I first came across Kopi Luwak when I was watching an episode of 2 Chainz’s show, Most Expensivest on Youtube. The show revolves around 2 Chainz trying some of the most expensive products in the world. In the episode that I watched, 2 Chainz tries one of the most expensive coffees in the world: Kopi Luwak, which is essentially coffee made from poop. Yes, Poop.
Not only was I shocked to learn how it was made, but I also balked at the price tag, which is funny given I was watching a show dedicated to finding the most expensive products. A pound of Kopi Luwak is sold at $600…I’ll say that again…$600 a pound.
So let’s delve deeper into this, friends. What exactly is Kopi Luwak, where is it from, why is it so expensive, and how exactly is this coffee made?
Discovery of Kopi Luwak
Kopi Luwak originates and is largely produced in Indonesia. Kopi is Indonesian for coffee and Luwak is Indonesian for the civets which eat the coffee cherries. Asian Palm Civets are native to south and southeast Asia and this is why the coffee is known as either Kopi Luwak or Civet Cat Coffee. The civets eat the coffee cherries and the coffee is picked from the partially digested cherries in their poop.
I guess the burning question here is, who was the first person to look at civet poop and see a hot cup of coffee instead?
To answer that question we need to learn more about Indonesia’s history. The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony and consisted of what is now Indonesia. According to Britannica, the Dutch East Indies “included the Greater Sunda Islands (Borneo, Celebes, Java, and Sumatra), the Lesser Sunda Islands (stretching eastward from Bali to Timor), the Moluccas, and New Guinea (including Papua New Guinea on the eastern half of the island)”.
Coffee was brought to Indonesia in the late 1600s and was widely enjoyed and cultivated. The Java and Pandri wars greatly affected the Dutch economy bringing them close to bankruptcy. As a result, in 1830, the cultivation system or ‘Cultuurstelsel’ in dutch was introduced. The cultivation system aimed to increase the exploitation of the ‘Dutch India resources’ and one of the implications of this system was that native coffee farmers were forbidden from picking cherries for personal consumption. Native farmers soon realized that there were coffee beans left partially digested in the civet poop and as such Kopi Luwak was discovered.
Now that we have established what Kopi Luwak is, where it originates from, and from which animal the poop comes from, there’s one more thing we need to address. How is the coffee made?
The Biology behind the Kopi Luwak
To understand how the coffee is digested by the civets, we need to understand that coffee beans are the seeds found in coffee cherries. It is said that wild civets pick the plumpest/best cherries when foraging. Once the cherries are eaten, the enzymes in the civets break down the outer layers of the cherry, leaving the beans. The natural enzymes in the civets’ intestines furthermore strip the coffee of some of its caffeine and acidity. This is said to give the coffee the smooth taste and aroma that has made it sought after.
The civet then poops out the partially digested coffee beans. Then, the coffee beans are sorted, cleaned, and sent out. The difficulty of attaining the coffee as well as the fermentation of the beans in the civets is what makes the coffee so expensive. The frenzy around Kopi Luwak has a dark side, however.
Ethical Implications of Kopi Luwak
Kopi Luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world but behind the hefty price tag and glitz, there is a dark undertone. Civets are endangered every day to meet the mounting interest, so it is important with any of the purchases we make to be aware of how exactly the products came to be.
Historically, civets used to roam free on the coffee plantations, and as such picking coffee beans from the droppings did not pose any harm to the civets. However, with the rise in popularity of Kopi Luwak, civets are being rounded and put into cages and force-fed cherries. In a lot of cases that is the only thing, the civets are fed with. Besides, the civets attract tourists who like to come to see the civets in person which has only increased the captivity of the civets.
In an article released by PETA, a lot of the Kopi Luwak that is sold as ‘wild civet’ coffee is actually from civets kept in captivity. In the article it was mentioned that PETA had sent an investigator to some of the farms in Indonesia and found that there were “sick, depressed civets suffering from infections and exhibiting signs of zoochosis, a stress-induced neurotic condition that causes captive animals to spin, pace, and bob their heads in constant frantic displays of frustration”. A lot of the civets also start losing their fur as a result of malnutrition.
Kopi Luwak is a great example of something that was created out of a need and has morphed into something that has serious repercussions. This is why it is important as customers to be more aware of the source of our products and how moving forward we can be ethical customers.