A Brooklyn-based synthetic biology startup wants to reinvent morning coffee—or at least the kind that sells for up to $80 a cup. That's the price of kopi luwak, considered the Holy Grail of coffees, produced from partly digested coffee 'cherries' eaten by wild civets native to southeast Asia. The authentic kopi luwak is made from beans collected from the civets' dung and is prized for its smooth and less bitter taste and earthy flavor. But the increasing demand for this rare brew has led to the growth of a largely unregulated industry, with reports of inhumane caging and force-feeding of civets and unscrupulous coffee producers using chemical additives to attain a similar flavor. Now microbiologist entrepreneur Camille Delebecque is preparing to launch Cultured Coffee, which uses controlled secondary fermentations with seeded microbes—and no civets—to craft a flavor profile inspired by kopi luwak. In addition to the choice of beans and roasting conditions, fermentation adds a third possibility for exploring flavor landscapes in coffee, Delebecque says. A Kickstarter campaign to support his company Afineur exceeded his $15,000 goal by nearly fourfold.

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