Kopi Luwak Coffee: What is Civet Coffee and is Poop Coffee Worth Trying?
If you know a lot about coffee, then you may have heard of or read about something called Kopi Luwak coffee. You may also have heard of it if you have an interest in unusual or bizarre foods. But what is it?
This article will explain what Kopi Luwak coffee is and how it is made (prepare yourself, it is also called cat poop coffee). That way, you can decide for yourself if you are adventurous enough to give it a try. Just to be clear, even though this coffee comes from Indonesia, it is not Sumatran coffee.
What is Kopi Luwak Coffee?
Kopi Luwak coffee originated in Indonesia. In parts of Indonesia, arabica beans grow inside cherries. Like the cherries that we buy in the supermarket, the “pit” is the coffee bean.
An animal called a civet, or an Asian palm civet eats the coffee cherry fruit and then excretes the coffee bean in its feces. While the beans move through the civet’s digestive tract, they become fermented.
The beans are then harvested from the feces, roasted, and turned into regular coffee. Evidently, this practice began in the 1700s after colonization by the Dutch, when locals in the region had no other options for acquiring coffee beans.
The civet population at the time was substantial, and therefore a great deal of coffee was fermented this way. Authentic Kopi Luwak coffee beans are harvested from wild civets, especially since their natural diets in the wild may change the quality of the bean.
Why Is It Called Cat Poop Coffee?
As you can see, Kopi Luwak is called poop coffee because the beans are partially processed in an animal’s digestive tract and then harvested from their feces. The coffee beans are literally found in poop.
It is called “cat poop coffee” because the civet is a relative of the cat and somewhat resembles cats.
Reasons to Try Kopi Luwak
Let’s cover a little bit of history. Between the period of Dutch colonization and the late 20th century, Kopi Luwak coffee did not go away. For a couple of centuries, resourceful locals continued to harvest the fermented beans from the feces of the wild civet population.
Especially on an island, it was essential to the local people not to waste anything. Therefore, this practice survived, especially since the quality of the coffee was rather good. It was not until the 1990s, however, that it became more well-known.
Always fascinated with the weird, westerners--especially Americans--caught on, and wanted to try this unusual delicacy. This was especially the case when an important book on the history of coffee featured Kopi Luwak coffee, and from there became known more widely, including on television and film.
We’ve established that it's old and that it's strange, which has a certain appeal. But why else do people seek this rare coffee delicacy? The answer lies with the Asian palm civets themselves.
Animals are ingenious, and many people believe that the civets will only seek the best, highest quality coffee cherries. That means that they have done the most intricate work for coffee-growers: identifying the very best beans with which to make their coffee.
Therefore, many people believe that the flavour profile and aroma of Kopi Luwak coffee are superior. It’s the same reason that people seek monkey poop coffee or other types of animal poop coffee.
That said, it isn’t necessarily the best cup of coffee on earth, and there are also several compelling reasons to stay away from Kopi Luwak. Let’s take a look at those next.
You Should Probably Skip It: Here’s Why
There are many reasons to skip a cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. These reasons are varied, but we strongly suspect that most of our readers will identify with at least one, whether it’s authenticity, animal rights, the cost involved, or the “ick factor.”
It’s Not What It Used to Be
In the 18th century, when this method of fermenting and then roasting and drinking coffee first became popular (or at least utilized), the civets were wild animals. Nocturnal by nature, they ate the coffee cherries that grew in abundance under cover of darkness, which allowed them to avoid being seen by coffee plantation owners.
They excreted the coffee beans, and the native Indonesians went out and harvested them along with their usual gathering and harvesting of everyday necessities. It became just one of the many ways the native peoples of Indonesia lived symbiotically with their environments, despite further and further encroachments by Europeans and other colonizers.
Today, however, you’re unlikely to be able to procure Kopi Luwak coffee harvested in the same way. Instead, more than likely, the civets that fermented your beans will have done so in captivity. Their diets--and therefore their digestive tracts--will not resemble what they are in the wild.
The practices surrounding this are also damaging to the animals and the environment. We’ll explain more further in the article.
It Isn’t Necessary
Some people who jumped on the Kopi Luwak fad found it attractive because the fermentation process was supposedly more natural. Rather than fermenting beans in a factory or plant, they underwent this process in nature. But is that better?
