Do you ever miss your former position and what has been the most useful skill, if any, that has been transferable to your new career?
I miss it on the 28th of every month, payday. Banking and finance taught me many things, but the most transferable skill I learned was game theory. The financial markets are highly sophisticated and operate at lightspeed. Information is ultimately the most valuable commodity one can possess, how that is applied varies and the outcomes can vary hugely. The principles of game theory are just as relevant in a remote mountainous community as they are on a trading screen, maybe more so. Here the consequences of actions and decisions can be financial but they also have social and emotional repercussions. When you add these last two factors into the ‘game’ you have to think in a very strategic way, often contemplating many moves ahead. In the mountains, good or bad decisions can last a long time.
What were the biggest challenges that you faced when setting up in Indonesia, and how much of your time is now spent out there?
I faced challenges in every area of my life. I moved to a remote area of Aceh, to a house with no running water or electricity, to a village where no one spoke English, to a swarm of relentless mosquitoes that loved my blood. You adapt, you learn and you overcome. Having my business partner Adi and his family was a godsend. They took me in as a member of the family from day one and I will never be able to thank them enough for everything they have done for me, and the food is the best I have ever eaten. I spend most of my time in Hong Kong now with my family, and travelling to meet new clients, but I am constantly in contact with my team and I go there when I can. Adi is a genius and an amazing partner. I will be there in a couple of months again to see everyone and take a trip to the mountains once the rain eases up.
Can you tell us how you ensure that the kopi luwak you harvest is wild, ethical and sustainable?
The only way to ensure it is real and genuine is to receive it in its original state, to work with passionate farmers that believe in the coffee as much as we do and to look after everyone. Over the last five years we have created a 21 stage process to ensure everything we do creates the perfect coffee. We started out not to make the most expensive coffee or to create a lot of coffee, we wanted to make the very best coffee. Our volumes are very small, we probably have the least scalable business in the world, we do not know from one day to the next if we will have product.
When we do find it, it is a race against time and the elements to ensure we keep as much of this natural phenomenon intact as possible. Sustainable means many things. My biggest concern about sustainability is ensuring we have coffee not just next season but for years ahead. Our environment is key, we must demonstrate the inherent value of leaving this natural ecosystem as it is, not to burn it or cut it down, but to live with it. That our farmers can sustain themselves in these harsh conditions and their children and families can live in these wonderful places. If we do not sustain this life it will fail and there is no way back from that failure.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Deviehl – how and why did that come about?
When we first launched in Harrods I saw the Deviehl coffee cups. I was struck by the design, it was beautiful. Then I looked into the detail of the cups and I was blown away. It was very similar to what we had done, taken an everyday item we all know and raised it to become a piece of art. When you see the detail and finish on the Deviehl cups you know these are items of true class and utterly exquisite. How could you drink from a Deviehl cup and not feel special? We begin our experiences with the eyes and Deviehl makes masterpieces.
What are your top three tips for ensuring the perfect cup of coffee?
- Know where the beans are from and when they were roasted, try and buy from a local roaster and ask all about the journey of the beans and what they possess.
- Find your favourite way to make the coffee. Get all of the equipment ready and take some time out to make it.
- Smell the beans at every stage, when you open the bag, just after you have ground them, when the water hits them and then in the cup….the character changes all along the way and you would have built up a relationship and attachment to the coffee before you even drink it. The aroma of freshly ground coffee is intoxicating and addictive, let it transport you somewhere.
What is the hardest life lesson that you have ever had to learn?
To realise that I am ultimately responsible for everything I do, no one else, and so I have to own it….and I am still working on that.
You’ve just discovered a time machine that can take you to either the past or the future, what year do you go to and why?
I would go to 1831 and do everything I could to get on The Beagle with Charles Darwin. I cannot imagine anything more phenomenal than seeing what he saw on that trip, at that time.
How would you spend your perfect day off?
This is an easy one. I’d spend the whole day with my wife and daughter. It can be anywhere, doing anything.
What does 2016 have in store for you and your company?
This year we build on last year and move into new territories. Our first stop is Las Vegas to a very very special place, the likes of which I have never seen before. I am very proud to be working with our partners there. We will then travel to Los Angeles, Tokyo and the magical Middle East. I am very fortunate to meet the people I meet, many live lives of passion and follow their dreams. One thing I have learned through all of this is to have plans but don’t be too attached to them, many things can change and often do. At the very start of all of this, whilst I missed a flight in an airport I called a friend and asked what I should do, should I just come home or wait and go later, or go somewhere else, I was very frustrated. He said to me the well-known phrase ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’. So true and thank goodness I listened to him.
Discover the world’s best coffee in the utmost luxury with the Deviehl RossKopi Espresso Set, available now at Amara.