What is civet coffee?
Civet coffee also known as kopi Luwak, is a coffee beverage – usually hot, that claims to be made from coffee beans excreted whole in the fecal droppings of the Asian palm civet.
Civet coffee has as everything to do with the fact that the beans came out a civet cat’s behind. The type of beans the civet eats in the first place is of less importance. Arabica beans are the most widely produced and therefore the most widely available. Many people are unaware of exactly what bean makes up their kopi luwak. Most are just interested in the novelty of drinking a coffee beverage made from animal poop.
It is possible to find civet kopi luwak claiming to be from robusta beans and even in rare instances, liberica beans. To be considered wild civet coffee, the excreted beans must be pooped out by free-ranging, wild civets. The excreted beans need to be collected from the plantation estate each day, washed, dried, roasted, and ground. At this point, they can be brewed and lay claim the title of the most expensive coffee in the world.
Why is Civet Coffee So Expensive?
To appreciate kopi luwak, you need to go back to the Dutch East Indies in the early 1700s. Dutch coffee plantations were popping up all over Indonesia and the local plantation workers were forbidden to pick coffee beans for personal use or consumption. The local workers quickly noticed that civets cats eat coffee berries. But hey only digest the outer fruit of the berry, leaving the inner coffee bean whole and intact. Collecting these excreted beans was a simple matter of picking them off the ground each morning. With the pulpy fruit removed in the digestive tract of the civet, these partially processed beans only needed to be washed, dried, roasted and ground. Further, the excreted beans were from uniformly ripe coffee cherries. The result was that semi-processed, uniformly ripe excreted beans produced a much better final brew than eighteenth-century coffee processing technology could match. Since it was appreciably better than what was processed by humans, it became the favorite brew for the plantation owners as well as the workers. It is this temporary superiority that created the myth. Today’s modern processing and brewing techniques produce a superior beverage. Unfortunately, the mystique still surrounds kopi luwak today. The charlatans who peddle the stuff claim nothing has changed in 300 years. Which is pure hogwash.
Kopi luwak coffee sells for $30-$100 per cup and $100-$600 per pound. Retailers market this product as a rare and limited commodity sourced from wild civets’ feces. They claim that legitimate suppliers need to forage for the partially digested coffee beans in the wild, which only allows 500 lbs of kopi luwak to be produced each year, justifying the high price.
Where does Civet Coffee Come From?
The Legend – Kopi Luwak was discovered in Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule. Because native farmers and plantation workers were forbidden from harvesting coffee for their own use, they were left to scrounge around for it. They discovered that the civet cat would eat coffee cherries and pass the seeds—the coffee beans—without digesting them. Coffee brewed from these beans tasted much better than the conventional coffee of the time.
Civet coffee beans are picked from wild civet excrement found around coffee plantations. This unusual process contributes to its rarity and subsequently its high price. More recently, however, growing numbers of intensive civet farms are operating across Southeast Asia. This cruel practice confines tens of thousands of animals to live in battery cages and force-fed a restricted diet of coffee berries. In order to satisfy the global demand, “civet poo coffee” is rarely sourced from the wild; it has become an industrialized product. Wild civets are instead held captive and force-fed coffee cherries to produce an estimated 500 tons of this farmed product annually.
Is Civet Coffee Better Somehow?
There are two reasons civet cats may have helped make coffee better two hundred years ago. They could selectively pick the ripest berries at the top of the trees and their digestive system thoroughly washed and cleaned the beans. The civet cat, free to graze on these cherries, would naturally consistently eat only the ripe cherries, while coffee pickers back then were much less discriminating and could only pick as high as they could reach.
The cleaning process was problematic in the 1700s and 1800s. The outer fruit is not used to make coffee, only the inner seed or bean is required. The outer fruit is stripped away to get to the bean inside. Any fruity pulp that is left on the bean is subject to rot and fermentation during the drying process. However, when coffee cherries are consumed by civet cats, the digestive juices and enzymes do a much more thorough job of cleaning the fruit pulp. The result is a cleaner coffee bean with less chance of mold, fungus or fermentation during later processing stages. These are things that would have affected overall quality and been quite common for regularly processed coffee in the mid-19th century.
