Whether you are a fanatic or not, chances are you have heard of many exotic types of coffee. Among them is the most expensive, most exclusive style–Kopi Luwak. So, what is Kopi Luwak, to be exact?
Coffee comes from the beans of Coffee plants. After processing, they become brownish, dark, and flavorful flour we usually see in packages. The process usually consists of roasting, grinding, and packaging.
Yet, Kopi Luwak is a unique type of Java since its production involves a special “ingredient”. That is Indonesian palm civet, hence the other name civet coffee or civet cat coffee. In that sense, it is, in fact, a method of producing, not a type like Arabica or Robusta.
What Is Kopi Luwak?
To put it simply, Kopi Luwak is the type of coffee in which they feed Coffee beans to Indonesian palm civets. Then, the enzymes in their digestive system will dissolve the beans partly. After the animals excrete, makers collect the remaining beans in their poop and create the final product.
The name is self-explanatory, though. In Indonesia, Kopi means coffee, and Luwak means Asian palm civet. Civet coffee production is predominant in South East Asia countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Despite its gross process, civet coffee is an indigenous process that dates back to the 17th century. The finding of this unique java is also related to a dark time in Indonesian history when the Dutch colonized the country.
The Dutch governor did everything to make the most out of Indonesian resources during the time. They even banned local farmers from harvesting and using any fruit, including coffee cherries, for personal use in the exploitation process.
Feeling desperate with the ban, local farmers made their way to the droppings of palm civets. In doing so, they found the remaining beans. After trying to clean and process it like regular coffee, they found out its intense flavor.
Finally, the Dutch colonists learned about this fact. And through their commercial line, they made it popular.
How Do They Produce Kopi Luwak?
You may ask why on Earth would anyone pay their hard-earned money for a poop cup of joe. Despite the gross process, people still pay for it and enjoy its one-of-a-kind flavor.
While it was clear that kopi’s finding involved a little luck, it was not a pure accident. The wild Asian palm civet usually eats kopi cherries as their daily food. And though civets are not very intelligent animals, they pick only the most delicious, ripest cherries to consume.
In doing that, they have done two crucial parts of coffee production–tasting and extracting. Besides selecting the best cherries, these involuntary makers also help remove the beans from their cherries since their digestive system can’t dissolve the beans.
Civets’ stomach acid dissolves the outer layer of coffee cherries and fermented kopi beans during the digestion process. This fermentation process is what gives the beans their unique flavor, and no artificial has yet to replicate it successfully.
The civet’s enzyme system helps break down protein molecules in beans in this process. Since protein in coffee beans is responsible for bitterness, the process makes the final product less bitter and more enjoyable.
Simple as it looks, the production of this kopi is a tedious process and is unique to only some regions in the world. Hence its production is deficient, at about 500 to 700 kg of natural source and up to 50 tons of farmed source, yearly. That scarcity explains its sky-high price, though.
What Does Kopi Luwak Taste Like?
Civet coffee advocates believe that it has a unique flavor that is unmatched by any other type. It is less bitter, richer, has a lower acidity level that comes with an overall more complex aroma and flavor.
Plus, the civets only eat the best and ripest cherries, so they will quickly create the best types of beans, making the joe’s quality even better.
Yet, there are many other factors affecting civet kopi’s quality and final flavor since it is a complex and delicate process. Other than the origin, types of coffee beans, the status of civets also affects the process.
The living conditions, mental and physical health status attribute to the quality of the final product. I.e., a happier, healthier civet will make beans of a different quality than a stressed, diseased one.
What’s more, the manual process after picking beans also makes a huge impact. Like regular coffee, how makers roast, select, and brew kopi will determine its final taste.
Civet kopi advocates say it is the best type of coffee, and yes, tastes are subjective. However, many professionals have done assessments over the years, and their findings are not very encouraging.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCA) findings, civet coffee is not as great as how its manufacturers portray it. As per SCA’s assessment, or cupping scale, it is the worst type of specialty java.
Many civet coffee critics also conduct blind tests and conclude that it is not much better, if ever than a traditional cup of joe.
Despite these findings, many people will still find the smoother, lower acidity and bitterness level a considerable bonus. Yet, it is plausible that some of the kopi’s consumption and high price is due to its scarcity and people’s curiosity, other than the actual impact or flavor.
What’s more, the reputation of this type has been there for about four centuries. Being such a popular yet mysterious product has its perks on the marketing. There are chances that people believed this type was better back then because the processing and average quality of regular coffee at the time were so bad.
Heck, some fanatics believe that while fermentation and mold affected regular coffee at the time, these two issues are no big deal for Asian civets. Their digestive system handles the cherries/fruit layer of the beans, leaving them isolated and less vulnerable to defective processes.
