Animal poop coffee- three words you may not think belong together. The idea of coffee beans from poop may sound off-putting to many people but underneath the initial confusion, you will find an intriguing corner of the coffee world full of interesting history and techniques. Let’s get down to dirty details, what is animal poop coffee and should you try it?
The Most Popular Animal Poop Coffee: Kopi Luwak
We’ll get started with the most recognized and talked about poop coffee which is Kopi Luwak or civet coffee.
Native to Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the civet cat or Asian palm civet is a small, furry, nocturnal animal with a monkey-like tail and raccoon-like face markings. Despite having ‘cat’ in its name, the civet is more closely related to mongooses and weasels (which is why Kopi Luwak is also called weasel coffee). The civet cat is an important part of local ecosystems as it eats small reptiles, insects, and fruits. In turn, it’s preyed on by bigger animals like crocodiles, leopards, big snakes, etc.
Kopi Luwak originated from Indonesia and the practice started in the 18th century when Dutch colonialists introduced coffee and coffee cultivation to the country. ‘Luwak’ is the local name for the civet and hence the name. The 18th century saw a major coffee boom and coffee from Indonesia was exported to Europe in large quantities to satisfy demand. Palm civets were considered a pest since they would wander onto farms and steal the produce. It was noticed that they would even pick coffee cherries to eat.
Chewing by the civets removes the outer pulp of the cherries and the inner bean passes through the digestive system and is excreted in their poop. Farmers began to collect these excreted beans, processed them, and started putting this coffee on the market. Kopi Luwak became a niche hit and has been known as the world’s most expensive coffee. Kopi Luwak price fluctuates anywhere between $100 to $600 per pound.
Kopi Luwak has an earthy and smooth flavor profile with hints of nuts, chocolate, and caramel. The bitterness is significantly reduced, which appeals to many coffee drinkers. Some even describe the taste of Kopi Luwak as being “forest-like”. The taste of Indonesian coffee poop depends on the diet and environment of the civet cats, as well as soil type, tree variety, and climate.
The unique taste is largely attributed to the digestive process of the civet which causes fermentation of the ingested coffee beans. Digestion removes the outer pulp of the coffee cherry while leaving the inner coffee bean undigested and this is passed out through the cat poop. The beans are then extracted, washed, processed, and packaged for consumers.
These days, farmers keep civet cats on their farms which helps ease the production process but has also raised questions surrounding animal welfare and the ethics of civet coffee.
Other Types of Coffee Beans from Poop
While you have most probably heard of Kopi Luwak, you may not know that there are a few other options when it comes to animal poop coffee. Some of these include:
1. Elephant Poop Coffee
Also known as Black Ivory Coffee, elephant poop coffee originates in Northern Thailand and is among the most expensive coffees in the world. The price of elephant poop coffee regularly hovers around $1000 per pound, so what makes it so special? This coffee is produced in a more ethical manner at a wildlife refuge and the coffee cherries are mixed into the elephant’s normal diet so they remain healthy. Only high-quality arabica beans are used and these cherries are picked by the caretakers, not the animals. The same caretakers then pick the undigested beans once excreted.
The fact that only one location produces this coffee and the high cost of maintenance for such large animals is what contributes to the high price, as well as the taste of the beans of course. The final flavor profile of the beans is affected by the elephant’s digestive enzymes as well as other parts of the diet. The result is a coffee with notes of chocolate, spice, and malt, with a hint of earthiness and without much bitterness. It takes between 15-70 hours for the beans to be passed out and it takes 36 pounds of raw coffee cherries to produce 1 pound of the elephant poop coffee beans.
A great thing is that part of the price goes back towards the upkeep of the animals and they are not abused or kept in inhumane conditions.
2. Bird Poop Coffee
Brazilian coffee has a special place in the coffee world, so it’s no surprise it would feature on this list. Bird poop coffee is produced from the droppings of the Jacu bird on a family-owned estate in Camocim, Brazil. Much like the Civet, the Jacu bird eats coffee cherries and passes out the beans undigested. The bird is very skilled at picking only the ripest cherries, which contributes to the final quality. Workers on the farm collect the beans from the bird droppings, dry them, and process them further.
