Most digested coffee sellers promise that you’ll have an exquisite drink using a provocative—and gross—practice. Basically, sellers claim that some animals’ digestive processes enhance coffee beans’ taste and aroma.
Not all digested coffees are created equal, and they come in two completely different categories. The first, and best-known ones, are coffees eaten and defecated by animals, colloquially referred to as “poop coffee.” The second category refers to coffee beans that are bitten and licked, although many authors use dirty names for these coffee beans too.
Although I am not a fan of digested coffees, I will offer you a concise yet thorough piece so you can be the judge. In any case, it’s useful to learn a bit more about coffee cupping and tasting, so you can discern quality from scams among the most expensive coffees in the world.
Poop coffee: as dirty as it goes
In this category, animals eat coffee cherries and workers pick their droppings, and separate the coffee beans from the feces.
Apparently, coffee farmers started picking coffee beans from the civet cat droppings during the XIX century in Java, Indonesia. At that time, estate owners forbid their workers -although we could say they were treated as servants- to drink coffee.
Paradoxically, an idea that sparked from despair became a fad a century later.
A wild civet cat. Photo by Heri Susilo on Unsplash
The Asian palm civet, or Luwak, is a wild cat and it eats almost anything available. Smaller animals, insects, and fruits are part of its normal diet.
Civet’s versatility and open-mindedness became dangerous for the animal when people felt curious about the taste of its digested coffee beans.
Tony Wild brought civet coffee to the West in the 1990s, when Kopi Luwak was a shocking novelty. In 2013, Tony regretted its initiative, when Kopi Luwak became an industrialized, cruel, and scammy business.
Quick facts about Kopi Luwak
Still curious about this? Read our article covering all about Kopi Luwak.
Elephants are prone to tourism-related exploitation. Photo by Chris A. Tweten on Unsplash
After coffee enthusiasts learned about the dark side of Kopi Luwak, many have spoken loudly against it. However, demand for digested coffees hasn’t slowed or decreased as we would expect.
Looking for alternatives, a company called Black Ivory started a brand new process using elephants to digest coffee.
The Thailand-based company claims that elephants are rescued from exploitation and kept under appropriate conditions. Unlike civets, Black Ivory’s elephants have a balanced diet and eat top-quality coffee cherries, allegedly.
Still, it’s hard to demonstrate that these coffee beans produce superior aroma and taste. And if you ask me, the shocking story of premium defecated coffee beans is more powerful than actual quality.
Quick facts about Elephant Coffee
- Price around 1000$ per pound
- It lacks bitterness, and the company describes its aromatic profile with chocolate, spice, and grass notes.
- 20 elephants approximately produce around 200 kg of digested coffee per year.
- The only producer we know is Black Ivory, based in Thailand.
A wild jacu bird. Photo published by Bighouse15 under a CC by 4.0 license
Henrique Sloper, a Brazilian coffee businessman, wasn’t too happy when a band of jacu birds ate the best coffee cherries from his estate. However, as digested coffee wasn’t something new, the opportunity was more evident for Henrique.
According to Fazenda Camocim, the jacu bird coffee seller, wild birds select the best coffee. To some extent, this story is the less worrying in this category, since it’s almost impossible to force-feed jacu birds, and some authorities and institutions guarantee that Fazenda Camocim is fulfilling its promises.
Quick facts about Bird Coffee
- Price around $300 per pound
- Fazenda Camocim describes the aromatic profile as fruity, clean, and spicy.
- Production is hard to predict and costs around 7 times more than specialty grade beans farmed in the same estate.
Biting a coffee cherry, not a bullet
The second category of digested coffees is less repulsive than defecated coffee beans, but they are still counterintuitive.
In this case, monkeys and bats are the coffee beans processors that discard the coffee beans while eating the cherries.
Rhesus monkey in the wild. Photo by Shashank Hudkar on Unsplash
While reading the Devil’s Cup by Stewart Lee, I learned about Indian Monkey Coffee.
As the story goes, Rhesus monkeys pick the ripest cherries, chew them, and spit the coffee beans.
Although it was a major downturn at first, then it became an opportunity for coffee business people. Fortunately, it seems that
Rhesus monkeys aren’t having a hard time or force-fed in any way. However, I can’t but feel sorry for the workers who have to run after the chewed coffee beans between the monkeys.
Surely, there are worse jobs, but I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes.
Quick facts about Monkey Coffee
There is a strange beauty in wild bats. Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
Like monkeys, wild bats bite and lick the coffee cherries, processing the beans partially.
The main difference with monkey coffee is that bats leave the bitten fruits hanging in the coffee trees.
Coffea Diversa, a coffee company based in Costa Rica, developed this product based on the same premise that most digested coffees use: wild bats pick the ripest coffee cherries.
The main difference with other digested coffees is that it’s less altered by the animal’s digestive enzymes. One concern any consumer might have is that it’s hard to know if the cherry was bitten only by a bat, or any other animal. Still, as bats are free and it looks like a nice way to reduce food waste, I can’t say it’s bad business.
Quick facts about Bat Coffee
- Price around $200 per pound
- Wild bats in Costa Rica use their powerful nose to find the sweetest coffee cherries
- The company, Coffea Diversa, claims that bat coffee has fruity and floral tasting notes
Should you try digested coffees?
Personally, I prefer trying other types of exquisite coffees, including experimental processing methods and high-end varietals. Still, if you’re curious about digested coffees, fear not. By now, you can choose better.
I am sure that no one will scam you so easily after reading this article.
So, enjoy your cup of coffee!