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What is Kopi Luwak? (and Why You Shouldn’t Drink it)

Kopi Luwak civet coffee
If you’re well-versed in the world’s strangest and most specialized coffees, you’ve probably already heard of Kopi Luwak. Some people believe that this specialty coffee is the best in the world, but there’s one big reason you may want to give it a pass – and it’s not the impressive price. Keep reading to learn what Kopi Luwak is and why you probably shouldn’t drink it.

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Kopi Luwak how it's made infographic
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What exactly is Kopi Luwak?

Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian coffee that has been digested by an animal called an Asian palm civet. The civet is a cat-like creature that roams the forests of Bali at night, eating ripe coffee cherries and excreting the coffee beans. The beans are then gathered, cleaned, and roasted. The result? Kopi Luwak, also called civet cat coffee or cat poop coffee.

The history of Kopi Luwak starts way back in the 1700s when the Dutch first set up coffee plantations in Sumatra and Java. According to legend, the locals noticed that wild animals were eating the ripe coffee cherries and leaving the beans behind. They were prohibited from harvesting coffee beans for themselves, so they started brewing coffee from these discarded beans.

More recently, this specialty coffee started showing up on the gourmet coffee scene in America in the 1990s. This was thanks to Anthony Wild, author of the famous coffee book, Coffee: A Dark History. These specialty beans soon appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in the Jack Nicholson movie, The Bucket List.

Civet in a cage
Caged civet | Image credit: surtr, Flickr, CC 2.0

What does Kopi Luwak cost?

Kopi Luwak was all the craze then and has continued to be pretty popular ever since. And it’s famous for something other than its unique processing: its price. A cup of Kopi Luwak coffee typically costs between $35 and $100, and the per-pound price can range from $100 to $600. That’s 20 to 60 times more expensive than average coffee!

Why would you want to eat cat poop coffee?

Cat shit coffee does sound gross, but there’s a good reason that Kopi Luwak is so sought-after. The idea is that unlike human coffee pickers, wild animals will only eat the best, ripest cherries, so you don’t end up with inferior, unripe beans. Plus, the enzymes in the civet’s digestive system alter the coffee beans, producing a smoother cup of animal coffee.

How do they do that? While passing through a civet’s stomach, the cherries get fully stripped of their fruity exterior. It’s essentially a very thorough washing process that prepares the beans for drying and roasting. Without any fruit left on the bean, mold doesn’t grow, resulting in a better cup of coffee.

ANIMAL COFFEE FUN FACT: There’s another kind of animal poop coffee. Though it’s often called monkey poop coffee or monkey shit coffee, the coffee produced by rhesus monkeys and macaques in Taiwan and Indian is actually chewed and spit out.

So what’s the problem with civet coffee?

The problem with Kopi Luwak coffee is that it’s rarely actually wild. As you can imagine, finding free-range Kopi Luwak is a labor-intensive task, something not very friendly to a business’ bottom line.

Kopi Luwak unroasted coffee beans
Image credit: Shankar S., Flickr, CC 2.0

As a result, the most common process involves removing civets from the wild and keeping them in tiny cages on coffee plantations. According to researchers, these coffee plantations universally fail to meet animal welfare standards in areas like hygiene, shelter, and mobility. Civets are nocturnal, shy animals, and many coffee plantations allow tourists to view them in their cages. They may also be force-fed the cherries or kept on uncomfortable wire surfaces. And the civets’ restrictive coffee-only diet can lead to malnutrition and other health issues.

Another issue is that many coffees sold as Kopi Luwak aren’t authentic. With prices for this specialty coffee so high, it’s not surprising that coffee sellers would want to cash in – whether or not they have access to civets.

Kopi Luwak civet in cage
Civet in a cage | Image credit: Stefan Magdalinski, Flickr, CC 2.0

The Bottom Line

So that cup of expensive, smooth coffee? It’s made using processes that amount to animal abuse. Add the fact that many coffee experts claim Kopi Luwak has inferior flavor and acidity, and you may be reconsidering your purchase.

Centuries ago, using wild civet cats to process coffee may have resulted in better coffee. But these days, coffee picking and processing has improved so much that you can probably get better results from more modern methods.

However, if you do want to try civet coffee, some companies offer more ethical Kopi Luwak. We recommend that you take a close look at the company’s ethical processes and look for certificates of authenticity. You don’t want to spend a king’s ransom on a run of the mill bag of beans.

Our recommendation? Volcanica Coffee’s Kopi Luwak, which is 100% wild-gathered and comes with a certificate of authenticity.


Header image credit: AKKHARAT JARUSILAWONG, Shutterstock

Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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