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The World’s Most Expensive Coffee: What Is Kopi Luwak?

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The World’s Most Expensive Coffee: What Is Kopi Luwak?
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Even if you’re the world’s most passionate coffee fan, paying $600 for a pound of beans is a stretch. That’s what you’ll pay for the world’s most expensive coffee! Wondering why Kopi luwak is so costly? The truth is stranger than you can imagine. Let’s find out what Kopi luwak is.

Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee because it is sourced from the feces of the palm civet, a cat-like Indonesian animal. Civets or luwaks eat coffee cherries and excrete undigested seeds (beans). The digestive enzymes ferment the coffee beans, giving it a distinctive flavor.

Critics are divided on the value of Kopi luwak. While most coffee lovers agree it is tasty coffee, the ethical controversies around the treatment of farmed civets and the prevalence of fake Kopi luwak make it a tricky subject. Read on to discover more.

What Is Kopi Luwak?

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Kopi luwak is famous as the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world. This truly gourmet item sells for hundreds of dollars per pound.

The reason for its fame and rarity is not the type of coffee bean nor the flavor – although its smoothness is legendary – but the unusual production method.

The name Kopi luwak is translated as “civet/cat coffee” because the specialty coffee is found in the excrement – yes, the poop – of the cat-like Asian palm civet or luwak. The beans are cleaned, roasted, and served with great fanfare.

The History And Origin Of Kopi Luwak

The origins of Kopi luwak lie in the colonial history of Indonesia and a very unusual animal.

When the Dutch colonized Indonesia in the seventeenth century, they found that the tropical climate was ideal for farming coffee. The coffee plantations employed many local Indonesians.

However, local farmworkers were forbidden from harvesting coffee beans for their personal use. They noticed that the palm civet, a long-tailed arboreal mammal, would eat the coffee fruit. The seeds (coffee beans) were indigestible, so the civets excreted them. The workers would gather the civet droppings, remove the coffee beans, wash, roast, and grind them – they thus found a legal source of coffee.

When the Dutch realized what the workers were doing and how delicious their coffee tasted, they began searching for the civet droppings to brew this rare beverage. Instead of being seen as pests, civets were protected and even kept as pets to ensure a supply of coffee-bean droppings.

Kopi luwak was only introduced to the Western market in the 1990s, with the demand initially limited to coffee gourmands. However, as the coffee grew in fame, it earned the label of most expensive coffee in the world and is now stocked by luxury stores worldwide. It is considered an Indonesian delicacy on every tourist’s “must-do” itinerary.

How Kopi Luwak Is Made

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The human aspects of Kopi luwak production are neither essential nor unusual: the type of beans, the harvesting conditions, and the roasting methods don’t define Kopi luwak. Instead, the secret to the coffee is in its journey through a civet’s digestive system.

Luwaks are omnivorous, eating insects, lizards, roots, and berries. Soft coffee fruit is part of their diet, and luwaks choose only the ripest and most delicious fruit. Digestion lasts around two days, during which the seeds undergo fermentation or malting via the digestive enzymes. The beans are indigestible to civets and are excreted, with their outer layer only partly digested and still intact.

Scientists have discovered the digestive process transforms the aroma and flavor of the coffee by breaking down some of the bitter proteins in the beans.

Coffee producers look out for the tell-tale knobbly droppings. The traditional method of preparing Kopi luwak is as follows:

  • Collect the droppings.
  • Remove the coffee beans.
  • Wash them thoroughly in hot water.
  • Airdry the beans.
  • Remove the thin outer skin.
  • Wash and dry the loose beans.
  • Dry-roast the beans in a large flat pan over an open fire.
  • Grind the coffee with a pestle and mortar, adding other flavorings (e.g., ginger).
  • Sift the coffee. It is now ready for packaging or drinking.

On commercial farms, the process has been mechanized and industrialized. Either way, the beans have no hint of their poop-covered origins and are safe to consume.

Is Kopi Luwak Worth The High Price Tag?

To determine whether Kopi luwak is worth spending $80 per cup, you may think there is only one question to answer: Is it the most amazingly delicious coffee in the world?

However, Kopi luwak’s production methods have been intensely scrutinized, and several ethical questions are being asked. Let’s consider whether it’s worth buying and drinking Kopi luwak.

The Controversy Surrounding Kopi Luwak

There are two controversial issues around the production and sale of Kopi luwak, which have developed as the coffee has gained international luxury status:

  • the prevalence of counterfeit Kopi luwak
  • the unethical treatment of palm civets.

The Prevalence Of Counterfeit Kopi Luwak

Because it is a rare commodity, Kopi luwak can command incredibly high prices. Genuine farmers of this coffee charge these rates because of the resources required to collect and prepare the beans.

Unfortunately, a desire for wealth has led unscrupulous producers to label and sell inferior coffee beans as Kopi luwak when they’ve been nowhere near a civet.

Other peculiar products are also produced in imitation: coffee beans from the droppings of elephants, monkeys, and birds. At best, these are fakes; at worst, they collude in mistreating more animals.

 

Ethical Concerns Regarding Animal Welfare

Because civets are essential to creating Kopi luwak, their role in the coffee industry is vital.

