What is Kopi Luwak?
(and what makes it the most expensive coffee in the world)
Popular in Bali, Indonesia, kopi luwak (a.k.a. civet coffee or cat poop coffee) refers to partly-digested coffee beans that have been eaten and defecated by Asian palm civets.
Civets pick and eat only the best and ripest coffee cherries. Then, in their digestive tracts, fermentation occurs. The civet’s digestive enzymes seep into the beans, changing the protein structure and removing some of the acidity. This improves the flavor profile of the coffee, making it smoother and less bitter.
However, civets can only digest the fleshy pulps, and not the actual coffee beans. So, these beans will pass through the civet’s intestines, to be defecated with other fecal matter and later collected for processing and consumption.
If you think that’s gross, please remember that we are Asians. We eat everything.
Is It Ethical?
In the wild, civets have a varied diet of fruits, seeds, and bugs. This is partly what gives luwak coffee its unique flavor. But scavenging for wild civet dung takes a lot of time and effort. With the growing popularity of luwak coffee (and the amount of money it brings), coffee sellers want more of them beans, and they want them fast.
This has encouraged coffee farmers to start commercial luwak farms where the animals are trapped, caged, and force-fed with only coffee beans and no other food, in order to increase yield. Restricting their diet in this way causes health problems due to nutritional deficiencies.
These farms also usually double as tourist attractions, where tourists come to see how the world’s most expensive coffee is produced — and while they’re at it — take pictures of the civets. The problem is that civets are naturally solitary and nocturnal creatures. Keeping them awake during the day and forcing constant interaction with humans can cause them distress in the long run.
Fortunately, people are getting better informed on the adverse effects of mass luwak coffee production on the civets. In 2014, Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) banned coffee production from caged civets on its Indonesian farms. Similarly, well-known coffee certifiers such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified have stopped certifying producers who use caged civets in their business.
So, if you’re a luwak coffee fan, it’s up to you to find the ethically-produced ones. Look for the ones bearing Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certifications.
Where to Find It
So, what does the most expensive coffee in the world tastes like?
It tasted like…(drumroll, please)…coffee.
Much the same way I could drink Evian and Acqua Panna and think they taste no different from tap water, the supposedly special taste of kopi luwak was totally lost on me. I guess a true coffee drinker would have been able to tell the difference. As for me, I would rather just stick to my Old Town White Coffee.
Have you tried kopi luwak? What did you think about it? Comment below.