Kopi Luwak: The Poop Coffee
Trends in the food world can change faster than the mind of a temperamental two-year old. It can be hard to keep up with the latest and greatest trends, let alone know which ones are truly worth your time.
One of recent trends that has taken over the internet, from YouTubers’ trying to get views, through movie fans of the Bucket list, to culinary magazines with fancy tastes, is Kopi Luwak coffee — otherwise known as Cat Poop Coffee.
While there are certainly many coffee options out there these days, there is nothing quite like the experience and the story behind Kopi Luwak coffee.
There are a lot of urban legends surrounding this particular cup of coffee, and trying to figure out what is the truth can be overwhelming. But, before you go searching online and get overwhelmed by every link, article, and YouTuber trying to give you their opinion, let’s clear through the fog and try to break down exactly what Kopi Luwak coffee is, why it is rightly so popular, and what processes go into making it.
This article aims to clear up the mystery behind these magical tasting beans and help consumers learn what they are purchasing, the ethics involved, and why it is so special.
So What Is Kopi Luwak?
Kopi Luwak is a type of specialty coffee that traditionally comes from Indonesia, and has spread to a few other SE Asian countries in the region that have similar climates and ecosystems. Despite being recently trendy in the Western world and Middle East, it has historically been a beverage of those living in the Far East.
To really understand what Kopi Luwak is we need to start with a rudimentary understanding of how regular coffee is produced.
Coffee beans are actually not beans at all, but are instead seeds that are inside cherry-like fruits. To harvest the beans from the coffee cherries, the fruit is first washed away from the beans, thus leaving a bright green seed behind.
Often in areas where there are water shortages, such as in Africa where Coffea plants are native, deep washing using large amounts of water is not practically possible. In such cases the traditional method of extracting the seeds involves setting the coffee cherries out in the sun and allowing the fruit to dry and slowly rot the fruit off. Both methods of extracting the beans use a form of fermentation. This helps impart a strong and unique flavor into the beans that otherwise would be totally lost.
Washed beans are often left to ferment in their water, whereas unwashed beans are left to ferment directly inside of their cherries in the sun; and then are harvested from the fruit.
Depending on which method is used, different flavor notes will be added to the coffee resulting in unique regional tastes. Both of the above methods are great options for mass coffee production and are generally held as the common standard. Without these crucial fermentation processes built into the production of coffee, the beans that we drink today would be nowhere near as delicious, and would offer no complexity in their flavor profiles.
When you pick up a bag of coffee beans and see unwashed vs. washed beans, then the above processes are what that tagline refers to. There are various opinions on which tastes better, and ultimately it comes down to a matter of personal taste.
Not unlike the primary methods of preparing coffee, Kopi Luwak is also a fermented coffee but instead of fermenting in a vat of water or in the sun it is fermented inside the bowels of a civet cat.
The coffee cherries are digested by civet cats as they move through their stomachs and digestive tracts, getting more flavorful as they go. Then as they move through the bowel system of the civet, the cherry slowly breaks down around the bean, imparting its flavor into it. Eventually the civet cat passes the cherries and they are harvested and prepared for consumption. It is important to note that the resultant flavor is primarily due to digestive enzymes and the process of the cherry breaking down, and not due to the active act of the civet cat passing the beans.
The process is quite time-intensive and demands a lot of materials to occur. That is why we see a high price tag on the beans themselves. Taking good care of the civet cat is imperative to the overall taste and quality of the beans. The diet and stress levels that the civet cat has gone through can change the flavors, and potentially make them less desirable.
The History of Kopi Luwak
As with so many of the products we now know and love, widespread knowledge in the Western World about Kopi Luwak came from shows such as Oprah and Hollywood. However, despite this added star power, Kopi Luwak beans have a long history that dates long before Oprah ever came onto the scene, and before Hollywood was even more than an adobe hut. Oprah and Hollywood are, like so many others, simply the stepping-stones that helped to bring Kopi Luwak from the past and into modernity.
The history of Kopi Luwak began when Indonesia was still called the East Indies. The Dutch came into the East Indies in the early 1600’s and while they were there they were introduced to a new delicacy; coffee.
Just like most of us, the Dutch became quite enamored with this new caffeine-laced drink and began sending it back to Europe via the Dutch East Indies Company. As the demand for coffee in the West began to rise, things began to get more difficult for the Dutch.
In the early 1800’s, war broke out in Indonesia between two classes of people, the Padri and Adat.
The Padri were a group of Muslim leaders who were looking to put West Sumatra in Indonesia under Sharia law.
The Adat were a group of nobility in the area who refused to be under Sharia law and held their ground.
