Suppose you pay attention to the trends and movements in the coffee world. In that case, Luwak coffee is mentioned in the media and endorsed by celebrities. What is Luwak coffee, and what is so special about it?
Luwak coffee is special due to its rarity, unique production methods, and taste. As a result, Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive coffee types in the world, fetching up to $100 for a single brewer cup.
This article is a full guide to Luwak coffee. It explores what makes it so special, and other common questions you may have about this gourmet coffee.
What Is Luwak Coffee?
Luwak coffee is a specialty coffee made from coffee beans that are eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet cat. It is known for its earthy and musty flavor and has a chocolate and nutty flavor. It is one of the world’s most pricey coffee.
Luwak coffee is known by many names, such as civet coffee or the Bucket List coffee. The latter refers to the movie The Bucket List (2007), which popularized Luwak coffee.
Luwak coffee may be called different names in the regions where they are produced. The most common include Indonesia (Kopi Luwak), the Philippines (Kape Alamid), and Vietnam (cà phê Chồn).
Luwak coffee is a variety of coffee prepared from the remaining beans of coffee fruits that have been eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet. It is commonly made in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Timor Leste.
In a typical production method, the berries are eaten by the civets. Still, their digestive enzymes remove the outer coating of the beans, leaving the inside beans intact. These beans are extracted from the civets’ feces, cleaned, and roasted to create Luwak coffee.
The coffee is believed to have a distinctly earthy, musty flavor and a lower acidity than conventional coffee. Some individuals say it has a chocolate or nutty flavor. It is believed that the unique taste comes from the enzymatic process that the civets perform on the beans during digestion, which produces a unique coffee taste.
Kopi Luwak has grown in popularity recently, thanks to celebrities and Hollywood movies such as The Bucket List. In the movie, the hero of the movie boasted about drinking the world’s most expensive coffee, which is Luwak coffee.
As a result, Luwak coffee is now commonly accessible in specialty coffee shops worldwide. However, due to its rarity, Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive coffee types in the world, with a cup of Luwak coffee costing between $35 – $100 in cafes.
How Are Luwak Coffee Produced?
Luwak coffee is produced in several steps, involving the civet digesting and excreting the coffee beans. These are then collected and cleaned before being roasted and packaged for sale.
Making Luwak coffee is labor-intensive and time-consuming, which is one of the reasons it is so expensive. The production process involves the civet cat, picking and cleaning, roasting, and packing.
The Civet Cat
The Asian palm civet, a small animal that lives in Southeast Asia, is the first step in making Luwak coffee. These animals are attracted to coffee berries by nature and will eat them when they are ripe.
After the civets eat the berries, the beans go through their digestive system, where enzymes remove the fruity and the outer layer of the coffee beans. The inner beans are then excreted out by the civets.
Traditionally, people scour the jungle to look for civet droppings containing coffee beans. However, more modern production of Luwak coffee usually involves feeding civets coffee berries instead.
Cleaning And Drying
The collected coffee beans need to be cleaned before further processing can proceed. In many farms, the processing is done by hand, using water and light scrubbing motion. No chemicals or soap are used here, as the worry is they may affect the taste of the coffee later.
After clearing, the beans spend time drying out under the sun. The beans may dry out in a dehydrator during the monsoon or rainy season.
Once cleaned and dried, the beans are then roasted. The beans are usually lightly roasted so that the unique tastes and smells from the civet’s digestive system can be kept in.
The roasting process brings a unique earthy, musty flavor and less acidity than regular coffee. After the beans are roasted, they are put in bags and sold as Luwak coffee.
What Is So Special About Luwak Coffee?
Luwak coffee is seen as special due to its rarity, unique production method, perceived quality, and taste. Luwak coffee has been hyped up by celebrities, popular media, and coffee influencers, causing demands and prices to skyrocket.
Upon presentation, Luwak coffee looks similar to other coffee beans. It looks brownish, slightly charred, and has some cracks.
