Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, and it’s made from seeds that have been chewed, swallowed, and pooped out by the common palm civet. Consumers have described the flavor as ranging from “petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water” to “vegetabley, tealike, and earthy.”
The civet, which looks like a cross between a cat and a fox, is a Southeast Asian forest-dweller that eats everything from rats to insects to fruit. Under the cover of night, the solitary, nocturnal animal feeds on ripe coffee berries from local plantations during the harvest season. The seeds inside these berries are the “beans” that humans ferment, roast, and grind to make coffee. A civet can’t digest these seeds, but they do ferment inside the animal’s digestive tract before being excreted.
It’s not the taste that makes civet coffee a delicacy, it’s the perceived rarity. Poop-coffee peddlers claim they collect the product from wild civet droppings, making them difficult to acquire. A kilogram of the beans earns Indonesian sellers five times as much when sold internationally instead of domestically. In New York and London, one cup goes for between $30 and $100.
Unfortunately, the “rare, foraged-from-the-wild” justification for kopi luwak’s exorbitant price tag is a load of crap. Producers often keep civets in captivity and force-feed them unripe coffee berries. Though the animals are not yet endangered, a market that capitalizes on this unique beverage doesn’t bode well for the future of this coffee-processing critter.
On the bright side, a regular cup of joe costs less than one-tenth as much, and it isn’t made with beans extracted from poop. Cheers to that.
Need to Know
Global interest in kopi luwak has created a market for captive civets that are used both for coffee production and as tourist attractions. There is no certification for genuinely "wild" kopi luwak, so any purchase can contribute to keeping these animals in grim conditions.