“Luwak” is the Indonesian word for a species of Asian Palm Civet and “kopi” means coffee. Kopi luwak or civet coffee is one of the best-tasting coffees in the world and also one of the most expensive. People are willing to pay hundreds of dollar for only a small amount of this coffee. Here are some interesting facts about this exotic kopi luwak.
The origin and production
- Kopi Luwak is originated from Indonesian archipelago. The main producers of this commodity are the islands of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java and Bali.
- Kopi luwak is not a type of coffee, it is instead a process. The coffee is made out of undigested innards of coffee fruits that have been eaten by civet, passed its digestive tract and excreted. Yes, kopi luwak comes from feces. So to create this beverage, coffee beans left in civet droppings have to be thoroughly washed, sun-dried, roasted, ground and brewed. The dung is usually found under coffee trees.
Raw coffee luwak. Image credit
- Civet is fruit eater, nighttime forager, shy and peaceful, weasel-like animal endemic to the South East Asian rainforest.
- This unique beverage was invented accidentally by native Dutch East Indies plantation worker on Java and Sumatra Islands in 19th century. At that time the Dutch ruler established numerous Arabica coffee plantations in their East Indies colonies including Indonesia. The locals were forced to work in the plantations but they were not allowed to have a taste of this famous coffee. Curiosity had led the native workers to observe that after swallowing coffee fruits and dissolving the flesh from the bean, civets will leave the beans in their droppings undigested. After being cleaned and processed, the beans create extraordinary taste and aroma. The workers were amazed by the flavor of the beverage that they had just created.
Asian palm civet. Image credit
- The fame of this new kind of beverage spread and it soon became popular among the Dutch and Japanese soldiers who occupied Indonesia during World War II.
- After the Second World War the coffee was disappeared from the market until it resumed its popularity in the 2007.
- Kopi Luwak is also produced in the Philippines, Vietnam and East Timor. Almost all civet population in the world is found only in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Why it tastes different?
- The good taste and rich aroma come from proteolysis enzymes seeping into the beans and breaking down the beans’ protein when they are inside the civet’s stomach. As the taste of coffee is very much determined by its protein composition, this stomach enzymes and acids contribute a lot in producing the unique flavor.
- In addition to the protein breaking down process that lowers the beans’ protein, they are also undergoing a process of malting that reduces their bitterness.
- Before swelling the coffee fruit, the civets use their nose to sniff the juiciest fruit. Only the reddest and ripest are selected by the civets.
- The coffee has extremely low bitterness and thick texture. The brew is described as smooth, buttery and chocolaty. The taste lasts for as long as three hours after sipping a cup. The distinct aroma is strong. It smells different, tastes different and looks different from any others.
- Studies in the USA reveal that the number of flavor elements contained in kopi luwak is 30% greater than in other coffee.
- The taste can vary greatly depending on the variety of coffee fruits (Arabica, Robusta, or many others) eaten by the civets, the bean’s roasting levels and the diet of the civets. In Sumatra, Indonesia, the fruits are mostly Arabica varieties.
How much it costs?
Kopi luwak from Gayo, Aceh, Sumatra. Image credit
- Collecting coffee seeds from civet’s droppings in the wild is never an easy job. The harvesting and processing require great deal of labor. Even in 19th century when the beverage was first discovered, it was already expensive.
- Wild civets are rare today. The civet’s population is shrinking rapidly. Wild civets that eat coffee fruits are even rarer. Kopi luwak is considered as one of the rarest beverages in the world. The volume produced per year is only about 10 thousand kilos.
- Due to its complicated process and rarity, the price of kopi luwak in international market ranges from US$ 100 to US$ 800 per pound. In restaurants or cafés one cup of kopi luwak can cost you US$ 70.
- Sometimes people buy kopi luwak for prestige or mystical reasons, thus further inflating the price of this commodity.
- The number of palm civets living in the wild had diminished quickly. Civets are traditionally considered as pest. They are hunted for their meat. In addition, the conversion of forested land on the island of Sumatra for agriculture and human settlement had eroded civet habitat. The species is now in endangered status.
- To overcome the above problem, captive breeding of civet is now being practiced. The civets are kept inside caged farm. They are fed with coffee fruits every night and the beans in their dung will be collected every morning. Thus ensuring regular supply of civet coffee beans. In Indonesia, individuals begin to keep civets in their backyard and start a mini farm. Farming makes kopi luwak industry less labor intensive.
- Besides civet, a species of barking deer, locally called as muntjak can also process coffee beans inside their tummy in a similar manner. However the taste is not really the same as kopi luwak.
- Various researches are being developed to find innovative ways to produce kopi luwak without involvement of civets. A coffee company in Vietnam had successfully developed synthetic enzyme that can imitate the work of civet’s digestive enzymes. Study conducted by University of Florida had managed to produce technology to make imitation of kopi luwak. This technology is now licensed to a firm operating in Florida, USA.