The war lasted thirty-four years and it wasn’t until the Adat asked the Dutch to support their cause against the Padri and Sharia law that it finished.
But as with most wars, this war was not won without first spending a lot of money and producing great unrest. While peace was advantageous enough for the Dutch that fighting seemed worth it, the fighting that it took to achieve such peace was draining on the Dutch’s resources.
Unfortunately for the Dutch, the Padri War was not the only war going on for them in the early 1800’s. Although much shorter lived than the Padri War, the Java War took place directly in the middle of the Padri War. This was an outbreak between the Javanese people of Indonesia and the Dutch settlers themselves. While lasting only five years compared to the thirty-four year Padri War and ultimately leading to Dutch victory, the Java War was exhausting to the Dutch and put them in a weak position, even after their victory.
It is here, in the 1830’s, after fighting two wars and severely depleting their resources that the Dutch needed money and they needed it quickly.
So in an effort to get the most out of the West Indies, the Dutch started Cultuurstelsel.
Cultuurstelsel, or The Cultivation System, was a Dutch-imposed regulation on which products could be grown, how they must be grown, who must grow them, and for how long they must work.
The Indonesians when speaking about that time in history call it a time of enforced planting or tanam paksa. The Cultuurstelsel, even to this day, is a bit of a place of muddy waters when it comes down to how it was enforced and what the ultimate impact of that time was on the people. The theory behind it was that in order to produce the biggest amounts of marketable products the Dutch needed to regulate what products were being grown, and where they were being grown. The peasants in the area were forcibly enlisted to grow these plants ‑ and were not allowed to keep back any for themselves!
Despite the fact that this was enacted in many areas, it was mostly in the areas around Java. The Cultuurstelsel was ultimately not a good system to live under for the poor and impoverished, but led to the Dutch stabilizing and coming back from teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and with all of the new rules enforced on the peasants they began to miss much of their staple diet. One of the things that they began to miss was coffee.
Just like any of us who have woken up early in the morning to find that we forgot to get a new bag of coffee and our caffeine hit — the people of Indonesia were in withdrawal from their invigorating brew.
No one knows who was the first person to realize that the pests who stole coffee cherries from the coffee fields, civet cats, were passing completely usable beans. All that we know is that during the Cultuurstelsel the people of Indonesia began harvesting beans from this most unlikely source.
They would clean the beans, dry them, and then roast them just as before.
The shocking news came when instead of having a poorer quality than before, the beans instead tasted far superior. As with many goods, once the upper classes heard that the poor were able to produce a more flavorful bean than they were able to the beans began to slowly grow in popularity in the region.
From there it wasn’t until the 1990’s when Kopi Luwak made it to modern popularity. In the 90’s Troy Wild brought the beans to the UK from Indonesia. From the UK, Kopi Luwak beans began to grow in popularity in other parts of the world.
In the early 2000’s, Hollywood grabbed hold of it and Kopi Luwak began to make appearances in movies and even on The Oprah Show. Due to these voices, and those of many others, we have seen the worldwide phenomenon of Kopi Luwak resurfacing in today’s modern world.
How Is Kopi Luwak Produced?
As we have already mentioned, Kopi Luwak is made when coffee cherries are eaten by civet cats and then processed in their digestive tracts, and finally passed along within their fecal matter.
As the cherries pass through the digestive tracts many important chemical reactions happen, and the coffee cherries are broken down by the enzymes inside the civet. From there, the feces of the civet cat are harvested along with the intact beans.
The beans are then washed, dried, and prepared for roasting using the same sort of method by which they were processed in the 1830s.
Traditionally these Civet cats were wild, and with the coffee now in demand, people found that hunting for their fecal matter became a lucrative job. Overtime and as the demand grew, civet cats began to be raised for the sole purpose of Kopi Luwak production. Some were lucky and got to range freely in the local forests and plantations, such as those used by Kopi Luwak Direct, whereas others were not so — more on that later.
It is estimated that there are about fifty tons of Kopi Luwak coffee produced each year. That number sounds quite a lot, but when you consider that there are an estimated nine and a half billion tons of coffee produced each year in total, it becomes obvious how rare Kopi Luwak actually is.
Due to the rarity of this product and the extreme lengths it takes to produce, Kopi Luwak beans are much more expensive than their traditional counterparts; this makes them one of the most expensive coffees to drink.
So What Is a Civet Cat, Exactly?
Kopi Luwak translated is coffee (kopi) and civet cat (luwak). Civets are primarily frugivores although some species are omnivores and also eat small animals, fruit, and vegetables, with some species also consuming nectar.