Bird poop coffee has a distinctive flavor profile with a full body and a pleasant taste with notes of nuts, star anise, and honey. The natural vegetarian diet of the birds combined with their excellent foraging skills makes this coffee so exclusive. This is also a more ethical choice as the birds are not enclosed, they’re fed a healthy and balanced diet, and the farm is sustainably designed.
3. Monkey Coffee Beans
Unlike the other entries on this list, monkey coffee poop doesn’t actually involve poop. This coffee is made with the help of the rhesus macaque monkey, native to Southeast Asia and in this case, specifically in Chikamagalur in Southern India.
Monkeys are notorious for stealing crops and coffee cherries are no exception. They routinely raid farms in the area and this led to the unique creation of this coffee. The monkeys only pick the ripest, sweetest cherries to munch on. But they only chew it and spit it out, meaning all the pulp is removed and they spit out the inner bean. The animals chew and spit at their leisure while farm workers gather the spat out beans for drying and processing. The monkey’s saliva breaks down certain enzymes in the beans and contributes to the final flavor. The monkey coffee beans often have a gray color rather than the usual green and may even have teeth marks.
The flavor of monkey coffee beans is full-bodied with almost no bitterness and rounded acidity. The coffee has a variety of flavor notes ranging from chocolate and vanilla to nutty and citrus.
4.Bat Poop Coffee
Bat poop coffee is another animal coffee that doesn’t involve actual defecation. This wild bat coffee is usually produced on island estates, most notably Madagascar and Coffea Diversa Coffee Garden in Costa Rica.
The wild bats have a special feeding pattern when it comes to coffee cherries. They rip off the skin, lick the pulp, and leave the coffee bean on the tree. The partially eaten cherries react with bat saliva and are left to dry naturally on the plant. Then the best beans are picked, processed, and packaged.
Bat coffee has a unique taste and many say the flavor lasts longer than other coffees. The flavor profile is both floral and fruity with delicate acidity and a smooth aftertaste. It can be quite difficult to source this coffee however, since distribution is mostly local (although there’s a significant market for it in Japan).
Ethical Civet Coffee: Is It Possible?
Kopi Luwak and other animal poop coffee have been consumed locally across many regions for thousands of years. As time went on and the news spread, these animal coffees became a fad driving immense curiosity and demand. And this is where the problem starts.
The spike in popularity pushed farmers to try to produce more. But you can’t do this with animals in the wild who cannot be controlled. So, farmers started breeding civets in captivity and feeding them coffee cherries so they could harvest the excreted beans.
The civets are often kept in small, dark cages in cramped quarters. The cages are made of wire mesh which can cause abrasions and injuries, the civets have no social interaction with their own kind, and they are force-fed coffee cherries and sometimes nothing else, not even water. In addition, these nocturnal animals are forced into being alert during the day which is very distressing for them.
Unlike animals in zoos or sanctuaries, these poor creatures are practically slaves, being forced to eat and produce as much coffee as possible. Instead of allowing them to graze naturally, they are forced into an unnatural diet. Furthermore, since the civets don’t pick the cherries themselves, the quality of the final product is sub-par.
If you’re thinking of buying ethical civet coffee, there really isn’t any way to be sure. There are no certifications to ensure that ‘wild’ coffee is actually wild and, in most cases, the coffee comes from caged animals. Many sustainability certifiers like Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, etc refuse to certify Kopi Luwak, primarily because of the caged animals kept in inhumane conditions.
Should You Try Animal Poop Coffee?
Animal poop coffee isn’t for everyone. If you’re curious or like to try outlandish things, it’s worth a try but keep in mind that you need to source your beans carefully. Look for the most ethical options you can find (like monkey coffee beans or elephant poop coffee) where the animals are left wild or taken care of properly. Animal poop coffee may not become your go-to morning cup but it’s a nice little novelty to experiment with and share with your friends.