If you haven’t heard of Kopi Luwak, you might know it by what it’s most commonly called – “that cat poo coffee”.
It’s an Indonesian coffee product that has garnered a lot of attention specifically for the fact that a cat/raccoon like animal, the Asian Palm Civet, eats the coffee berry and digests it. From there the coffee is extracted from the excrement, roasted and brewed. Something that has been defecated ruins all preconceived notions of what should taste good - however it’s garnered the allure and the reputation of being the tastiest coffee available.
It was even featured in the movie "The Bucket List" – so if Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman can’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. However, Kopi Luwak is something that should not be regarded very highly despite the fame & notoriety. Here’s why:
The ridiculousness that is consuming something which has been inside a digestive channel of an animal is justified by the taste. The reasoning behind a better taste profile is apparently either because the civet knows how to choose better beans to eat, or because of fermentation that occurs inside the digestive track of the civet with enzymes from the track seeping into the beans. More fermentation and additional enzymes sounds fantastic, but the real question is how do our tastebuds actually respond to it?
Responses in this video say that it has a nutty and earthy taste profile without a bitter after taste. This article on the Specialty Coffee Association of America website shares that “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”.
Nutty, smooth and earthy tones do sound good, but it doesn’t sound unique. In fact there are quite a few coffee’s with those tendencies. Like this, this or this. Which all do not cost nearly as much as the Kopi Luwak.
Anything that has garnered a reputation as being “the best” can charge insane premiums for being a gourmet product. With that, you can purchase 100 grams of this coffee for $120 Canadian. That comes to the price of $544.80 per pound of coffee.
$544.80 per pound!
If an overpriced coffee with characteristics that aren’t that unusual isn’t enough to turn you off then learning about the conditions that the coffee excreting Asian Palm Civets live in most definitely will. This article described the conditions as "awful, much like battery chickens," and continued on to say “There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiraling out of control.”
It’s no surprise that these animals are caged up – from a selfish farmers’ perspective, they wouldn't wander natural habitats of the cat creature to scoop up poop. It’s inefficient and unpredictable. Keep the animals in a cage, you won’t have to worry about where you find your cash crop of crap.
Furthermore in the same article by PETA, they mention a “stress–induced neurotic condition” which “causes captive animals to spin, pace, and bob their heads in constant frantic displays of frustration.”
If the taste profile is similar to other coffees on the market, how can you tell that it’s the real deal? How will you know that this coffee has actually been in the digestive track of a Asian Palm Civet? Moral-lacking entrepreneurs have asked themselves that same question – and taken advantage of the hype by flooding the market with essentially indistinguishable fakes.
To sum up – buying Kopi Luwak coffee is buying a coffee with an typical taste profile, at an insane price point, that is produced in environments that harms animals. After all that, it has the potential to not even be real.
However, there may be an alternative to get the Civet enzymes you’ve been waiting for in your coffee thanks to the wonderful world of science. Professor of the Institute of Agriculture, Dr. Ir. Erliza Noor, has developed an environment with enzymes and fermentation characteristics that would be present within the digestive track of a Civet. The coffee goes through this environment and the resulting characteristic is similar to that of the final product for which true Kopi Luwak is created. So keep your eyes peeled for the Splenda equivalent to “cat poop coffee”.
Or the best alternative if you’re looking to splurge on an amazing cup of coffee – buy the rare Geisha coffee.