You may be wondering what Kopi Luwak coffee is. You aren’t alone. We consider ourselves coffee connoisseurs but had no idea about cat poop coffee until recently.
Cat poop coffee? Surely we’re joking.
It not only isn’t a joke but retails at $45 per pound. Why do people take this seriously? Let’s find out!
What Is Kopi Luwak Coffee?
Kopi Luwak isn’t a coffee bean variant but the name of a process. The process is as simple as it is disturbing. So, like with an accident, you won’t be able to look away.
The word kopi is Indonesian for coffee, and Luwak is Indonesian for an animal’s name. You may know it as an Asian palm civet. Civets are small, nocturnal creatures that resemble both cats and weasels.
Civets (like raccoons) will eat anything available but prefer berries and fruits. Their diet sometimes includes coffee cherries. Can you see where this is going?
Civets eat coffee cherries and defecate the indigestible coffee beans, and farmers collect those coffee beans out of the feces. They wash, dry, pound, sort, and roast them to create Kopi Luwak.
The cherries undergo a special fermentation in the civet’s stomach. Their stomach acid interacts with the beans in such a way that makes them smoother and less acidic. That makes for a nicer beverage and an overall better mouthfeel.
You can brew the Kopi Luwak beans like any other kind. It’s better to drink this coffee without cream or sugar, at least the first time. Otherwise, you won’t be able to taste its unique flavor properly.
The History of Kopi Luwak Coffee
Kopi Luwak coffee has a longer history than you may be aware of. It entered the American sphere of knowledge through Hollywood and trendsetters like Oprah Winfrey in the early 2000s. However, Kopi Luwak has existed for much longer than that.
We’ll have to take a step back to the early 1600s for the beginning of this story. People knew Indonesia as the East Indies at that time. The Dutch colonized the East Indies in 1595. They left their country searching for natural resources and found delectable coffee. It was love at first sip.
The Dutch quickly established coffee plantations and forced the indigenous people to work on them. They also forbade the workers from using the products they worked so hard to produce. That led to serious nationwide caffeine withdrawal, as you can imagine.
Somehow, one of the locals (no one is sure who) noticed that the palm civets, or luwaks, were eating some of the coffee cherries. After eating, the civets pooped out usable coffee beans. They cleaned the beans and roasted them to brew their coffee.
Expectations weren’t high for this new method, but the coffee tasted even more delicious than before. The coffee plantation owners eventually found out about the Kopi Luwak. They tried it and begrudgingly agreed it was a superior cup of coffee.
And like with every good thing poor people have, the rich wanted it for themselves. Their interest made this new drink even more desirable, thus exponentially growing its popularity. That popularity stayed relatively local until the 1990s, when it spread worldwide.
Why Is Kopi Luwak So Expensive?
Kopi Luwak is so expensive because of its production method. As we already mentioned, the palm civets eat the coffee cherries and poop out coffee beans. Farmers clean, dry, and roast the beans using a method similar to the 1830s process. Every step is time and labor-intensive.
They collect the beans from the feces by hand. At present, there’s no other way to pick up the beans. Even if there were a bean-collecting machine, it wouldn’t be as discerning as a human. These people carefully clean the beans by hand as well.
No matter what coffee bean you want to produce, you have to dry it at some point. There are two main methods for drying coffee beans: using a mechanical dryer or laying them in the sun. The people of Indonesia use the sun method.
That can take anywhere between 6–14 days if nothing goes wrong. Laying the beans in the sun leaves them vulnerable to the elements. Animal contamination and unfavorable weather conditions can add time to the drying process.
There’s also the added hurdle of the palm civets. Traditional Kopi Luwak comes from beans that have been digested by wild civets. Wild animals do as they please.
You can’t rely on the wild palm civets to consistently eat coffee cherries, so you’ll add more wait time there. That has led to people raising palm civets solely for Kopi Luwak production. Ideally, the palm civets still roam freely, but that’s not always the case.
Around only 500 pounds of Kopi Luwak are produced each year. Other sources suggest it’s closer to 50 tons (100,000 pounds), but that’s still much lower than the 9 billion tons of regular coffee produced annually. So, the price is simply the result of low supply and high demand.
What Does Kopi Luwak Taste Like?
We’re finally at the most crucial questions. What does Kopi Luwak actually taste like? And is it worth the price you pay? That’s a bit complicated due to all the variation that arises. There’s also the fact that people think different things taste good.
Kopi Luwak coffee has a distinct taste as a result of the enzymatic process the beans undergo. Enzymes in the stomach break down proteins in the beans, shorten their peptides, and release amino acids.
This process (which takes place in the civet’s stomach) is similar to fermentation. The result is a much smoother drink that’s less bitter and acidic than a regular cup of Joe.
There are several commercialized processes out there attempting to replicate what happens inside the civet’s stomach without the civet. Startup food company Afineur has a patent on one of these processes. That allegedly produces the same quality as the natural Kopi Luwak.
Even if there weren’t different processes, there’s still a lot of variation in the coffee. The tasting notes of Kopi Luwak coffee vary with the diet and stress levels of each civet. There are differences depending on the type and places of origin of the coffee beans, too.
None of this gives you very much information about the flavor, though. The liquid that slowly runs over your taste buds is smooth and has a good body. There’s less acid and less bitterness. It’s easy to drink. Typical flavor notes include rich, earthy, musty, citrusy, chocolatey, and “jungly.”
Some coffee drinkers take issue with less acid, saying it takes away all the flavor. They feel more attention gets given to this step of the production of coffee than is necessary. They would like to see more balance. You probably shouldn’t spend your money on Kopi Luwak if you’re one of them.
If you aren’t opposed to less acid, then you should try the Kopi Luwak if given the opportunity, and it’s authentic (and cruelty-free). It has a truly unique flavor and a truly unique story.
Is Civet Kopi Luwak Coffee Cruel?
Though civet Kopi Luwak coffee isn’t inherently cruel, its popularity has led to animal and human cruelty. The history of Kopi Luwak shows it can get produced 100% cruelty-free. The problem is that some people choose not to produce it that way.
Once Kopi Luwak entered the modern mainstream media, its demand grew exponentially. Lucrative popularity like this always leads to two things: knock-off products and worker exploitation. This industry is no exception.
It didn’t take long for civet farms to appear in Southeast Asia in an attempt to keep up with the high demand. Most, if not all, of these farms, exploit their workers and mistreat their animals. Some farms actually outright abuse the civets.
If you were to visit one of these farms, you could find hundreds of civets stuffed into metal cages. They won’t have room to move around, let alone exercise properly. The poor civets will also be force-fed coffee cherries to improve their productivity.
Civets eat a diverse diet, so exclusively eating coffee cherries makes them incredibly sick. Think about all that caffeine! This extreme “diet” often even kills them.
The metal cages leave sores and wounds on their little bodies, too. And they’re only in them to make it easier for workers to collect the beans from their feces.
They live in these terrible conditions for a few novelty cups of coffee. It’s expensive coffee, too, but not to the benefit of the hardworking Indonesian farmers and manufacturers.
The price for a pound of farmed beans is $45, while a pound of wild-collected beans is $600. To put this into a better perspective, the current minimum wage in Indonesia is about $314 a month, which increased very recently.
So, did you enjoy learning about Kopi Luwak coffee? You’re definitely an expert now. You learned what it is, where it came from, why it’s expensive, and what it tastes like. Now, you’ll either be able to win Jeopardy or impress your friends at your next party. It’s a win-win.
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