Tag Archives: kopi luwak

World’s Most Expensive Coffee in Backyard

By J Chacko

There is a strange and detested animal in Kerala known as marapatti, meaning tree dog. The elusive, nocturnal animal, mostly herbivorous, grey/black with a face like a rat’s, found in the wild, can also look for other shelters. If they can locate access to attics, they will take up residence there and then problems would start. The stink of their urine, dung, vomits etc. is unbearable and compel guests and visitors to make a quick exit. Their nocturnal activities and fights give sleepless nights to the occupants.

It is difficult to evict them as they are ferocious. Capture or killing would also invite legal problems as it is endangered.

Recently a house in our neighbourhood was host to this dog-sized animal whose meat is supposed to be delicious. Fruits and vegetables in the compound were all eaten up. Faeces littered were washed away in heavy rain. But tiny solids were left behind, which were soon found to be coffee seeds! Coffee plants grow in some houses in the area. The marapattis were gorging on them.

As is the wont these days, immediate Google search was resorted to know all about the creature and steps to keep it at bay. The search findings were mind boggling. The marapatti is the celebrated Asian Palm Civet! It is the most important link to produce the most expensive coffee in the world—the kopi luwak which sells $ 150 a cup, naturally meant only for the ultra rich!

The making of this coffee is peculiar. Civet cats eat ripe coffee berries, the fleshy part of which would get digested in the stomach and the undigested seeds are collected from the faeces. These are cleaned, processed, roasted and ground to get the prized coffee. Chemical reaction with the enzymes in the stomach of the civet gives the coffee a unique flavour. This coffee is mostly brewed in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Collection of coffee seeds and steps for producing the expensive end product go on as a gainful business in these countries.

Nobody in our neighbourhood, however, was impressed by all of this. The process brought disgust to all. If someone somewhere wants to forage marapatti faeces for undigested coffee seeds and if someone else wants to pay astronomical sums to drink it, let them do so, but leave us alone. Please suggest some ways to get rid of these—this was the reaction of all.

No wonder, though a major coffee producer and also home to civet cats, it seems there is only one producer of this coffee in India and the annual output is a measly 100kg. The fancy price it can fetch has not worked well, at least, in India.

A strange form of socialism, however, emerged from this. In some parts of India, the destitute look for undigested grains in cattle dung for food, a much lamented, sad reality. What an irony—the poorest and the richest in the world consume something similar!

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How to Make the World’s Most Expensive Cup of Coffee

According to a 2013 survey, over eighty three percent of Americans drink coffee in the morning and the average citizen drinks multiple cups per day. Between the dark brew, the flavored lattes, the frozen caffeinated treats, and the whirling gadgets, coffee is now a thirty billion dollar industry. Coffee is big business and companies like Starbucks, Peets, and Folgers have spent gobs of money to get people to drink more of it. Despite all of that, the most expensive coffee probably can’t be found in your downtown coffee shop. No, the most expensive coffee in the world lives alongside feces in the intestinal gut of an Asian palm civet.

Kopi Luwak is the Indonesian pronunciation for what is called “civet coffee,” a beverage made from the beans of coffee berries that are eaten and, then, defecated by the Asian palm civet. Kopi Luwak is literally a type of coffee made possible thanks to a jungle animal’s poop.

Asian palm civets, sometimes referred to as toddy cats, are small, furry, long-tailed, tree-climbing mammals who are native to Southern and Southeast Asia. They tend to be nocturnal and feed on a diet of berries, pulpy fruit, and seeds. One of their favorite foods is the coffee berry, or coffee cherry. Inside of this berry usually sits two coffee “beans” (though of course they aren’t really beans).

Civets will scour for days looking for this tasty treat. When found, they will sift through the berries to find the ones that are the best, the tastiest, and the ripest. Slashing through the berry with their fangs, they will eat both the berry and the coffee seeds inside. Fortunately for us humans, the civet can’t digest the seeds and when they, well, poop, the seeds come out nearly completely intact. From there, expert civet trackers gather this excrement, separate the seeds from the feces, wash and then dry them out. And then, viola, you have the world’s most expensive coffee seeds!

So who first thought it would be a good idea to try to brew up a cup of Joe from these fecal covered seeds? The story behind the discovery of Kopi Luwak lies in Europe’s long history of colonialism. As Spain, England, Portugal, and the Dutch extended their reach into Asia, they most often “settled” lands that were quite rich in natural resources and farmland. The Dutch became the first large-scale importers of coffee when they discovered the seed in Yemen in the 16th century. Early in the 17th century, the Dutch began to smuggle it out of Yemen, despite a ban by the country on exporting national resources. They planted coffee seeds on the islands of Sumatra and Java in the Dutch colony of Indonesia.

Dutch Indonesian plantation owners grew the coffee seeds out of their rich soil, so that they could sell them back home. To help with this, they hired many locals to work for them as low paid farmers. Curious what all the hoopla was about, prohibited from picking the coffee berries, and too poor to buy them themselves, the farmers were forced to find other avenues to try out coffee. They began to realize that certain species of the civet ate the berries, but the undigested seeds would remain in their droppings. At some point, a few brave souls collected the droppings, plucked the seeds out of them, then cleaned and roasted them for their beverages. The aroma and taste were so distinctive, it soon became a favorite not just among the farmers, but the plantation owners as well.

