Note: If you know all about Kopi Luwak and want to jump straight to our recommended civet coffees, click here.
Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, is one of the rarest and most exclusive coffees in the world.
As coffee savants will be aware, the famous Indonesian variety is harvested from the faeces (yes, you read that correctly) of a tree-dwelling mammal, the Asian palm civet (see the picture above).
Prices for these crapped-out coffee beans can hit hundreds of pounds per kilogramme – but are they worth the price, or simply a foodie fad? The civet coffee market is awash with fraudulent beans and rip off merchants. If you’re going to splash out here’s what you need to know before you part with your hard-earned cash.
What makes civet coffee so special?
All coffee beans come from the centre of the cherry like fruits of the coffee tree. Coffee’s evolutionary tactic – and one which has proven very successful – is to be delicious. Sure we know the beans are tasty, but the fruits are too.
On the Indonesian islands of Java, Sumatra, Bali and Sulawesi, coffee plants are abundant and their fruits are routinely scoffed by the palm civet. The cherries are digested by the animal but the seeds pass through its digestive tract largely unscathed. In around 1800 locals began harvesting the beans from the animals droppings before washing them, roasting them and brewing them up to make a cup of coffee that is said to be one of the best in the world.
Civet coffee is nutty, earthy and lacking in sour and bitter notes. Two scientific reasons have been proffered for its mild and enjoyable flavour. One: the animals only choose to eat the tastiest beans. Two: the beans ferment in the animal’s stomach as protease enzymes in the animals stomach work on the seeds.
So it’s not going to make me sick?
No. The beans are washed and roasted at very high temperatures after harvesting. It looks and smells like coffee, not a trace nor whiff of the aforementioned poo, okay?
It looks expensive though is it really worth it?
Is a Ferrari really worth it? Is Dom Perignon Champage? Part of the appeal here is civet coffee’s story and its exclusivity. Production of legitimate high-grade civet coffee is limited to a few tonnes a year.
It’s origins are unusual and unique so it’s a bit of a foodie experience, a great gift for for the coffee-lover who’s tried everything before. Given its strong appeal there are a huge amount of snake oil salesmen out there.
Several blind taste tests done with confections of civet coffee bought online have seen the super-rare stuff score lower than run of the mill supermarket blends. This is not because civet coffee is rubbish. It’s due to the fact that the booming consumer market for this exclusive product grows each year.
More and more people are peddling fraudulent beans or stuff that is civet coffee in name only, which also subjects poor civets to a miserable life of captivity.
The right way to buy civet coffee
Read up as much as possible
Do your research and go with trusted coffee that is sourced by well-known and respected outfits. Shop around and try to find out as much detail about where your coffee comes from and see what kind of certifications it comes with – true civet coffee will probably come with a guarantee from its local ministry of agriculture.
Look for wild civet coffee.
A cottage industry churning out cheap civet coffee has sprung up in recent years thanks to a high demand for the product among rich and gullible westerners. It does produce civet coffee – but at the lowest possible cost. Farmers keep their animals caged and feed them tray upon tray of low-quality coffee beans.
Obviously, done in this way the animals do not have a chance to be selective with their eating and though belly-fermented the final beans are still low quality rubbish. Most importantly, farmed civet coffee is pretty darn cruel. The welfare of the animals is a major concern as they tend to be kept in small hutches and never let out to run around.
Wild civet coffee is meanwhile harvested from plants that grow organically in a sustainable, rainforest friendly way. Which one to go for is a no-brainier.
Look for Arabica beans
Arabica beans are the prized and flavoursome types for normal coffee, Robusta less so. The same rules apply for civet coffee too.
Look for freshness
Any coffee – Kopi Luwak or bog standard supermarket joe – is going to taste flat and dull if it was roasted and packaged months or years ago. Look for recently roasted beans which you can grind at home for maximum freshness.
The Coffee Bazaar Recommends:
Take a look at our recommended civet coffee’s below.
This one comes from one of the most reputable names at the top end of the coffee-market. Sea Island is a London-based coffee emporium that trades in exclusive and rare coffees. Their wild Kopi Luwak comes from the droppings of wild civets in the Gayo Highlands of northern Sumatra and has a caramel sweetness with hazelnut and cocoa notes.
Sea Island works with food certification experts and animal welfare organizations to develop an accreditation standard for wild Kopi Luwak in a bid to end the trade in bogus beans that results in animal cruelty.
This is made from organic wildly-sourced arabica beans harvested by a small organic farmer’s cooperative called Humbang in North Sumatra. The cooperative is run by smallholders who are coffee experts and sell their beans direct to companies cutting out middle men. As a result this coffee is cheap, ethical and very much the real deal.
It is intensely aromatic with a delicate yet complex flavour profile. The proceeds from the sale of this coffee go towards education and vocation training for the people in Lintong Nihuta. All of which means you can actually feel a little less guilty about blowing so much of your cash on very expensive coffee – winner.
This is not actually civet coffee – but we are going to include it as a clever vegan alternative. It comes from Vietnam not Indonesia and can be enjoyed without any ethical concerns over animal welfare.
The coffee beans are all treated with an enzyme solution to mimic the fermentation process that takes place inside the civet’s stomach. It is chocolaty and low-acid so tastes much like the real deal. It’s a clever alternative, is exclusive and also a good story.No civets were harmed in the making of this coffee! It’s also about half the price of Kopi Luwak stuff too.