So what made it so special that it became one of the most expensive coffees in the world, with prices competing with the likes of Kona coffee?
Luwak coffee has a rather unique production method. The coffee is produced by feeding it to an Asian palm civet, who will then digest and excrete it. The coffee beans are then cleaned, roasted, and packed for sale.
This means the process cannot be replicated elsewhere without an Asian palm civet population. Even if coffee makers want to import them, they may be handicapped by government regulations.
The difficulty of getting enough Asian palm civets to perform the digestion part made Luwak coffee production limited to several countries. Most Luwak coffee is currently produced in places such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Timor Leste.
Of these countries, only Indonesia has a developed coffee industry and a palm civet population enough to produce larger batches of Luwak coffee. Only about 500-700 kgs (1100 – 1500 lbs) of Luwak coffee are produced annually.
Coupling this with the explosion of demand for coffee worldwide naturally makes the coffee special and pricey.
There is a perceived understanding that you are drinking premium coffee beans by drinking Luwak coffee. This is based on the assumption that civets only eat high-quality coffee cherries.
Many coffee bean collectors observed that civets only eat perfectly ripe coffee beans and do not have major flaws.
After the civets eat the cherries, digestive enzymes and gastric juices pass through the endocarp of coffee cherries and break down storage proteins, making shorter peptides. This eventually results in the unique smell and taste of Luwak coffee.
Provided the civet can digest the coffee well, every Luwak coffee would be perfect, with high-quality coffee cherries and beans.
The taste of Luwak coffee can be described quite differently by many drinkers. Those who appreciate the coffee described it as having an earthy, musty taste, chocolate, and nuts flavor.
The coffee is commonly lightly roasted, meaning it is usually less bold and full on taste. It is also less bitter and less acidic. This means Luwak coffee may appeal to those preferring light or low-acid coffee.
However, professional coffee tasters, such as The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), may not view Luwak coffee with much appreciation.
SCAA tested the coffee and rated Luwak coffee with the lowest score on its cupping scale out of all the cupped coffees, which means to be tried and tested. Still, SCAA sees that some coffee drinkers might like Luwak coffee because it has less acidity and a smoother body.
Prominent food blogger Tim Carman tasted Luwak coffee and wrote in the Washington Post that the coffee tasted like Folgers, stale and dead. He also could not finish the coffee.
The contrasting views further attracted people’s attention, and they wanted to try out the coffee for themselves, making Luwak coffee special in many people’s eyes.
Hyped By Celebrities and Coffee Influencers
Perhaps the main reason why Luwak coffee became a world phenomenon was because of how the coffee was hyped up by celebrities, Hollywood movies, and coffee influencers.
Much like how the movie ‘Eat Pray Love’ popularized Bali island in the eyes of many, the movie ‘The Bucket List’ may be behind the popularity of Luwak coffee in the eyes of many.
In the movie, a billionaire named Edward Cole (starred by Jack Nicholson) was seen to be constantly drinking Luwak coffee. He also frequently brags about how it is the most expensive coffee in the world.
Aside from that, many celebrities and coffee influencers have published content where they taste the coffee and rave about how special they are.
These naturally sparked the interest of many, which eventually caused Luwak coffee to spike in interest, and become special.
How Much Does Kopi Luwak Cost?
Luwak coffee may be priced differently, depending on where you buy them. Farmed Luwak coffee may start around $100 per kilogram (2.2 lbs), and a cup of Luwak coffee in North America or Europe may cost $35 to $100 a cup.
Depending on where you purchase your Luwak coffee, the price may be different. The concept remains the same, the closer you are to the source in the supply chain, the cheaper it becomes.
As a start, if you shop for farmed Luwak coffee straight in local Indonesian markets, prices should be around $100 to $600 per kilogram (2.2 lbs). The price should be five times lower if you shop at the same place for high-quality local Arabica.
If you look for wild Luwak coffee, you will be looking at prices around $1,300 per kilogram, which reflects the time and work needed to collect wild Luwak coffee beans.
