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Kopi Luwak Coffee: A Complex Process From Dung to Coffee Brew

The best way to explore a new city is by discovering its local food and drinks. An important part of local culture, Kopi Luwak coffee is found mainly in Indonesia. It is the most expensive coffee in the world at a price ranging from $500-1000 a kilogram.

Kopi Luwak coffee beans
(C) Flickr

If the outrageous price tag has you wondering if there is a gold-standard production process or any complex machinery in place for imparting such incomparable flavors to the humble coffee bean, then the answer is not what you would expect.

Kopi Luwak- A History Dating Back Centuries

It is also called Civet Coffee. People will usually come across the production mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, etc. The origin of Kopi Luwak can be traced back to coffee production in Indonesia. Legend has it that Kopi Luwak was first discovered in Indonesia under the Dutch colonial rule. Dutch colonists built coffee plantations in Indonesia but imported coffee beans from Yemen.

However, Indonesian farmers in the 19th century collected, brewed coffee beans and started to drink coffee in their plantations.

Understanding the process

Kopi Luwak coffee beans

As far as the production process goes, it is fairly simple and begins with the shy, nocturnal, Indonesian mammal called civet or what is locally known as Luwak. Kopi Luwak is coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries that have been eaten and defecated by the Asian native civet. This is one of the reasons why Kopi Luwak price is very high.

But despite the popular misunderstanding, Kopi Luwak is not an actual type of coffee but more of a method of production.

Asian civet
(C) Wikimedia Commons

A discovery was made that the civet cat would eat the cherries and pass the seeds or the coffee beans without digesting them. Upon tasting them, it tasted better than the regular coffee at that time. The reason is simple enough- selective picking and thorough “washing”. The cat would naturally consistently eat only the ripe cherries and beans would also have the extra fruits bits stripped off by the enzymes during digestion resulting in well-processed beans from uniformly ripe coffee cherries.

Traditionally, the coffee beans excreted by the civet cat were directly picked up in forests and coffee plantations. As the demand for Kopi Luwak Coffee increased on a global stage, coffee producers resorted to the cage production methods which was ultimately thought to be quite controversial.

coffee beans
(C) Flickr

During that time, plantation workers and farmers who were forbidden from harvesting coffee for their use were left to wash, dry, pound, and roast this collected poop before turning the defecated beans into a beautiful cup of coffee. This is why Kopi Luwak Coffee price is very high in the market.

A Controversial and Cruel Practice

Source: Wikipedia

In order to increase the production line, civet cats are often kept in cramped, wire cages. Over there, they are fed coffee beans incessantly before having its excrement scooped out of the cage. The same cruel process is repeated the next day. The situation painted a very grim picture in terms of animal welfare.

Originally farmers would charge a high price for the coffee because it was so rare to find these coffee beans, however now that there is a guarantee that the coffee will be produced, the high price is questionable as well. One other reason why this practice was considered cruel is that Civets were exposed to the cacophony of the daytime noise.

Many certification companies that use SAN (Standard Agricultural Network Standards) are completely against the cruelty against wild animals. SAN standards in Indonesia specifically mention the prohibition of captured and caged civets.

A Ethical way forward

Source: Freepik

Many coffee producers are trying to replicate the entire process of making Kopi Luwak without harming civets. A few even claim that their Civets live in a cage-free and healthy environment. The thought may drive companies to come up with an animal-friendly way to produce Kopi Luwak Coffee. This may very well be an answer to stop the decreasing population of civets.

A coffee with distinct taste

Kopi Luwak has a very distinct taste and depends on the origin of the excreted beans. It also depends on the processing, roasting, aging, and brewing of coffee beans. The taste can also change based on diet, health, and the kind of berries Civets select to eat.

Kopi Luwak: A coffee of many names

Kopi Luwak Coffee is also grown in the Philippines. In the Sulu Archipelago, it is called kahawa kubing. The ethnic Tagalog people know this coffee as kapé alamíd. People in Mindanao call it either kapé melô or kapé musang. In the Cordillera region, Kopi Luwak is called Kape motit.

If you plan to buy about a kilogram of Kopi Luwak then you will have to shell out around $20.

Note: Kopi Luwak is also produced in Vietnam, Thailand, Ethiopia.

Is it worth the hype?

There are many reasons why this coffee has been hugely criticized across the world. Starting with coffee enthusiasts who feel it was just a “shortcut” back in time when coffee was much less understood. In today’s day and age, there are much better specialty coffees available at a much lower cost.

Kopi Luwak
(C) Flickr

More importantly, around 80% of all coffee sold today as Kopi Luwak is fake! In fact, you will struggle to find a place today that sells genuine Kopi Luwak in Indonesia.

Final Thoughts

Kopi Luwak
(C) Flickr

Kopi Luwak is available to purchase all over South East Asia. With its increased demand, it can be found online or in all commercial shops as well. Famous for its production story, it is easy to fall into the touristy trap of trying the coffee despite the backstory, just so you can claim to have tasted the most expensive coffee in the world.

However even if you are ok with Kopi Luwak coffee price of $200-400 per kilo, you will be contributing to an industry that serves no purpose and doesn’t even produce the coffee in an authentic manner anymore. If you still want to get a taste of the authentic coffee, try and ask locals for family-run farms which do this ethically without harming the animals or simply save yourself the hassle and buy a cup of regular, locally sourced coffee instead.

‘Curated by Neha Bhise’