If you’ve delved into the world of specialized coffees or gone on the hunt for the strangest or most expensive coffee, you’ve probably undoubtedly heard of the famous Kopi Luwak.
Many people believe this specialty coffee is amongst some of the most prestigious coffees available in the world. In the United States, a cup of Kopi Luwak can sell for as much as $80.
I can’t argue that it costs a small fortune and has a unique way of being processed, which you will discover, but there is a very good reason why you might want to give Kopi Luwak a hard pass.
Kopi Luwak coffee is bad news for Civets, and as you will learn, the way the animals are often treated paints a grim picture.
– is a cup of coffee really worth it.
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 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. 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 roots of how Kopi Luwak came about can be traced back to the 1700s when the Dutch began to set up coffee plantations in Sumatra and other prime growing locations in Indonesia.
The story goes that the locals were not allowed to harvest coffee beans for their own consumption.
After noticing that the wild Palm Civets were eating ripe coffee cherries and then leaving the undigested coffee seeds behind in their droppings, the locals began to clean, roast, grind and brew their coffee from these discarded beans.
The resulting brewed coffee was a unique aromatic blend that even the Dutch would eventually develop a taste for.
However, It wasn’t until tourism became popular in Bali that this ‘delicacy’ developed more interest and demand in the western part of the world.
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.”
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 which a Palm Civet has digested can be labeled as authentic Kopi Luwak.
To be honest, 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 premium.
What Does Civet Coffee Taste Like?
If you have the opportunity to taste Kopi Luwak, make sure that you’re drinking coffee that has been sourced from 100% cage-free Civets.
When it comes down to the taste, it does seem that the digestive system causes fermentation and adds a unique flavor to the coffee beans.
A good example of similar processes in the coffee industry is wet-processed or fermented types of coffees. Both of these are known to have superior flavor profiles compared to regular dry-processed coffee.
Similarly, when the coffee cherries are eaten and pass through the Palm Civet’s digestive tract, they undergo a type of wet processing due to acidification in the stomach and fermentation caused by the natural intestinal microflora.
In traditional coffee wet processing methods, Lactic acid bacteria are often introduced.
These are the same bacteria and natural acids found inside the digestive tract of the Civet. The unique Kopi Luwak coffee flavor is due to a type of wet processing happening right inside the animal’s digestive system.
The unique flavor profile is often described as having “jungle” notes, whatever that means. But from my experience, I could definitely make out syrupy, earthy, musty notes with rich chocolatey undertones – It’s complex but a bit characterless.
One thing I can say is that Civet coffee beans have hardly any bitterness. This could be due to the digestion process breaking down a lot of the proteins from the beans.
Is Civet Kopi Luwak Coffee Cruel?
So this is where the problems arise.
Kopi Luwak is hardly ever collected in the wild. Finding the poop of a Civet in the wilderness is a labor-intensive task that most farmers are not willing to undertake.
As expected, the high coffee beans price has led to nontraditional producers attempting to make more Kopi Luwak, which has caused some controversy.
Where there are profits to be made, businesses will often look at increasing their profits, and unfortunately, the Palm Civet is on the wrong end of this business deal.
Almost all commercial Kopi Luwak coffee is processed by keeping Civets in small cages. The caged Civet is often removed from the wild and put inside small cages on coffee plantations with a diet of only coffee cherries.
Civets in the wild will eat a diet that includes fruit, insects, and reptiles; the restrictive coffee-only diet often leads to malnutrition and other health issues.
Teams from the London World Animal Protection and the Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit inspected the conditions at 16 plantations in Bali, where around 50 caged Palm Civets were kept in tiny cages.
They cataloged multiple breaches where the coffee plantation owners had failed to meet basic animal welfare requirements.
Neil D’Cruze, a researcher in the team investigating, said.
“Some of these cages were literally the tiniest – we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place.”
Many of the captive Civets were observed as being malnourished and extremely thin due to being force-fed the restrictive coffee cherry only diet.
Others were hyped up on a large amount of caffeine they had consumed, and clean water and sanitary living conditions were lacking.
What’s also particularly disturbing for these shy nocturnal animals is that they are displayed for tourists during the day.
The good news is that many of these cruel practices to produce coffee have been banned by the local governments. The ‘industrialized’ version of Kopi Luwak production has started to reduce.
Still, it has not entirely been discontinued in small localized plantations where farmers rely on its illegitimate production for their living wages.
Here’s Our Take This Controversial Civet Coffee
Is Civet coffee the best in the world? Honestly, the price reflects the story and the gimmick behind this unique coffee.
There are far better-tasting coffees from Indonesia and beyond that don’t cruelly exploit animals. Add the fact that many coffee aficionados claim Kopi Luwak has an inferior flavor, and you may reconsider buying a bag.
During the time of the Dutch coffee plantations, scouring for Civet droppings probably resulted in a better-tasting coffee.
Today coffee growing and processing methods have improved so much that you will undoubtedly get a better-tasting cup from a good quality single-origin bag of coffee beans.
However, if curiosity has gotten the better of you and you want to try a cup of Civet cat coffee to determine if the hype surrounding this coffee is worthy, some companies offer more ethical Kopi Luwak coffee produced from free-range Civets.
Our recommendation is Volcanica Coffee’s Kopi Luwak, a completely wild-gathered coffee that even comes with a certificate of authenticity.