What Is Kopi Luwak
Kopi Luwak is sort of two things, depending on the century we are looking at.
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First, sometime around the 1800s, Kopi Luwak was the name given to coffee seeds that had passed through the digestive tract of an Asian Palm Civet— kind of like a possum mixed with a cat. These wild animals would eat the coffee cherries then poop out the seeds, which a farmer would then collect, roast, brew, and drink. We’ll get to why anyone would want to do this in a moment.
But what else is Kopi Luwak?
More recently, around 2007, Kopi Luwak became a nasty yet clever piece of marketing. A genius way of selling poor-quality coffee to people while telling them that this is, in fact, the best coffee in the world. How would an evil plan like this work? Let’s take a look!
Short History of Kopi Luwak
The history of Kopi Luwak, or cat shit coffee as we like to call it, begins in Indonesia. Actually, at the time, Indonesia wasn’t called Indonesia— it was known as the Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony.
Indonesia was one of the first countries, third only to Ethiopia and Yemen, to grow coffee on a large scale. Indonesian coffee rose to such prominence through Europe that many people still call coffee ‘Java,’ named after one of the country’s most productive coffee-growing regions.
At some point in the 1800s, Dutch colonists put rules to restrict the picking of coffee by the local farmers for their own consumption. Pretty messed up when you consider they were the ones growing the coffee! Anyway, this rule forced the farmers, who were already accustomed to drinking their coffee regularly, to find other ways of getting their beloved kopi.
In Indonesia’s jungles and forests, a creature, the Asian palm civet (the Luwak), roams, feeding on wild cherries, insects, and other various morsels. This included coffee cherries. The local farmers noticed that the cat-like animals would eat the coffee cherries and eventually poop out the seeds. The farmers would then collect the dung, remove the seeds, roast them and brew them.
Word eventually spread that this Kopi Luwak was in some way better than the regular coffee being produced at the time. While there is no conclusive evidence as to why this might be the case, there are a couple of very reasonable theories that basically close the book on cat shit coffee.
How Does Kopi Luwak Work
Kopi Luwak is coffee that has passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet. These adorable cat-like animals eat (or are force-fed) coffee cherries, after which they poop out the seeds. The poop is collected and washed before being dried and roasted.
Animals Only Choose the Ripe Cherries to Eat
The first and most obvious reason why Kopi Luwak might have tasted better than the coffee of the time is that the animals only chose the ripe cherries to eat. That’s just what animals do. The ripe coffee cherry is better than an unripe cherry in every way. Sweeter, more vibrant acidity, and with a deeper flavor.
It should be noted that coffee at the time was nothing like it is today. In short, it was bad. To put it a different way— it was awful. The coffee knowledge just wasn’t where it is today. The average laborer at these Dutch-owned coffee farms didn’t carefully pick the ripe cherries from the coffee trees. The Asian Palm Civets, on the other hand, were more selective of the cherries they were picking.
The coffee industry has since advanced leaps and bounds. Farmers nowadays know how to choose perfectly ripe cherries and how to sort out defective cherries. And they don’t need to sieve through shit to do so!
Animal’s Digestive Tract Ferments the Coffee
All coffee, at some point, undergoes fermentation. Using fermentation, a coffee producer can remove the mucilage from the seed to produce a washed coffee. And it is a fermentation that produces the wild flavors of a natural coffee or the sparkling acidity of an anaerobic fermentation coffee.
The civet’s digestive tract acts as a fermentation tank. It is a temperature-controlled environment where the seeds can ferment and sit without becoming moldy.
This, of course, is an incredibly crude way of fermenting coffee. We now have far better ways of processing coffee and controlling fermentation.
As with the point above— maybe this point was valid in the 1800s, but not anymore.
Pros and Cons of Drinking Kopi Luwak
- If you have stomach sensitivities, this coffee has a lower acidity level than some other coffees. Many types of black coffee may trigger stomach acidity for some people.
- Coffee has higher caffeine content than tea, so Kopi Luwak still has you covered if you want caffeine.
- Unless you are 100% certain the Kopi Luwak you are buying is found in the wild (which can’t be guaranteed because there are fakes everywhere), then Kopi Luwak is incredibly cruel.
- It is expensive.
- It tastes terrible when compared to even average specialty coffee.
- There is an 80% chance that buying is fake— marketed as Kopi Luwak.
Kopi Luwak Myths and Controversy
Best Coffee in the World – Myth
The idea that Kopi Luwak is the best coffee in the world is laughable. Almost too hilarious to give any thought. But for fun, let’s dive in and think about it. If Kopi Luwak was, in fact, the best coffee in the world, wouldn’t baristas be using this cat shit coffee to win the World Barista Championship year after year?
The same goes for the best coffee shops in the world— wouldn’t they too be using only Kopi Luwak instead of wasting up to $1000 per pound on Panama gesha coffee? Maybe they don’t know about Kopi Luwak, huh?
Any benefits that Kopi Luwak may have had in the past have been overpassed by modern farming and processing techniques.
Cruel – Fact
While much of the Kopi Luwak on the market today is fake, marketed as Kopi Luwak to fetch a higher price, there is a real percentage. This wouldn’t be so troubling if farmers were strolling around foraging for Palm Civet poop to roast, then sell. But this isn’t the case, and the reality of the situation is far darker.
