Kopi luwak (Indonesian pronunciation: [ˈkopi ˈlu.aʔ]), or civet coffee, refers to the coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).
Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat cherries. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the cherries for the fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet's protease enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet's intestines the cherries are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.
The traditional method of collecting feces from wild civets has given way to intensive farming methods in which civets in battery cage systems are force fed the cherries. This method of production has raised ethical concerns about the treatment of civets due to "horrific conditions" including isolation, poor diet, small cages and a high mortality rate. A 2013 BBC investigation of intensive civet farming in Sumatra found conditions of animal cruelty. Intensive farming is also criticised by traditional farmers because the civets do not select what they eat, so the cherries which are fed to them in order to flavor the coffee are of poor quality compared to those beans collected from the wild. According to an officer from the TRAFFIC conservation programme, the trade in civets to make kopi luwak may constitute a significant threat to wild civet populations.
Although kopi luwak is a form of processing rather than a variety of coffee, it has been called one of the most expensive coffees in the world with retail prices reaching €550 / US$700 per kilogram, close to the €850 / US$1,100 price of Black Ivory coffee. The price paid to collectors in the Philippines is closer to US$20 per kilogram. The price of farmed (considered low-grade by connoisseurs) kopi luwak in large Indonesian supermarkets is from US$100 per kilogram (five times the price of a high quality local arabica coffee). Genuine kopi luwak from wild civets is difficult to purchase in Indonesia and proving it is not fake is very difficult – there is little enforcement regarding use of the name "kopi luwak", and there's even a local cheap coffee brand named "Luwak", which costs under US$3 per kilogram but is occasionally sold online under the guise of real kopi luwak.
An investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia found fraud to be rife in the kopi luwak industry, with producers willing to label coffee from caged civets with a "wild sourced" or similar label. A BBC investigation revealed similar findings.
Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago. It is also widely gathered in the forest or produced in the farms in the islands of the Philippines (where the product is called kape motit in the Cordillera region, kapé alamíd in Tagalog areas, and kapé melô or kapé musang in Mindanao island), and in East Timor (where it is called kafé-laku). Weasel coffee is a loose English translation of its Vietnamese name cà phê Chồn, where popular, chemically simulated versions are also produced.
The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected with the history of coffee production in Indonesia. In the early 18th century the Dutch established the cash-crop coffee plantations in their colony in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra, including Arabica coffee introduced from Yemen. During the era of Cultuurstelsel (1830–70), the Dutch prohibited the native farmers and plantation workers from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Still, the native farmers wanted to have a taste of the famed coffee beverage. Soon, the natives learned that certain species of musang or luwak (Asian palm civet) consumed the coffee fruits, yet they left the coffee seeds undigested in their droppings. The natives collected these luwaks' coffee seed droppings, then cleaned, roasted and ground them to make their own coffee beverage. The fame of aromatic civet coffee spread from locals to Dutch plantation owners and soon became their favourite, yet because of its rarity and unusual process, the civet coffee was expensive even during the colonial era.
Few objective assessments of taste are available. Kopi luwak is a name for any beans collected from the excrement of civets, hence the taste may vary with the type and origin of beans ingested, processing subsequent to collection, roasting, aging and brewing. The ability of the civet to select its berries, and other aspects of the civet's diet and health (e.g. stress levels) may also influence the processing and hence taste.
In the coffee industry, kopi luwak is widely regarded as a gimmick or novelty item. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) states that there is a "general consensus within the industry ... it just tastes bad". A coffee professional cited in the SCAA article was able to compare the same beans with and without the kopi luwak process using a rigorous coffee cupping evaluation. He concluded: "it was apparent that Luwak coffee sold for the story, not superior quality...Using the SCAA cupping scale, the Luwak scored two points below the lowest of the other three coffees. It would appear that the Luwak processing diminishes good acidity and flavor and adds smoothness to the body, which is what many people seem to note as a positive to the coffee.”
Tim Carman, food writer for the Washington Post reviewed kopi luwak available to US consumers and concluded "It tasted just like...Folgers. Stale. Lifeless. Petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water. I couldn't finish it."
