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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.

Image result for wild civetCivets 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.

Image result for kopi luwak
Unprocessed luwak coffee, fresh from the butt. Credit: Lelong


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.

Image result for civet in cage
Source: Eleven Coffees

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.

Related imageFortunately, 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

Image result for satu satu cafe canggu
Trip Advisor
There are several places in Bali that still source their beans from cage-free, wild civets. One of them is Satu Satu Cafe in Canggu. It gets its coffee from the owner’s six-acre family farm in Plaga.
If you’re not concerned about where your coffee is sourced from, you can find it in almost any cafe and souvenir shop around the island. Whether or not it is authentic, however, is a different story. Ever read the news of people dying from drinking fake liquor in Bali? Well, apparently, they do the same thing with their coffee too. According to Nordic Coffee Culture, more than 80% of all coffee sold as Kopi Luwak today is fake.
You have a better chance of getting the real one when you go on kopi luwak tours. Most private tours around the island will include a visit to a kopi luwak plantation (again, it is up to you to find the ethical ones).
You will be shown around the farm, during which you might be able to see the civets (and their droppings) and how the beans are cleaned, dried, and roasted. The tours typically end with some coffee tasting. In my case, since the place I was taken to also sold other products like teas and cocoas, I got to try them too. There were 12 different samples. Of course, I polished them all clean.
The luwak coffee was not included in the samples, however. It was sold at Rp50,000 (USD 3.75), which was much cheaper than at any other cafes in the vicinity, so I’m not very sure about its authenticity.

The Verdict

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.

Posted in Food & Drinks, Indonesia

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