Most of Kopi Luwak’s production comes from caged animals who are forced to eat coffee cherries all day. Aside from the fact that caging wild animals is totally messed up, these animals are not built to eat only coffee cherries. They are omnivorous animals whose diet consists of fruits and insects. They, too, are affected by the caffeine in coffee, so eating cherries all day is not good for them.
How to Brew Pour Over Kopi Luwak
If you’ve found yourself in possession of a bag of Kopi Luwak, you might as well whip out that premium pour-over coffee maker and give it a try.
Ethiopian coffee has floral and tea-like notes, but Kopi Luwak, on the other hand, has more of a nutty, musty taste. We will use a short brew time and a coarser grind to get fewer of these bitter notes.
While you could brew this coffee using different types of automatic espresso machines, Kopi Luwak as espresso is often pretty harsh.
If you are a fan of instant coffee that comes in all flavors or love the sweetness of Vietnamese coffee, you might want to add some sweetener to your cup after brewing to curb some of that bitterness.
- Hario V60 or similar pour-over device
- Filter papers
- Burr grinder
- 36 grams of Kopi Luwak
- Gooseneck kettle
Step 1 – Boil the water
First, boil your water. While that is happening, take a Hario paper filter and fold it down the perforated line. Open up the filter and place it into the V60. Set the V60 onto the carafe.
Step 2 – Rinse the filter
When the water is hot, pour around 200ml through the paper filter. This will not only rinse the filter of any papery taste, but it will also pre-heat the brewer and the carafe.
Step 3 – Grind the coffee
Weigh out 36 grams of coffee and grind it at a medium setting. This is slightly coarser than usual. This grind size will help reduce the bitterness of the brew. Discard the rinse water from the carafe, then add the ground coffee to the V60.
Step 4 – Bloom
Place the V60 and carafe on the scale and press tare. Press start on your timer and begin to pour 90 grams of water quickly over the coffee. Now take the spoon and stir the coffee. We want to make sure that every little bit of ground coffee is getting wet. This first pour is known as the bloom. We will let the coffee bloom and degas for 30 seconds.
Step 5 – Second pour
At 0:30 on the timer, quickly pour water in even concentric circles over the coffee until the scale reads 240 grams. Stir the coffee. Our next pour will be at 1:00.
Step 6 – Third pour
At 1:00, we will do our third and final pour. This will be quite a long and slow pour to bring our total brew weight to 600 grams. When the timer reads 1:00, pour water slowly in circles over the coffee bed. We want this pour to go until 2:00, so adjust your pouring speed, so you are finished pouring at that time.
Step 7 – Drain and serve
Let the coffee drain from the brewer. This should take around 1 minute, with a final brew time of 3:00- 3:30. Once it’s finished, remove the V60, stir the brewed coffee and enjoy!
Do’s and Don’ts With Kopi Luwak
- Do be sure that the Kopi Luwak you are trying is legitimately collected in the wild.
- Do grind it a little coarser than you normally would to avoid the coffee’s earthy and bitter flavors.
- Don’t buy into the hype and the marketing. Kopi Luwak is simply a scam made to trick people into buying something sub-par. It no longer is a sign of quality or good flavor. We have surpassed it!
- Don’t spend too much money if you do decide to try it. Your money would be more well spent buying a coffee that is actually high quality.
FAQ About Kopi Luwak
Why is Kopi Luwak coffee so expensive?
Kopi Luwak was originally so expensive because there was little of it. There was only what the farmers could find in the forests of Indonesia. Nowadays, it is expensive, mostly since it is marketed as being rare and exotic.
Is Kopi Luwak coffee safe to drink?
Yes, it is safe to drink. All coffee is fermented in one way or another. This one happens to be fermented inside the stomach of an animal.
What does Kopi Luwak taste like?
If you are expecting the vibrant taste of dark roasted coffee, be prepared for a surprise! Kopi Luwak, according to most people, tastes nutty and musty with very low levels of acidity.
Where can I get a cup of Kopi Luwak?
If you are traveling throughout South East Asia, finding a Kopi Luwak cup won’t be difficult. It is everywhere! If you are back at home, buying online is probably your best bet.
Is Kopi Luwak ethical?
While there may be a small portion of Kopi Luwak that is ethically sourced, most are not. Most come from caged animals taken from the wild and are force-fed coffee cherries.
Can vegans drink Kopi Luwak?
That’s a tough one that really depends on you personally. Technically, Kopi Luwak isn’t made of or by an animal. But It has, however, passed through an animal. So it’s not really an animal product, but it does require an animal to make it, which would make it a non-vegan product.
Does Starbucks use Kopi Luwak?
Starbucks is home to trends galore. Nitrogen-infused cups of coffee, pumpkin lattes…you name Starbucks has got it! One trend that even Starbucks has managed to avoid is Kopi Luwak. They have never sold Kopi Luwak on their menu.
So is Kopi Luwak worth a try? In short, no. It isn’t. Kopi Luwak is expensive, cruel and misguided. If you are going to spend $50 on a cup of coffee, please go with something that is actually delicious, like a Gesha from Panama or a Wush Wush from Ethiopia, rather than a marketing scam aimed at tourists.
Photos from: RDStockPhotos / depositphotos.com, Carambola / depositphotos.com, galitskaya / depositphotos.com and JINNARITT / depositphotos.com.