What Is Kopi Luwak? A Closer Look At Cat Poop Coffee

what is kopi luwak coffee

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If you’ve explored the realm of specialized coffees or embarked on a quest for the most peculiar or expensive coffee, you’ve likely come across the renowned Kopi Luwak. Many people consider this specialty coffee to be one of the most prestigious and finest coffees available worldwide. In the United States, a single cup of Kopi Luwak can fetch as much as $80.

While it certainly comes with a hefty price tag and undergoes a distinctive processing method, I have a compelling reason to urge you to reconsider trying Kopi Luwak.

The truth is that this coffee spells trouble for Civets, and as you delve deeper into the topic, you’ll realize the bleak treatment the animals endure. So the question arises: is a mere cup of coffee truly worth it?

✔ Quick Answer

Kopi Luwak is a unique and controversial type of coffee made from beans that have been eaten, partially digested, and then excreted by the Asian palm civet, a small mammal found in Southeast Asia. This process is believed to ferment the beans and give the coffee a distinctive, smooth flavor, but it has raised significant ethical and animal welfare concerns.

What Is Kopi Luwak Coffee?

You know you’re drinking poop coffee, right? It’s cat poop! Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. The name is not entirely accurate since it’s not a cat doing the pooping. It’s a small animal called an Asian Palm Civet.

These small creatures are native to Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At night, these cat-like animals roam the forests and use their keen sense of smell and strong eyesight to seek out and eat only the ripest coffee cherries.

The wild Civet completely digests the coffee berry fruit, and the beans are excreted in their feces which are then gathered, cleaned, and roasted. The result is Kopi Luwak coffee!

The word Kopi actually comes from the Bahasa Indonesian language, which means coffee, and Luwak is the Indonesian name for the Palm Civet. While it might sound disgusting, the partially digested coffee beans are perfectly safe to drink.

Mark Morphew holding civet coffee kopi luwak in his hand

Once collected, the outer layers of the coffee bean are removed, processed, and the remaining coffee beans are then thoroughly cleaned before being roasted and packaged. The common misconception regarding Kopi Luwak is that it’s a type of coffee.

But, it’s actually a very bizarre coffee processing method with the Palm Civet doing the processing. 

The History Of Kopi Luwak Coffee

The origins of Kopi Luwak can be traced back to the 1700s when the Dutch started establishing coffee plantations in Sumatra and other prime growing regions in Indonesia.

According to the story, the locals were prohibited from collecting coffee beans for their own consumption. However, they noticed that wild Palm Civets would eat ripe coffee cherries and then pass the undigested coffee seeds in their droppings.

The locals started cleaning, roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee from these discarded beans. The resulting brewed coffee had a unique and aromatic flavor that even the Dutch eventually developed a liking for.

Nonetheless, it was not until tourism became popular in Bali that this ‘delicacy’ gained more interest and demand in the Western world.

Facts and Statistics about Kopi Luwak: Approximately 500 to 700 kilograms of coffee cherries are consumed by a civet cat to produce just 1 kilogram of Kopi Luwak coffee beans.    This statistic highlights the labor-intensive and unique nature of Kopi Luwak coffee production, which contributes to its rarity and high cost.

Why Is Kopi Luwak So Expensive?

If you think it’s crazy how these coffee beans are produced, wait until you hear how much they cost.

The Kopi Luwak coffee beans sell between $100 to $600 per pound. That’s roughly 20 to 60 times more expensive than conventional coffee beans. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

However, unlike regular coffee beans, the high price directly results from the long, tedious cultivation process and the unique story that goes with them. The Civet, in the wild, will only eat the ripest of coffee cherries; once consumed, they pass through the digestive system and ferment.

It’s this bizarre coffee processing method that gives the coffee its flavor profile, and only coffee that a Palm Civet has digested can be labeled as authentic Kopi Luwak.

Kopi Luwak’s notoriety is more about the novelty of the bean and far less about the flavor. The story, the animal-intensive process, and the demand make it the premium best coffee. 