Specialty coffee today is just that. It is made from uniformly ripe coffee cherries, processed and sorted to be as high quality as possible. It turns out Kopi Luwak was just a glorified “shortcut” in a time where coffee was much less understood. As technology advanced, so did the quality of coffee. Modern specialty coffee showcases nuanced flavors so subtle they can reveal where a coffee bean is grown. Kopi Luwak sellers and supporters remain locked in a time warp. They rely on a mystique that developed when producers and consumers just did not know any better.
How is Civet Coffee Made?
Civet Coffee is produced from coffee beans which have been partially digested by the Asian palm civet or civet cat. The animal eats coffee cherries and excretes the coffee bean, hence the term cat poop coffee or civet cat coffee.
Kopi luwak is a catch-all name for any coffee beans collected from the excrement of civets. Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee. Luwak is a local name of the Asian palm civet. Palm civets feed on berries and pulpy fruits such as figs and mango. Civets also eat mice, insects, worms and grubs. When the Asian palm civet eats ripe coffee cherries, they are partially digested and remain in the civet’s intestines for approximately 18-24 hours. The undigested coffee beans are then excreted in the civet’s poop.
Since different varieties of coffee are grown, the taste may vary with the type and origin of the beans ingested. After collection, the beans are washed and then processed like other coffee beans. They are dried, roasted, and ground prior to being brewed into coffee.
Initially, there were ethical suppliers providing hand-gathered wild civet coffee beans. Due to the sharp jump in global demand, farms have sprung up throughout the coffee growing regions of South East Asia. Investigations by journalists and animal-rights activists, reveal a cruel industry tainted with corrupt practices. To satisfy global demand, many suppliers keep captured civets in small cages and force-feed them almost exclusively on coffee cherries. Appalling living conditions and an unhealthy diet cause these shy, nocturnal omnivores mental and physical distress. Animals are found incessantly pacing and gnawing on their limbs before eventual illness and early death. These grim farms are not confined to Indonesia. Farms have popped up throughout Asia trying to cash in. By one estimate, 50 tons of mass-produced civet coffee from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China flood the market every year.
Is Civet Poop Coffee Safe to Drink?
It is claimed the coffee is safe to drink because any germs by the civet’s intestines are eliminated during the washing and roasting process. But an article by Time magazine reveals the possibility of fungus growth, particularly if the dropping are not found and processed within 24 hours. Clearly, is there any way to know how long feces have been there unless you follow the civet around all night waiting for it to poo? The proper brewing temperature for coffee is below the boiling point of water. If coffee beans are infected with fungi, it is possible to pass that fungus on to humans.
Why Would Anyone Drink Cat Poop Coffee?
The first people to drink civet coffee were workers on the coffee plantation. They were not allowed to make their coffee from the beans processed on the plantation, so they would gather the beans from the droppings of wild civets. Today people drink it because they want to experience the bizarre nature of the civet poo coffee story and want the expensive bragging rights that go with it.
Unfortunately, the coffee trade has conspired to turn a blind eye to the wildlife suffering in order to keep the business going. The author of Coffee: A Dark History sums it up nicely: “It is a bit of a racket.”
In an article for the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the trade organization for gourmet coffee roasters and baristas, experts claim kopi luwak just isn’t that good to begin with. Although the civets’ digestive process possibly makes the coffee smoother, it also removes the good acids and flavor that characterize a specialty cup of coffee.
While the average consumer won’t pay the extraordinary price that this coffee demands, there is a segment of the population in the United States, Europe, and East Asia that are willing to pay for the experience of perceived luxury or exclusivity. Apparently, it doesn’t have to taste good, coffee drinkers don’t have to like it, and it doesn’t have to be “affordable” for some to want it. It’s the story that sells the coffee. Regardless of the expert opinion and taste test results, there seems to be a market for products that claim rarity or superiority in quality. Does that in and of itself make it special or worth the cruelty to produce it?
The Kopi Luwak Coffee Controversy
The Problems with Kopi Luwak today are serious for many reasons. It’s surprising there is still a market for it. Below are the three major issues:
More than 80% of all coffee sold as Kopi Luwak today is fake. It hasn’t been near a civet cat, much less through one. It is just normal coffee that has been labeled as such or claims to be the real deal at the hawker shop where it is sold. This is a particularly rampant practice in Indonesia and Bali.
