Every barista working in a specialty coffee shop will face this situation at least once in their life. One day someone, for sure not a coffee expert, but someone with at least some knowledge about coffee, will ask the barista: “So… what about the Kopi Luwak? Is it a special coffee? Is it good?”
At that question, the barista will shake their head, vaguely upset, and then will start to explain how things are, for real.
First of all: what is Kopi Luwak? It’s an Indonesian coffee that is made from partially digested coffee beans eaten and defecated by a civet.
Yep, you heard that right.
Farmers specifically seek out civet droppings, and collect the feces with the coffee beans for further cleaning and processing. What’s really crazy about it, is that these beans go for hundreds of euros per pound, as a direct result from the drawn-out process of the cultivation of these beans: the civet actually picks the beans (in theory choosing the best ones, but this is questionable considering that nowadays civets are always held in captivity), and then the civet eats them.
At that point, the beans pass through the intestines and ferment. Due to the presence of digestive enzymes in the civet digestive tract, proteins inherent to the bean are broken down. These processes are believed to add to the overall flavor profile and are therefore necessary for the production of authentic Kopi Luwak.
What’s behind this idea of brewing a coffee digested by an animal?
During the 1800’s, the Dutch East Indies colonies of Java and Sumatra produced coffee from plantations of Arabica Coffee.
The Dutch forbid the native workers from picking fruits off the coffee tree for themselves, but nothing was said about collecting coffee beans that fell off the tree.
It was not long after that, that the natives learned civets consumed the fruits and left the undigested seeds in their feces.
They were collected, cleaned, roasted and ground for their own use, and this practice eventually spread throughout the colonies. But of course, it was time-consuming to produce these coffee beans by hunting wild civet droppings, and quickly it became a very expensive commodity. It wasn’t until tourism became popular in Bali that this ‘delicacy’ developed more interest and demand.
The “traditional” process is long, and subsequently expensive, and this has led to significant problems: in the last decades, there has been reported animal cruelty associated with people using cages to contain civets and feeding them coffee beans.
What is the expert opinion about Kopi Luwak?
Kopi Luwak is expensive, renowned, and famous among tourists, but is often considered in a totally different way by the specialty coffee community.
It’s described as an inferior tasting coffee, that it is thin and lacks acidity, as well as other traits that are found in specialty coffee. Fundamentally, Kopi Luwak is popular among many beginners and casual coffee drinkers because of its chocolatey, earthy, and syrupy flavor profile. And this is exactly what many specialty coffee lovers consider to be a synonym for low-quality coffee.