How Does Kopi Luwak Taste?

If you ever get the chance to try real genuine Kopi Luwak, make sure it comes from wild Kopi Luwak beans or Civets that are not kept in cages. When it comes to the flavor, you’ll quickly notice that the unique process and the digestion of the coffee beans by the Civet adds a truly distinct taste.

A similar process can be found in wet-processed or fermented coffees in the industry, which are known for their superior flavors compared to regular dry-processed coffee.

In the case of Civet cat poop coffee, when the coffee cherries are eaten and pass through the Civet’s digestive tract, they undergo a wet processing effect due to stomach acidification and fermentation caused by natural intestinal microflora.

This is similar to the introduction by coffee farmers of lactic acid bacteria in traditional coffee wet processing.

The unique flavor of Kopi Luwak comes from this wet processing happening inside the animal’s digestive system. Some describe the flavor as having “jungle” notes, although from my experience, I could distinguish syrupy, earthy, musty notes with rich chocolatey undertones – it’s complex but lacks character.

One thing I can say is that Civet coffee beans are hardly bitter, possibly because the digestion process breaks down many proteins that cause bitterness during roasting. The lower protein levels in wild Civet coffee reduce the bitterness.

Table: Luwak Coffee Industry vs Regular Coffee

Kopi Luwak CoffeeRegular Coffee
Production ProcessMade from beans excreted by civet cats after eating coffee cherries.Made from roasted coffee beans from various sources.
Flavor ProfileComplex and unique with earthy, nutty, and fruity notes.Flavor profile varies widely depending on the type of beans, roast, and blend.
PriceExtremely expensive due to labor-intensive production process and rarity.Affordable, with various price points available.
Production VolumeLimited due to reliance on wild civets and low yield.Abundant and widely available worldwide.
Ethical ConcernsControversial due to animal welfare concerns. Some producers use caged civets.Generally considered ethical, but fair trade and sustainability concerns exist.
SustainabilityOften lacks sustainability practices and can harm civet populations.Sustainable practices are promoted in the coffee industry.
Quality ControlHighly variable due to the nature of wild civet involvement.More consistent in quality due to standardized production processes.
AvailabilityLimited availability in select specialty coffee shops. Some are counterfeit.Widely available at stores, cafes, and online.
Caffeine ContentSimilar to regular coffee beans.Caffeine content varies by coffee type and preparation method.
Cultural SignificanceOften considered a luxury and novelty item.Common and culturally significant in many regions.

Is Civet Kopi Luwak Coffee Cruel?

The issues surrounding Kopi Luwak arise from the fact that it is difficult to collect in the wild. It requires a laborious process of finding the feces of a Civet in the wilderness, which most farmers are unwilling to undertake.

However, due to the high price of coffee beans, nontraditional producers have attempted to increase the production of Kopi Luwak, leading to controversy.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in the mistreatment of the Palm Civet. Commercial Kopi Luwak coffee is predominantly processed by keeping Civets in small cages. These captive Civets are often taken from the wild and confined to tiny cages on coffee plantations, where they are fed only coffee cherries.

In the wild, Civets have a varied diet that includes fruit, insects, and reptiles, but the coffee-only diet leads to malnutrition and other health issues.

A recent investigation by the London World Animal Protection and Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit revealed that many coffee plantations in Bali kept around 50 caged Palm Civets in extremely small cages and failed to meet basic animal welfare requirements.

The conditions were deplorable, with cages soaked in urine and droppings.

kopi luwak locked in a cage at a Civet coffee farm

The captive Civets were malnourished and thin due to the restrictive diet, and some were excessively stimulated by the caffeine they consumed. Moreover, clean water and sanitary living conditions were lacking.

Adding to their distress, these nocturnal animals were displayed for tourists during the day.

On a positive note, local governments have banned many of these cruel practices in coffee production.

The “industrialized” form of Kopi Luwak production has started to decline, but it still persists in small localized plantations where farmers rely on its illegitimate production for their income.