It is almost impossible to verify if it is wild civet poo is or farm-fed civet poo. It has been estimated there is no more than 500 lbs of wild civet poo produced each year, but an estimated 500 TONS is farm raised and passed off as authentic to meed the demand. Wild civets are territorial, solitary and nocturnal animals. They require up to 20 square kilometers to live and prosper. They are not meant to be crammed together like sardines and force-fed a restricted diet of only coffee cherries. The animals suffer greatly in these cramped and filthy cages – pacing neurotically, chewing off their own limbs, facing illness and early death.
Researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and the London-based nonprofit World Animal Protection assessed the living conditions of nearly 50 wild civets held in cages at 16 plantations on Bali. The results, published in the journal Animal Welfare, paint a grim picture. From the size and sanitation of the cages to the ability of their occupants to act like normal civets, every plantation the researchers visited failed basic animal welfare requirements. “Some of these cages were literally the tiniest—we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place,” said Neil D’Cruze, one of the researchers.
Civet Coffee is Nothing Special to Drink
It is surprising to learn that experts can identify kopi luwak by the taste and insist it is nothing special. In coffee cupping face-offs, it consistently ranks toward the bottom. Some claim the coffee is smoother, with less acidity. But those same acids that are missing impart much of the unique taste and flavor to a varietal coffee. Civets may have helped produce a superior product two-hundred years ago, but modern coffee production science and technology has left the civet far behind. There are less cruel, and less expensive options for one to enjoy a really complex, mellow, and satisfying cup of coffee. Kopi luwak, it turns out is just a cruel scam…
“More than 80% of all coffee sold as Kopi Luwak today is fake. It hasn’t been near a civet cat, much less through one. Should you, however, manage to get your hands on the real deal, you’ll be drinking what amounts to nothing short of liquid suffering. Why? Because civet cats are small animals without voracious appetites. They’re nocturnal, solitary, and live in the rainforest. Harvesting real, free range Kopi Luwak is more or less like hunting for poo truffles, with a much smaller payoff. The obvious thing to do to capitalise on the hype, then, was to industrialise the production.The animals are caged and force-fed these caffeine-laden coffee cherries all day, every day. Remember how the crux of Kopi Luwak was the uniformly ripe cherries? Not so here. So even if you overlook the fact that this kind of coffee—itself an honest-to-God vegan product—has somehow felt the need to incorporate a bit of animal suffering, you’re not even getting the flavours that set it apart in the first place.” nordiccoffeeculture.com
How much Civet Coffee is Produced Each Year?
Annual production of authentic wild civet coffee is extremely low – below 500 lbs per year. But it is estimated over 500 TONS are sold each year bearing the name – Kopi Luwak. That imbalance is startling. It calls into question the integrity of the entire industry. The amount sold each year is hundreds of times MORE than the amount that can be produced! How is it that possible? Yet, all claim to be authentic.
Mark Prince of the popular industry forum Coffee Geek has stated, “There is probably 5,000 percent more Kopi Luwak sold each year than there is actually produced (production of the legit stuff runs less than 5,00 pounds per year). Why? Because there’s lots of snake oil salesmen packaging up plain Jane inferior commodity grade Indonesian coffees under this banner and trying to get $300 per pound for it.”
Can Authentic Civet Poop be Certifed?
- The Sustainable Agriculture Network standards, or SAN, which the New York-based Rainforest Alliance and other well-known coffee certifiers use to issue their stamps of approval, forbid the hunting and capture of wild animals on farms. The prohibition of caged civets is specifically singled out in the SAN guidelines for coffee in Indonesia. SAN will not certify any kopi luwak.
- UTZ, another major sustainable coffee certification standard, also forbids caged wildlife on farms. UTZ will not certify any kopi luwak.
- Alex Morgan at the Rainforest Alliance, which uses SAN standards, says it’s too risky to certify kopi luwak. It’s just too hard to establish whether the beans are 100 percent wild-sourced or not. “My personal advice is generally to avoid it,” he said. “More likely than not it’s going to be coming from a caged production landscape.”
