Kopi luwak , 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 cagesystems 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. 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. 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).
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.
HYSTORY OF LUWAK COFFEE
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.
TASTE OF LUWAK COFFEE
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”.