First of all, fermentation is a prevalent process that people use to make many kinds of foods, drinks, beauty products, and many other goods. It is also an ancient process; humans have been fermenting for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Since synthetics were not developed until much later, there are many “natural” methods for fermenting already. Therefore, to suggest that fermenting coffee beans in a civet’s digestive tract is somehow more natural than other methods is a little spurious.
Even if digestive fermentation is somehow more natural than other methods, you must ask yourself whether or not that is really preferable. There must be a reason that human beings have such amazing brains that are capable of formulating better methods for all kinds of processes. Maybe the reason is so that we won’t have to eat animal feces anymore.
Many other fermenting methods--including the fermentation of coffee beans--are entirely safe and free from harmful and synthetic chemicals. There isn’t a compelling reason to believe that digestive fermentation is superior in any way.
There Are Some Serious Animal Rights Issues
The civets themselves are another factor worth considering in the question of whether or not to drink Kopi Luwak coffee. When this practice began, it was a small-scale operation. Locals sought the palm civet scat and the beans within it for their consumption alone.
Nowadays, harvesting enough coffee beans from civets in the wild to keep up with modern demand would be impossible. Kopi Luwak coffee is expensive enough (see below), but it would be exponentially more so if the feces had to be foraged.
Therefore, the people who produce Kopi Luwak coffee keep the civets on farms or plantations. More often than not, the growers cage them in tiny enclosures that are dirty and inhospitable. They feed the civets unhealthy diets, often force-feeding them too many coffee cherries to produce the beans used to make Kopi Luwak. Their life expectancy is considerably shorter than it would be in the wild.
All animal welfare organizations almost universally condemn these practices. While the decision to engage with an industry that has come under this kind of scrutiny is an individualized one, we believe that it is important for consumers to be aware of the conditions in which their goods are produced. There is clearly an ugly side to Kopi Luwak coffee.
Kopi Luwak is some of the most expensive coffee in the world. The price per pound in American dollars is between $100 and $600, which is astronomically more expensive than regular coffee or even some of the best premium coffee grown and harvested using conventional methods.
By the cup, that means that a hot brew of Kopi Luwak may set you back as much as $100.
For some people, the price might be part of the appeal. However, it is a major deterrent for most of us, especially given the fact that it may not even be authentic.
It Isn’t Well Regulated
We have already discussed why you’re highly unlikely to get a cup of Kopi Luwak from wild civet feces. However, you might not get fecally fermented coffee at all!
Because it is such a lucrative industry, some disreputable coffee plantations and dealers sell coffee as Kopi Luwak, even if it is not. These particular practices are not well regulated by the Indonesian government or anywhere else in southeast Asia; therefore, a fair number of traders get away with it.
It’s Kind of Gross
If all of the reasons given above aren’t enough to dissuade you from trying Kopi Luwak coffee, then consider this final one: it’s kind of gross.
We fully recognize that for some people, the yuckiness is what makes it appealing. Some culinary adventurers want to find the absolute weirdest thing they can, just to say that they have tried it.
Even if you’re one of those people, there’s something off-putting about feces, at least for us. We won’t judge you if you decide to try it, but we might question your standards just a little!
The Final Scoop (of Poop!)
Now you know the deal with Kopi Luwak coffee: it’s harvested from fermented coffee beans from coffee cherries in the fecal matter of palm civets, an animal indigenous to Indonesia.
People first started brewing from these beans out of necessity, but somewhere over the years, it became a delicacy. Now, people want to try it not only because it is supposedly superior in flavour and quality to other coffee but simply because it is so weird.
That said, there are many compelling reasons not to try this cup of coffee. Besides being a little gross, the industry is unregulated, and you don’t know what you’re drinking. It’s pricey, and the Asian palm civets are kept in captivity, where they endure their lives in cages in misery.
Kopi Luwak coffee emerged as an innovative practice that fostered symbiosis between human beings, animals, and the natural world.
However, that smooth chain is no longer in place. While it can be worthwhile and meaningful to look back in history and try to revive old practices, it doesn’t look like Kopi Luwak should be one of them.
Our recommendation? If you want to spend a pretty penny on coffee, look for a highly-rated brand that protects the natural world as well as its human growers and harvesters. There are many fabulous coffees with incredible flavour profiles worldwide.