Some critics claim more generally that kopi luwak is simply bad coffee, purchased for novelty rather than taste. Massimo Marcone, who performed extensive chemical tests on the beans, was unable to conclude if anything about their properties made them superior for purposes of making coffee. He employed several professional coffee tasters (called "cuppers") in a blind taste test. While the cuppers were able to distinguish the kopi luwak as distinct from the other samples, they had nothing remarkable to appraise about it other than it was less acidic and had less body, tasting "thin". Marcone remarked "It's not that people are after that distinct flavor. They are after the rarity of the coffee".
The luak, that's a small catlike animal, gorges after dark on the most ripe, the best of our crop. It digests the fruit and expels the beans, which our farm people collect, wash, and roast, a real delicacy. Something about the natural fermentation that occurs in the luak's stomach seems to make the difference. For Javanese, this is the best of all coffees—our Kopi luak.— Doyo Soeyono Kertosastro, Indonesian Coffee Farmer, March 1981 National Geographic
Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee. Luwak is a local name of the Asian palm civet in Sumatra. Palm civets are primarily frugivorous, feeding on berries and pulpy fruits such as figs and palms. Civets also eat small vertebrates, insects, ripe fruits and seeds.
Early production began when beans were gathered in the wild from where a civet would defecate as a means to mark its territory. On farms, civets are either caged or allowed to roam within defined boundaries.
Coffee berries are eaten by a civet for their fruit pulp. After spending about a day and a half in the civet's digestive tract the beans are then defecated in clumps, having kept their shape and still covered with some of the fleshy berry's inner layers.
Despite being in contact with faeces and pathogenic organisms, the beans contain negligible amounts of the enteric (pathogenic) organisms associated with feces. Moreover, the "cherry" or endocarp surrounding the bean is not completely digested by the luwak, and after being collected, the farmer performs thorough washing and removes the endocarp. The final roasting of the beans would, additionally, eliminate any remaining bacteria.
Sumatra is the world's largest regional producer of kopi luwak. Sumatran civet coffee beans are mostly an early arabica variety cultivated in the Indonesian archipelago since the 17th century. The major Sumatran kopi luwak production area is in Lampung, Bengkulu and Aceh especially the Gayo region, Takengon. Tagalog kape alamid comes from civets fed on a mixture of coffee beans and is sold in the Batangas region along with gift shops near airports in the Philippines.
Vietnam has two farms with 300 wild civets in Dak Lak, while in Mindanao island of the Philippines, has two farms with 200 (in Davao City) and 100 (Iligan City) wild civets. But the archipelago of Indonesia where the famous kopi luwak was first discovered and produced is leading in supplying the world market for almost three centuries, where many small-scale civet farms are proliferating in the countryside.
Several studies have examined the process in which the animal's stomach acids and enzymes digest the beans' covering and ferment the beans. Research by food scientist Massimo Marcone at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada showed that the civet's endogenous digestive secretions seep into the beans. These secretions carry proteolytic enzymes which break down the beans' proteins, yielding shorter peptides and more free amino acids. The proteins are also involved in non-enzymatic Maillard browning reactions brought about later by roasting. Moreover, while inside a civet the beans begin to germinate by malting which also lowers their bitterness. Marcone also conducted an analysis on the volatile compounds which are responsible for the coffee's flavour and aroma, showing that there are significant differences from regular coffee. He concluded that:
- Protein structure had been altered, reducing bitterness and potentially impacting flavour.
- Volatile compounds had significant differences compared to regular coffee, indicating there are changes in flavour.
Several commercial processes attempt to replicate the digestive process of the civets without animal involvement.
Researchers with the University of Florida have been issued with a patent for one such process. Brooklyn-based food startup Afineur has also developed a patented fermentation technology that reproduces some of the taste aspects of Kopi Luwak while improving coffee bean taste and nutritional profile.
Imitation has several motivations. The high price of kopi luwak drives the search for a way to produce kopi luwak in large quantities. Kopi luwak production involves a great deal of labour, whether farmed or wild-gathered. The small production quantity and the labor involved in production contribute to the coffee's high cost. Imitation may be a response to the decrease in the civet population.
