If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll know that coffee from the poop of a cat is a big deal. A very big deal. Priced between $35 and $100 per cup (yes, per cup), Kopi Luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee.
But why? What’s the hype all about? After all, people are literally drinking ground up coffee beans coated in faeces.
Here’s what you need to know about Kopi Luwak, why it’s so expensive and why you ought not to drink it.
The origin of civet cat coffee
There’s a good story behind the origin of Kopi Luwak (also known as civet cat coffee). Rumour has it, it was first discovered in Bali, Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule. During this time, native farmers and plantation workers weren’t allowed to harvest coffee for their own use, and consequently, they were left scavenging for scraps.
Sooner or later, it was realised that Asian palm cats (a small mammal that looks like a cross between a cat and a racoon) would eat coffee cherries and pass the seeds (the coffee beans) without digesting them. When workers collected and brewed up these beans, they discovered that they tasted better than the original beans (pre digestion).
There are a few good reasons this coffee would taste better. Civet cats were selective in their bean choices and would only eat ripened coffee cherries that were ready for harvest. Plantation workers during that time, however, were less selective and would often farm coffee before it reached its prime.
Another reason is that beans that passed through the digestive track of a civet cat have been thoroughly, ahem… ‘washed’. The fruit pulp and enzymes left on coffee beans from the cherries are stripped clean during the digestive process, leaving nothing but an extremely clean bean with a rather low acidity.
Why is civet cat coffee so expensive?
There’s one word to sum this up: exclusivity. Waiting for animals to eat and poop coffee beans adds a whole new dimension to coffee processing, one that relies on a living being to ‘perform its duty’ (pun intended).
These beans fetch for such high prices because it requires so much time and energy to ‘manufacture’. Much like truffles, farmers would have to search through forests and follow in the footsteps of these animals to collect their remains for harvest.
On top of that, there needs to be a rigorous cleaning process in place. Food-borne illnesses from faecal contamination is a real risk, and disease will be ripe in something that has already been consumed by another animal first. The risk to human health is at stake.
In short, Kopi Luwak coffee is a low-yield/high-risk good, and in a consumer landscape, that translates to high cost.
Demand has (unsurprisingly) led to over-farming
What was once an exclusive, treasured treat for many local people in South East Asia is now an over-consumed, westernised ‘luxury’ product that people are profiting from. And where there’s the ability to make lots of money, there’s the breeding ground for greed.
Today’s landscape of Kopi Luwak farmers sees civet cats locked in cages and force-fed caffeine-infused cherries all day, every day. A rise in western tourism in South East Asia has led to a rise in demand for Kopi Luwak, and we’re abusing wildlife for sake of profit.
There are also complications with false sales. In fact, 80 percent of all Kopi Luwak coffee sold today is fake and many of the sustainable coffee federations and environmental alliances won’t certify any Kopi Luwak coffee.
Simple is always best
For us, we like coffee as simple as possible. Kopi Luwak is complicated, unnecessary and morally unjust. Coffee shouldn’t be this complex, just like coffee shouldn’t be sent into outer space (read this).
We’ll end with the advice of Alex Morgan, who works for Rainforest Alliance, and his thoughts on Kopi Luwak:
‘My personal advice is generally to avoid it. More likely than not it’s going to be coming from a caged production landscape.’
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.