Not content with the limited amount of Kopi luwak from wild civets in the nineteenth century, plantation workers were encouraged to keep palm civets as pets to easily access their coffee droppings.

As the demand for the coffee grew, the supply could not keep up. This demand has led to the industrialization of a natural process, and coffee producers’ trapping, captivity, and inhumane treatment of civets.

Challenges to the civets’ welfare begin with the setting of illegal snares, or wire traps, where injured animals lie for days, resorting to chewing their limbs or dying from injuries.

The captured civets are then caged in tiny, uncomfortable wire cages and force-fed coffee cherries to produce as much excrement as possible. Civets are solitary creatures, so enforced socialization makes them anxious.

To make matters worse, the civets have become a tourist destination, visiting these civet farms and wanting to interact with the frightened, trapped creatures. Civets are nocturnal, so they are woken during the day by camera-toting visitors.

The civets are deprived of their natural diet, which is rich and varied. Instead, they are given only coffee fruit, leading to malnutrition and health problems varying from starvation to obesity and caffeine overdose.

The animals suffer further because of unsanitary conditions – their cages are never cleaned, the civets can barely move, and the wire cuts into their paws, adding blood to their filth.

Unfortunately, the Kopi luwak industry is unregulated, allowing this animal abuse to continue. International organizations have banned coffee from farms with “wild” caged civets. Look out for products endorsed by the Rainforest Alliance, for coffee produced by truly wild civets.

Today, around 500 tons of Kopi luwak is produced, the vast majority via illegally farmed civets. Environmental activists are opposed to its production and, for the sake of the civets’ welfare, urge coffee lovers not to buy Kopi luwak.

 

How Does The Taste Of Kopi Luwak Compare To Regular Coffee?

Coffee experts argue that Kopi luwak has a delicate aroma and tangy flavor due to the digestive processes. It produces a lovely, pinkish crema and has a gorgeously nutty aftertaste.

 At the same time, many experts feel that many other kinds of coffee are equally, if not more, delicious. They argue that the digestive process removes much of the acid, which gives coffee its distinctive flavor.

Kopi luwak from caged civets is definitely less tasty than the genuine article. Farmed civets are fed inferior quality beans, often non-native Arabica coffee. The civets live under stress and cannot adequately digest the fruit. These factors result in a cheap version of Kopi luwak, sold for massive prices.

How To Brew And Enjoy Kopi Luwak Coffee

If you find environmentally sustainable and ethically produced Kopi luwak, stick to basic pour-over and filter brewing methods. Here are three ways to brew and enjoy your luxury java.

Simmering Coffee

An old-fashioned method of making coffee which you’ll see all over the world, is simmering your coffee.

  • Measure one heaped teaspoon of ground coffee per cup and one extra into a saucepan or stove-top coffee pot.
  • Fill with a cup and a half of water per serving.
  • Heat to a slow simmer, stirring frequently.
  • Allow the coffee to brew for 15 minutes.
  • Stir again and allow the coffee to settle for a minute.

Don’t let the coffee boil, as it will taste burnt.

Using A French Press

Make your Kopi luwak in a French press to enjoy the coffee’s distinctive flavor. To use a French press:

  • Grind the beans to medium.
  • Pour the ground coffee into your French press.
  • Add hot water.
  • Allow your coffee to steep for a few minutes.
  • Press down the plunger.

Making Filter Coffee

Many devices are available for brewing filter coffee: a drip filter, an Aeropress, a V60 dripper, or Chemex. These devices mean fewer grounds end up in your coffee, and you can determine how intense you want your brew, depending on how long the water and coffee are in contact.

Serving Suggestions

Kopi luwak is best served strong so that you can enjoy its vibrant aroma. The flavor is smooth and intense, with chocolate, nuts, and caramel notes.  Enjoy it without sugar or milk to fully appreciate the taste.

Where To Buy Kopi Luwak Coffee

Buy Kopi luwak online, and ensure it has been endorsed by the Rainbow Alliance, Fair Trade, or another environmental organization.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kopi Luwak

Can Anyone Drink Kopi Luwak?

Anyone who can afford to buy the coffee can drink it. It is available worldwide and online.

How Much Does Kopi Luwak Cost?

Kopi luwak will cost $600 per pound or $80 per cup. If you can find Kopi luwak at a much cheaper price, it is either an imitation or from an unapproved farm.

Is Kopi Luwak Worth The High Price?

Genuine Kopi luwak takes time and resources to produce, as it should be sourced from wild civets’ droppings. However, civets have paid the price for the luxury item, as they are hunted, trapped, and kept captive to produce the industrial amounts of coffee demanded by the luxury market.

Are There Any Ethical Concerns With Kopi Luwak Production?

The most serious ethical concern in producing Kopi luwak is the welfare of the civets, which are snared, kept in cages, and force-fed coffee cherries to make the coffee on an industrial scale. The civets are treated horrifically, suffering malnutrition, injury, and death.

Final Thoughts On Kopi Luwak Coffee

Kopi luwak is a fascinating coffee, which should be extremely rare. However, the luxury market demands more of the beverage, leading to the exploitation of animals. Of course, the exploitation of coffee producers is not new, and there are questions about coffee’s ethical and sustainable production worldwide. Ensure you purchase Fair Trade or Rainbow Alliance-certified coffee, and enjoy your brew.

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