Initially, civet coffee beans were picked from wild civet excrement found around coffee plantations. This unusual process contributed to its rarity and subsequently, its high price. More recently, growing numbers of intensive civet "farms" have been established and operated across Southeast Asia, confining tens of thousands of animals to live in battery cages and be force-fed. Concerns were raised over the safety of civet coffee after evidence suggested that the SARS virus originated from palm civets.
'"The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens", said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of the conservation NGO, TRAFFIC south-east Asia. "The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages. There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiralling out of control. But there's not much public awareness of how it's actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew"'.
A 2013 investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia found wild-caught civets on farms in Indonesia and the Philippines. The animals were deprived of exercise, a proper diet, and space. Video footage from the investigation shows abnormal behaviours such as repeated pacing, circling, or biting the bars of their cages. The animals often lose their fur.
Tony Wild, the coffee executive responsible for bringing kopi luwak to the Western world, has stated he no longer supports using kopi luwak due to animal cruelty and launched a campaign called "Cut the Crap" to halt the use of kopi luwak.
Price and availability
Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for between US$100 and $600 per pound in 2010. The specialty Vietnamese weasel coffee, which is made by collecting coffee beans eaten by wild civets, is sold at US$3,000 per kilogram. Most customers are Asian, especially those originating from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Sources vary widely as to annual worldwide production.
In some countries the price of this coffee has gone down due to the extensive production, but it remains the most expensive coffee on the market.
There are reports of a kopi luwak type process occurring naturally with muntjac and birds.
In popular culture
In 1995, an Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to John Martinez of J. Martinez & Company in Atlanta, Georgia, for "educating the world about Luak Coffee, the world's most expensive coffee, which is made from coffee beans ingested and excreted by the luak (aka, the palm civet), a bobcat-like animal native to Indonesia."
Kopi Luwak is also mentioned in The Bucket List (2008) as Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) reveals with great amusement of how the Kopi Luwak — enjoyed by Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) — was produced; eaten and defecated by a jungle cat. Cole reacted in surprise "You're shitting me!" and Carter replied in jest "Cats beat me to it!".
In Franklin and Bash, Season 3 Episode 9, "Shoot to Thrill", associate lawyer/germaphobe Pinder and his law partner Stanton Infeld each drink Kopi Luwak. After Pinder learns of the coffee's origin he begins to vomit due to his extreme germaphobia.
In Season 3 of Jerry Seinfeld's web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry and his guest, Jay Leno, both partake in a $75 cup of "cat shit coffee." Leno proceeds to say it is awful. Jerry drinks his own coffee and later finishes Leno's, at which point it appears Leno has ordered a Coke.
- Black Ivory coffee
- Indonesian cuisine
- List of Indonesian beverages
- Balinese cuisine
- Panda tea from panda dung
- Onishi, Norimitsu (17 April 2010). "From dung to coffee brew with no aftertaste". The New York Times.
- Marcone, Massimo (2007), In Bad Taste: The Adventures And Science Behind Food Delicacies
- Milman, Oliver (November 11, 2012). "World's most expensive coffee tainted by 'horrific' civet abuse". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- Penha, James (August 4, 2012). "Excreted by imprisoned civets, kopi luwak no longer a personal favorite". The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- Lynn, Guy; Rogers, Chris (September 13, 2013). "Civet cat coffee's animal cruelty secrets". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
- AnimalCoffee. "The process of making kopi luwak". AnimalCoffee.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- Shepherd, Chris R. (December 2012). "Observations of small carnivores in Jakarta wildlife markets, Indonesia, with notes on trade in Javan Ferret Badger Melogale orientalis and on the increasing demand for Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus for civet coffee production" (PDF). Small Carnivore Conservation. 47: 38–41.
- Lee, Hyon Jung (19 July 2006). "Most expensive coffee". Forbes. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- "Kopi Luwak Investigation". PETA Asia. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
- National Geographic Travelers Indonesia, November 2010, page 44
- Kubota, Lily (November 2, 2011). "The value of a good story, or: How to turn poop into gold". Specialty Coffee Association of America. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- Carman, Tim (4 January 2012). "This Sumatran civet coffee is cra...really terrible". The Washington Post.
