Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee with prices coming in as high as $2600 a pound for wild collected beans. A cup of this joe can set you back 50 bucks here in the United States. It is made from partially digested coffee beans which have been eaten and later defecated by the Asian palm civet, a cat-like animal native to Indonesia. The coffee beans, which are generally the arabica variety, are fermented as they pass through the civet’s intestines. Once the civet “releases the beans” they are collected. Yum!
The excreted beans are then processed undergoing a thorough roasting and aging. Needless to say, a major factor in the high price is the uncommon production method. According to kopi luwak fans the fermentation activity that takes place while the beans are inside the civets intestines makes for an extraordinary, high quality flavor. The Specialty Coffee Association of America begs to differ claiming “there is a general consensus within the industry… it just tastes bad.”
With the popularity of kopi luwak, life for the palm civet producing this product isn’t exactly a bed of roses. It’s horrific actually. In most cases palm civets are taken from the wild, placed in small cages and force fed coffee beans for the rest of their lives. And that’s the condensed version. Multiple investigations, and even a BBC documentary on the conditions inside production farms in Indonesia and the Philippines revealed the horrible treatment of these animals.
It was around that same time the man responsible for bringing the poo brew to the Western world, Tony Wild, said he no longer supported using kopi luwak due to animal cruelty. Mr. Wild even launched an educational campaign called “Cut the Crap” to educate the end user about just exactly how kopi luwak is made.
As always, in demand products that command a high price are ripe for fraud. That’s certainly the case with the kopi luwak industry. As the consumer became educated about the poor treatment of the civets used to produce the coffee, some of the folks who ran these farms began labeling coffee from caged civets with a “wild sourced” label.
Which commandeered an even a higher price.
Truth be told, legit kopi luwak from wild civets frolicking in the fields of coffee beans is very difficult to purchase in Indonesia, but here it seems readily available. A quick google search reveals everything from beans with stamped certificates of authenticity, to bags of the product with labels claiming it is “fair trade-ethically sourced.” There seems to be an endless supply available to be shipped here to the states, but I’m sure the phrase “what you see is not always what you get” applies here.
Of course proving authenticity in regards to production process can be quite difficult. For every idyllic photo of fair trade farms in faraway lands there is a product review stating:
Two words: buyer beware.
So the next time you fire up the coffee machine for a cup of java, think of all the palm civets, who produce the coffee that really is the shit!
“Kopi Luwak Investigation”. PETA Asia. 2013
Kubota, L. “The value of a good story, or: How to turn poop into gold”. 2011. Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Milman, O. “World’s most expensive coffee tainted by ‘horrific’ civet abuse” November 2012. The Guardian.
Penha, J., “Excreted by imprisoned civets, kopi luwak no longer a personal favorite” 2012. The Jakarta Globe.
“What Is the Price of Kopi Luwak? (Full Breakdown for 2020)”. October 2020. Eleven Coffees.
Wild, T. “Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap”. 2013. The Guardian.
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