Kopi Luwak has been around for hundreds of years – since the early days of coffee production in parts of South East Asia. Only recently has the product been marketed and sold as a luxury good. The coffee was originally gathered and processed by coffee pickers who were prohibited from harvesting coffee for their own use. Along the way this product became a novelty item. Someone realized that they could market this coffee as an exotic, unique brand and that people would pay top dollar for this experience.
It is a Scam. It’s the Story, NOT Superior Coffee
In the coffee industry, kopi luwak is widely regarded as a gimmick and a novelty. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) states that there is a “general consensus within the industry … it just tastes bad”. Coffee professionals are able to compare the same beans with and without the kopi luwak process using rigorous taste evaluations. It was concluded that Luwak coffee sold for the story, not superior quality. Time after time, the Luwak scored below the other coffees tested. Many conclude that the civet processing diminishes good acidity and flavor. Some rated the Civet poo coffee as smoother, but with less flavor. Why pay crazy amounts of money for average tasting coffee?
You are Promoting Animal Cruelty
The global Kopi Luwak market drives the illegal and inhumane civet trade. In the wild, civets are solitary and nocturnal omnivores. Their diets consist of insects and fruit, including coffee cherries. In order to satisfy the demand, suppliers of Kopi Luwak capture civets from the wild and keep them in cramped cages, feeding them almost exclusively coffee cherries. The civets become very distressed from being caged in close proximity to other civets. The extreme stress and unhealthy diet leads to severe health issues and the caged animals frequently die.
Investigations by the most reliable authorities found rampant fraud within the kopi luwak industry. BBC exposed producers willing to label coffee from caged civets with a “wild sourced” or similar label.
PETA investigations reveal that genuine kopi luwak from wild civets is rare and proving it is not fake is very difficult, if not impossible. There is little enforcement regarding use of the name “kopi luwak”, and there’s even a local cheap coffee brand named “Luwak”, which has nothing to do with civets, costs under US$3 per kilogram but is occasionally sold online under the guise of real kopi luwak.
Animals are the real victims. Most people who buy into the kopi luwak myth are just looking to try something exclusive and special. They are interested in joining an elite club and are likely being cheated. If people are so stupid to pay so much money, it serves them right…except the real victims are the innocent animals kept in horrible conditions. If you feel like spending $200-400 per kilo on Kopi Luwak, not only are you ignorant, you are contributing to a cottage industry of animal abuse that serves no purpose.
“Even if you manage to get the real deal, it won’t be the same flavor that “created the legend”—and even if it was, it’s nothing special by the standards of modern coffee. Kopi Luwak and its shitty spin-offs are simply coffee for assholes, by assholes. The truth, however, is far worse for the animals involved…” NordicCoffeeCulture
Common Questions about Civet Cats
- What are Civets? Commonly called civet cats, civets are not cats. In fact, they are more closely related to mongooses than they are to cats.
- What do civets eat? They frequently eat the fruits of the Fishtail Palm and seed pods of the Rain Tree. Being omnivorous, they also like fruits such as mangoes, bananas and chikus and will eat small snakes, small birds, insects and rats.
- Are they dangerous? Like most wild animals, civets are shy and will stay out of sight. You are advised to leave the civets alone. It is fine to observe them from afar but do not try to corner or chase them, as that may provoke them to attack in order to protect themselves.
What does civet coffee taste like? Many coffee tasting experts describe kopi luwak as inferior tasting. The digestive process in the civet’s bowels apparently neutralize acids, possible for a smoother final product. But the civet’s intestines are no match for modern coffee production techniques. Civet coffee just does not taste as good as modern specialty coffees.
Is civet Coffee Cruel? Kopi luwak has become hugely popular worldwide as a result wild luwaks (palm civets) are being poached and caged in terrible conditions all over South East Asia, and force fed coffee cherries to produce commercially viable quantities of the precious coffee beans in their poo. But even as these cruel battery farms, especially in Indonesia, were pouring out tonnes of it a year, the coffee trade was still pedalling the myth that kopi luwak was incredibly rare, derived from coffee chosen by discerning wild luwaks.
How many calories in kopi luwak? Coffee itself has almost no calories. Civet coffee is no different. Taken black, there are zero calories for an 8-12 ounce cup. For more information, check out How Many Calories in Coffee.