- Hetzel, Andrew (December 7, 2011). "Kopi Luwak: curiosity kills the civet cat". Coffee Quality Strategies. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
Kopi Luwak is, in more than one way, the coffee of assholes
- Sinclair, Llewellyn (December 7, 2011). "Just say no to kopi luwak". Sprudge.com. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- Kleiner, Kurt (16 Oct 2004). "Bean there, dung that". New Scientist. 184 (2469): 44–45. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
- Starbird, Ethel A. "The bonanza bean: Coffee". National Geographic.
- "Tasting is Believing!". Cluwak. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Ismail, Ahmad. "Common palm civet". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "Kopi luwak coffee safe, U of G study finds". University of Guelph. 26 November 2002.
- "Legendee: The Legend of the Weasel". trung-nguyen-online.com. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "Quality enhancement of coffee beans by acid and enzyme treatment". Reeis.usda.gov. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- Marcone, Massimo (2004). "Composition and properties of Indonesian palm civet coffee (Kopi Luwak) and Ethiopian civet coffee". Food Research International. 37 (9): 901–912. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2004.05.008.
- Davila Cortes, Glenda "The International Guide to Coffee" 2008
- "Quality Enhancement of Coffee Beans by Acid and Enzyme Treatment". Faqs.org. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- Andrey Smith, Peter. "Better Coffee Through Bacterial Chemistry". Bloomberg. Bloomberg. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
- Zimberoff, Larissa. "How a New Startup Is Refining the Flavor of Coffee via Microbial Fermentation". Eater. Eater. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
- WURGAFT, BEN. "Vegan Kopi Luwak? Biotech's Cruelty Free Coffee Fermentation". Sprudge. Sprudge. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
- "Feature by WBAL Channel 11 television news team". Youtube.com. 11 January 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- "Vietnam species 'risk extinction'". BBC News. 13 August 2009.
- "Civet cat coffee: can world's most expensive brew be made sustainably?". The Guardian. 19 Sep 2014.
- "Civet cat coffee: A delicious beverage or a case of animal cruelty?". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 Apr 2015.
- "Coffee, civets and conservation". The Sunday Times Sri Lanka. 28 Feb 2015.
- "WHO: More evidence of civet cat-SARs link". CNN. January 17, 2004. Archived from the original on December 1, 2004. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
- "China scientists say SARS-civet cat link proved". Reuters. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
- Wild, Tony (2013-09-13). "Civet coffee: Why it's time to cut the crap". The Guardian.
- Thout, Buon Me (January 15, 2012). "Coffee in Vietnam: It's the shit". The Economist. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- McGeown, Kate (1 May 2011). "Civet passes on secret to luxury coffee". News. BBC.
- "Kopi Luwak". AU: Heritage tea rooms. 5 September 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "The £50 espresso". The Guardian. London. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- Abrams, Lindsay (2013-10-22). "Are you fancy enough for bird poop coffee?". Salon.com.
- "Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize". Improbable Research.
- "The Bucket List" (PDF). Retrieved 13 September 2013.
- Seinfeld, Jerry; Leno, Jay. "Comedy is a concealed weapon".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kopi Luwak.|
- Sumatra – Extreme Coffee (television), AU: ABC, 2007
- "Story and photo report", News, AU: ABC, 12 March 2010
- Civet coffee selling well despite SARS, BBC
- Report in the Philippines, BBC
- Cat poop coffee (article), CA: CBC, 13 September 2002
- "World's most expensive coffee tainted by 'horrific' civet abuse", The Guardian, UK, 19 November 2012
- Kopi Luwak: Most bizzare coffee in the world, Lataza Coffee
- The effects of the digestive system on coffee beans (article), CA: University of Guelph
- "Civet coffee", USA Today (article), 20 January 2004
- Lam Dong has first farm producing weasel coffee in VietNam, VN: Vietnam+
- "Lam Dong's 1st weasel coffee farm opens in VietNam", Tuoitre news, VN
- $2 million weasel coffee farm in Da Lat, VN: Vietnam net.