Plus, while human coffee pickers pick any coffee cherries back then for production and due to exploitation, civets only select the best ones. In that sense, civet’s production was, in fact, better than that of manual production.
Compared to that average old coffee, civet kopi became unique. Moreover, due to its scarcity and exotic nature, people started buying it as a symbol of wealth rather than because of its actual value.
Is It Safe To Drink Kopi Luwak?
Due to the gross nature, people believe that civet poop coffee is filthy, or at least is full of risks for pathogens and germs. Yet, the production involves cleaning and washing to remove the endocarp or the outer layer of the beans so that it comes out somewhat sanitized.
Moreover, the heat will eliminate any bacteria once makers start roasting the beans, a standard procedure in any coffee production.
Kopi Luwak and Animal Cruelty
As with any production involving animals, people will start asking if the method is ethical. In this case, the answer is No.
The production of civet kopi could be very ruthless. To make the most out of the productivity, farmers store the animals in farms of horrible conditions. They force the civets to stay in cramped cages where there’s not enough space to maintain normal activities for their health and mental status.
What’s more, laborers also forced these creatures to eat up a massive amount of cherries every day. This can destroy their digestive system and make eating rather torture them. Being omnivore animals, civets also need a variety of food. They have a poor, unbalanced diet that can lead to weight loss and several other health issues by force-feeding.
They usually experience terrible stress and become depressed, to the point they start attacking each other, despite their nature of being very friendly and cute.
These poor conditions lead to many other unpredictable behaviors and even death in a large number of civets.
Because of this business’s profitable and lucrative nature, farmers are keeping more and more civets in their production lines to keep up with the market’s demand. Thousands of them live in such poor conditions, despite many farms claiming they take care of the animal.
Due to this cruelty, many critics and fanatics are against the idea of producing more and more civet kopi. Especially when it does little to the development of the coffee business and culture.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Civet Coffee?
As we explained, the manufacturing process of the product is animal cruelty. Buying civet coffee means you are contributing indirectly to these animals’ terrible living conditions and exploitation. Due to the nature of this cruel exercise, the quality of farmed civet coffee is much worse than people believe.
Second, while this product has some unique flavor, it is not better or different from regular java. In that sense, it’s a waste of money and a gimmick like any gold-coated dishes you see nowadays.
Finally, due to the regulations in the original production countries, a large part of the production is likely artificial, or worse, faked. According to Chemical and Engineering News, about 80% of global Kopi Luwak is fake.
Even if some farms claim their sources of kopi are natural and involve no caging, do you believe the natural source of civet coffee can meet the market demand? Also, there’s nothing to prove whether a package of coffee beans comes from caged civets or wild ones.
If you are paying a hefty price for such products, it doesn’t sound like a wise investment at all.
Frequently Asked Questions Of What Is Kopi Luwak
1. Where Can You Find Kopi Luwak Coffee?
Besides online and specialty kopi shops, you can find this exotic coffee in its originating countries. Like those in SouthEast Asia like Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
In Indonesia, you can find it on islands like Bali, Sulawesi, or Sumatra. Sumatra is where they produce the most amount of civet coffee globally.
In Vietnam, people call it “ca phe chon,” which means weasel coffee. People can find it in Vietnam’s notorious coffee regions in the Central Highland. More specifically, in Dak Lak, Buon Ma Thuot. In major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, many sellers also claim they have the best types of “ca phe chon”.
Yet, be aware of the fact that a great deal of this kopi is fake.
2. How To Brew Kopi Luwak?
There’s no difference in how you prepare, brew, and enjoy this product. You can make espresso with a ratio of 1:2 or pour-over with 1:16. Or, you can make any kind of traditional coffee brewing method that comes to your mind.
3. Kopi Luwak Roasting Technique
The most popular and favorable roasting technique for civet kopi is a medium roast. It ensures to lock in all the aroma and flavor while retaining the acidity and bitterness of the beans. Yet, you can still opt for light or dark roast for your personal taste.
4. What Types Of Beans Do They Use To Make Kopi Luwak?
Civets choose which type of beans they consume, so their products can be made of Arabica or Robusta. Yet, the best types of java come from Arabica since it is more flavorful.
Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Kopi Luwak has become one of the most exotic and sought-after specialties. It has even become a cultural product in some countries. We hope that our article has explained to you what is Kopi Luwak and why it is such a pricey product.
Even so, try it if you have the chance, but we suggest limiting the use to save your money and the civets as well.
Almost 20 years already spent committed to coffee and more than 3 years of experience as a barista at Starbucks. Madelyn Doyle graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Science from the University of California and finished the Coffee Skills Program at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).