They are nocturnal mammals, choosing to come out and feed at night. They are found in Asia, Africa, and even the Iberian Coast in Europe.
Civet cats, also known as weasels, prefer to live in the jungle, although in recent years they have been found outside of their traditional habitats, and even in urban areas.
They are medium-sized creatures with a snout that does not appear cat-like at all, despite the rest of their body structure. In some ways, they look like a cross between a fox and cat. They are typically dark in coloration, either brown or black, with spots and stripes that are of a lighter brown color.
It is important to note that while they appear cat-like, they in fact not cats. Civets are a part of the Viverridae and Nandiniidae families, and they closer related to a mongoose than to any sort of cat.
Also, while they are often grouped together into one conglomerate, there are many kinds of civet cats throughout the world. In some areas they are protected, while in others they are seen as common pests.
Before being famous for Kopi Luwak, Civet cats were more valued for their musk — which was often added to perfumes and colognes.
In some areas of the world they struggle to survive because of over-hunting and habitat loss; though they are currently not endangered. As civet cats adapt to the modern world, they have changed their habitats and eating habits along the way. This great capability for adaptation allows for them to keep moving with the times.
So What Does Kopi Luwak Taste Like?
The reason that Kopi Luwak coffee rose from being the drink of impoverished colonists to that of the modern elite is because of its unique taste. Even small differences in taste and consistency can set apart a relatively normal cup of coffee from something that is truly impressive. Coffee cupping is becoming a more and more serious event every year, and Kupi Luwak has a flavor that really stands up to the competition.
One of the biggest benefits of the coffee itself is the body. It has a smooth and easy-to-drink texture that makes it far too easy to guzzle down. Many fans praise the lack of the typical high-acidity aftertaste that is often found in cheaper coffees. This also makes it easier to drink for those who struggle with the high-acid content of traditional coffee beans.
As far as tasting notes are concerned, it depends greatly on the diet of the civet cat as well as the cherries themselves. Civet cats are naturally quite picky about what kinds of coffee cherries they will eat and that allows for a better taste in the coffee itself.
Some of the flavors that are commonly found in Kopi Luwak brews include rich earthy notes, chocolate, citrus, and lemon.
For those who think it might seem odd to combine citrus and chocolate together, simply imagine nibbling on a Christmas chocolate orange. Many leading experts have described the coffee having syrup and even jungle undertones, although jungle undertones may be hard to distinguish to the average coffee drinker’s palette.
The Ethics Behind Kopi Luwak Production
As with many products obtained from animals, as the demand has increased for Kopi Luwak coffee there have been problems ensuring that animals have been completely and properly taken care of, not to mention the humans responsible for collecting the coffee. Also, as anyone who has ever walked the streets of New York can tell you, the more expensive a product is the more likely that there are going to be fakes out on the market.
Keeping brand integrity while also making sure that animals and people are treated fairly has been the goal for our coffee all along.
One of the biggest concerns in the world of Kopi Luwak coffee has been the care of the animals. In certain areas of Asia, particularly in Vietnam, Civet cats have been forced to live miserable lives inside of cages without any access to other animals. In efforts to produce more beans and ultimately make more profit, the civets are often force-fed only coffee cherries instead of their regular diverse diet. This can make many them sick sometimes even to the point of death, and ultimately degrade the quality of the beans.
As mentioned before, in the wild, civets are quite picky about what quality of coffee cherries they will and won’t eat. When force-fed in captivity they are not able to choose which are the best cherries for themselves. This degrades the ultimate coffee product, and is a miserable experience for the civets themselves.
To make the feces easier to harvest unscrupulous growers may even keep their civets in metal cages. In addition to the cruelty aspect, the metal cages lead to wounds and sores on the civets’ body.
Civet cats not only require a diverse diet, better living arrangements, and access to other animals, but they also need to be able to get out and exercise their muscles. Not being able to do so can make them sick or obese. Good living conditions that at least mimic the wild ultimately lead not only to healthier and better civet cats but also a better tasting Kopi Luwak coffee. In many places, farmers are returning to harvesting the feces of wild civets, rather than farming them.
One of the other concerns with coffee making in general is making sure that those who put in the hard work of growing, harvesting, and preparing the beans are fairly paid. In many areas of the world workers are not adequately recompensed for the hard work that they put into creating the perfect beans.
It is important when buying any kind of coffee beans to do research and make sure workers are being paid fairly. The same can be true sadly for many lesser brands of Kopi Luwak. In many places people will work for smaller wages for various reasons. It goes without saying that taking advantage of people in need should never be part of your morning coffee routine.