If you move up the supply chain and purchase a cup of Luwak coffee in popular touristy places such as Bali, a single cup could cost around $4. Prices may be similar around places where Luwak coffee is made.
Prices rise significantly outside of SouthEast Asia. A cup of Luwak coffee may cost from $35 to $100.
Is Luwak Coffee Safe For Humans To Drink?
Luwak Coffee is safe for human consumption. This is because, during the process of making the coffee, multiple steps were taken to eliminate any dangerous bacteria that may have been left from the civet poop. These steps include washing, drying, and roasting.
You may be concerned that Luwak coffee may not be safe to drink. They are, after all, made from coffee beans taken from civet poop.
Here’s the good news, Luwak coffee is safe for humans to drink. This is because even though the coffee beans come in close contact with pathogenic organisms found in feces, the finished product contains none.
Most of the potentially dangerous bacteria are on the endocarp, which is the shell around the bean. The endocarp is usually washed off the beans during the clearing process. The beans also dry out under the sun, which may kill any remaining bacteria.
If you want even better assurance, consider that the beans go into roasters and are roasted. The high heat during roasting would have killed all the bacteria that were still there. So, it is just as safe to drink Luwak coffee as it is to drink any other kind of coffee.
Is Luwak Coffee Ethical?
Luwak coffee may not be ethical. The issue lies in how the Asian palm civets are treated during the production of Luwak coffee. Reports show they are harmed, kept in cages, and force-fed with coffee cherries.
Despite its popularity, there are some concerns if Luwak coffee’s ethical. Many people are concerned about the humane treatment of animals, especially about how the civet cats are used in making Luwak coffee.
Kept In Small Battery Cages: There have been reports that many civet cats are kept in small battery cages, sometimes in groups. This is totally different from their natural habitat and nature, which are nocturnal, quiet, and shy creatures.
As a result, many civets suffer from stress and may behave aggressively toward one another in the cages. Some also lose their fur, fall sick and eventually die.
Force Fed Coffee Cherries: While being kept in cages, these civets are given no other food but coffee cherries. In some situations, civets may be force-fed coffee cherries as well.
As a result, many civets suffer from malnutrition and health issues due to an unbalanced diet.
Illegal Wildlife Trade: Luwak coffee’s popularity has resulted in the rush to get civets to produce Luwak coffee. As a result, illegal trade and importation of Asian palm civets started happening.
Due to these factors, some coffee drinks stay away from Luwak coffee. They believe that buying and drinking these coffee means supporting these inhumane practices.
Are There Safe And Ethical Luwak Coffee?
There is more ethical and safe Luwak coffee without the involvement of civets. Companies in the US and Vietnam invented laboratory processes that help to replicate the enzymatic process coffee cherries go through in the civet’s stomach.
Suppose you enjoy the taste of Luwak coffee but are not keen to support intensive farming that harms civets. You may also not like the idea that you may be drinking cat poop. In this case, are there alternatives to a cleaner, more ethical Luwak coffee?
Fortunately, there are several such options you can consider out there.
First, researchers at the University of Florida have researched the enzymatic processes in the civet’s stomach that produce Luwak coffee and replicated it in a laboratory setting. These are then further developed by a startup named Affineur.
Secondly, some Vietnamese companies could produce Luwak coffee using a special enzymatic solution. Fresh coffee cherries were soaked into the solution, resulting in coffee that tastes like Luwak coffee.
Despite these methods being more ethical and hygienic, many Luwak drinkers still prefer to drink the classic Luwak coffee, as it tastes more natural.
If you ever have the opportunity to try Luwak coffee, be sure to savor every sip and remember that it’s not just a cup of coffee, it’s a luxury experience.
As with any trend or movement, it’s important to be informed and understand what sets it apart. Luwak coffee is just one example of how the coffee world is constantly evolving, and it’s exciting to see what other unique and special brews will emerge in the future.
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