Is Kopi Luwak Safe To Drink?

Now that you’re intrigued by Kopi Luwak, you might be wondering about its safety. Well, here’s the scoop! The unique processing method may raise some eyebrows, but rest assured, it’s generally safe to consume.

During the cleaning and roasting process, any potential contaminants are eliminated, making the beans safe for your morning brew.

Kopi Luwak’s Ecological Footprint

Coffee isn’t just about taste; it’s about our planet too. When it comes to Kopi Luwak, there’s more to consider than just the flavor.

The environmental impact of its production varies widely. Some practices harm the natural habitats of Civets and disrupt local ecosystems.

I once visited a coffee plantation in Indonesia and saw firsthand how responsible producers are trying to minimize their impact on the environment. They shared stories of reforestation efforts and preserving wildlife habitats, which made sipping on their ethically sourced Kopi Luwak even more satisfying.

Cultural Significance

Kopi Luwak isn’t just a beverage; it’s intertwined with the cultures of Southeast Asian countries. It has historical and ceremonial importance in various communities.

Understanding its cultural significance can deepen your appreciation for this unique coffee.

During my travels in Indonesia, I had the privilege of sharing a cup of Kopi Luwak with locals during a traditional ceremony. The sense of community and reverence for this coffee made it an unforgettable experience.

Ethical Certification

If you’re concerned about the ethical aspects of Kopi Luwak, look for certifications from organizations that oversee the production process.

These certifications ensure that animal welfare and environmental sustainability are prioritized in the coffee-making process.

Kopi Lukwak Ethical Certification In a shop window

I have seen many premium coffee brands that proudly display their ethical certifications on the packaging. It’s reassuring to know that you can enjoy your cup of Kopi Luwak without worrying about its impact on Civets or the environment.

Alternatives To Kopi Luwak

If you’re on a quest for unique coffee experiences, there are plenty of alternatives to Kopi Luwak. Specialty coffees from Indonesia and other regions offer distinctive flavors and quality without the ethical concerns.

Don’t limit your coffee journey to just one variety!

Regulations In The Kopi Luwak Industry

The Kopi Luwak industry isn’t a lawless frontier. There are regulations, both local and international, that govern its production and trade. Staying informed about these regulations can help you make responsible choices as a consumer.

A recent legal case in Indonesia I read about mentioned that they had cracked down on unethical producers. It’s a positive sign that authorities are taking steps to protect Civets and ensure ethical practices.

Recent Developments

The world of Kopi Luwak is evolving. Some producers are shifting toward more ethical and sustainable practices. Stay updated on these developments to make choices aligned with your values as a coffee enthusiast.

I recently tried a new brand of Kopi Luwak that emphasized its commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainability. It’s heartening to see positive changes happening in the industry.

Here’s Our Take This Controversial Civet Coffee

Is Civet Coffee really the best coffee in the world? Well, the high price certainly reflects the unique story and gimmick behind this kind of coffee. But, there are actually plenty of other coffees from Indonesia and beyond that taste even better and don’t involve cruelty towards animals. 

In fact, many coffee lovers argue that Kopi Luwak has an inferior flavor; and we here at Bewan Ground tend to agree. 

Back in the days of Dutch coffee plantations, collecting Civet droppings may have resulted in tastier coffee. But nowadays, coffee cultivation and processing methods have improved so much that you can definitely find a better-tasting cup of coffee from high-quality beans sourced from a single region.

 If you’re still curious and want to give Civet Cat coffee a try to see if all the hype is justified, there are some companies that offer more ethical versions of Kopi Luwak. These companies ensure that the coffee is produced from Civets that roam freely in their natural habitat.

We recommend trying Volcanica Coffee’s Kopi Luwak, which is completely wild-gathered and even comes with a certificate of authenticity. Another authentic 100% free-range wild Luwaks brand to try is Cafés Granell. This way, you can enjoy the unique experience without supporting animal cruelty.

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