A further problem, which is particularly prevalent for Kopi Luwak production, is fake beans. Just like a fake designer bag or fake designer shoes, fake specialty coffee exists. There are many fraudulent providers that use various levels of professionalism to create fake beans. Some use processes that they claim mimic the processes that happen inside of the civet by adding different chemicals to their beans and cherries. There are all total rip-offs who simply take regular traditionally fermented beans and advertise them as Kopi Luwak without even trying to capture its unique taste or unique process.
It can be hard to sort through the different vendors and find which of them are legitimate and which are fake or unethical — how can you know who to trust?
How To Do Better!
Just because some companies fake and cheat their way to success that does not mean that every brand is promoting and using these sorts of methods in their coffee making and roasting. We at Kopi Luwak Direct use nothing but the best beans and cherries for the best possible flavor profile. We allow the civets to be completely free-range. Free-range civets can move around, socialize with other civets, eat a varied diet, and live a normal life just like they are supposed to. They are not prone to the illness and obesity prevalent with enforced civets.
In addition to making sure the civets are living their best life, we also ensure that the farmers and manufacturers are also thriving. That they receive a fair wage and are taken care of is of vital importance. When they are happy and making a good living they are also inspired to create better quality products and take better care of their animals.
And of course, all beans are one hundred percent Kopi Luwak. Giving the best possible cup of Kopi Luwak coffee is not only our joy but also our passion.
Other Types of “Poop Coffees”?
If you type in “poop coffee” into Google a whole list of coffee harvested from animal dung will pop up before your eyes. It can be hard to figure out what are the biggest differences between each of these Animal Coffee products and the Kopi Luwak that is obtained from civets.
One of the most expensive coffees in the world is Black Ivory coffee. Black Ivory is coffee that comes from the excrement of elephants. Elephants do not typically eat coffee cherries, but as they are herbivores it can be forced into their diet. The long-term effects of including unnatural foods in an Elephant’s diet are unknown.
Another popular “poop coffee” is obtained from monkeys. Monkeys are omnivores, eating both fruits and vegetables as well as meat. Just like with elephants, coffee cherries are not a typical part of a monkey’s diet.
In many cases, when humans give animals foods that are not a part of their traditional diet the animals’ bodies does not know how to process these new foods. Their inability to process these foods can lead to complications in the general health of the animal.
Many small animals, in particular, have trouble processing the caffeine that is present in coffee beans and it can lead to problems such as hyperactivity, difficulty in sleeping, irregular bowel movements, heart function, or even death. In some cases too much caffeine has been known to kill animals due to their inability to process it.
We believe that Animals do not naturally consume coffee cherries in their diet should not be forcibly given them to eat. Obviously, Coffee cherries are not traditionally part of the ideal healthy diet of many animals, and do not provide them with their needed nutritional requirements. Civets are especially adept at eating and digesting coffee and even they, when kept in poor conditions, can suffer the side effects from too much caffeine.
The goal when buying any food should always be to buy it as close to natural as possible. Yet when animals are given foods outside of their traditional diet it can lead to serious complications not only for the animals but also for the product itself. That is why it is important to choose wisely when making purchases that directly affect living and breathing creatures. Please purchase Kopi Luwak responsibly.
Why Try Kopi Luwak?
Kopi Luwak is a unique and special coffee drinking experience that really allows its drinkers to be a part of a long-held custom from Indonesia. This coffee allows you to be a part of the history of coffee in a unique way. It is truly a high-end experience that everyone should try at least once in their lives.
Kopi Luwak has a unique and special flavor composition that can’t be reproduced under any other methods. With special chocolate and citrus flavor notes and a smooth and low-acidity taste, Kopi Luwak is unique among all other coffees.
From the Dutch East Indies Company to the likes of Oprah, Kopi Luwak has been winning fans over throughout history. The future of Kopi Luwak looks bright as the coffee industry continues to grow and mature. As people develop a greater taste for new and exciting coffees, Kopi Luwak will continue to retain its relevancy.
Purchasing Kopi Luwak changes the drinkers’ relationship with coffee and what coffee can be. It pushes the limits of traditional coffee preparation and asks people to think differently about what their coffee should be.
Just like with most other things, it is important to shop responsibly and keep the unique challenges of ethical Kopi Luwak in mind, and to remember that civets unlike other animals are uniquely adept at eating coffee cherries.
It is amazing that a drink that started off as the response to dehumanizing laws turned into such a worldwide phenomenon. We are pretty certain that no one in the 1800’s could have imagined that their unprecedented coffee brewing methods could be impacting our lives hundreds of years later. It goes to show that some things aren’t just a passing fad and can truly stand the test of time.
To try Wild Kopi Luwak Cat Beans, visit our homepage to make your purchase!