Coffee experts argue that the reason these coffee seeds brew such a good cup of coffee is due to two reasons: civet selection and digestion. The civets are good at choosing the best coffee berries to munch on, which means the coffee seeds they are digesting are generally of the highest quality. Additionally, while the seeds are making their journey through the civet’s digestive tract, they are absorbing some of the acids and enzymes within the animals digestive tract. Fermentation is occurring. This creates a distinctive “flavor profile” that apparently gives it a taste that has been described as “smooth, chocolatey and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.”

The price for these coffee seeds can reach astronomically figures. Dean and Deluca, a chain of very upscale grocery stores, is currently selling Kopi Luwak that was collected from wild civets in Thailand in a fifty gram bag for seventy dollars, which converts to about $635 per pound. At Funnel Mill, a well-known celebrity hang out coffee shop in Santa Monica, California, they serve a cup of this coffee by appointment only, for eighty dollars, and with no cream or sugar.

Of course, with any expensive or cost-prohibitive item, there will be those who will always try to find a way to produce it cheaply. Sadly, this has been very much the case with Kopi Luwak. Civet farms have been proliferating throughout Southeast Asia recently, causing much concern among animal right activists. Civets are being captured by entrepreneurial farmers, held in wooden cages or, more often, a battery cage system (much like what egg-laying hens are held in), and force-fed the coffee berries.

These civet farms have high mortality rates due to the stress put on the trapped civets and the lack of nutritional balance these animals are getting. After all, coffee berries are not the only thing civets should be eating. Even civets that live through their normal life spans in these farms tend to get sick frequently and lose much of their fur. Due to the growth of these farms, an increasing human population, and deforestation, the wild civet population has been decreasing rapidly. There is a fear that the money involved in the Kopi Luwak coffee business will soon make the wild civet go the way of the dodo bird.

Further, coffee connoisseurs believe that there is a huge difference in taste between Kopi Luwak made from wild civets and farmed civets. For one, the natural selection of coffee berries are being taken out of the civet’s claws. Being force-fed the berries give the civets no choice in what berries they should be selecting to eat. Additionally, sick civets and those not getting their normal wild diet don’t have the same level of healthy enzymes and microbes in their stomach, which also could be changing the beans coveted unique “flavor profile.” From this, as you might imagine, it is thought that there are many companies selling farm-raised Kopi Luwak, while passing off their product as wild civet Kopi Luwak.

All that said, many believe that Kopi Luwak is different from other coffee only in price, with the rest all being hype; not unlike how professional wine tasters can’t typically tell the difference between cheap wine and the extremely expensive stuff when put to the test, and that the whole “white wine goes with these foods and red with these others” thing also seems to simply be all in people’s heads. In fact, professional wine tasters can’t even reliably tell the difference between red and white wines when blind tested, at least unless the test is being administered by someone who isn’t interested in trying to fool them.

The key in both the cheap/expensive wine and the red/white wine tests is thought to be that the tasters typically taste what they are expecting to taste and it’s exceptionally easily to manipulate them (such as telling them they are getting two wines to taste when they are really only getting one). But even in the red/white tests where no one is trying to fool them, they only get which is red and which is white correct about 70% of the time, which still isn’t that great an average considering it’s a 50/50 shot to begin with.

In any event, while many think a similar thing is happening with the taste of Kopi Luwak, if you fancy yourself a coffee snob, have a hundred bucks or so burning a mug-sized hole in your wallet, and find yourself craving civet intestinal juices, a steaming cup of Kopi Luwak could be for you.

Bonus Facts:

  • Kopi Luwak is not the only coffee made from the bodily excrements of animals. In Thailand, a Canadian businessman is selling Black Ivory Coffee. The coffee is made from undigested beans in elephant poop. Not only that, there are coffee beans also being sold that were picked out of the vomit of Vietnamese weasels. And if coffee isn’t your thing, what about tea? Yup, there’s even green tea leaves being grown out of panda poop that is being sold for around two hundred dollars per cup!
  • In a similar blind taste test to that performed on professional wine tasters, Jimmy Kimmel told people he was offering them one expensive cup ($7) of Starbucks’ Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee and one cup of Folgers and asked them to identify which was which to see if the Starbucks coffee was worth it. In reality, he just gave them two cups of the same coffee, but only one guy noticed this and, much like the wine tasters, tasted what they expected to taste– one expensive cup of coffee where they described in detail how much better it tasted and why, and one cheap. They were the same coffee.

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Selfridges stops selling luxury cat dung coffee after campaign over treatment of animals in rainforests of Indonesia

By SEAN POULTER

  • Kopi Luwak coffee, £60 a cup, is made from excrement of civet cats
  • Felines found to only feed on the finest of coffee beans in the wild
  • Discovery has led to the animals being kept in battery farm-style cages

A cup of Kopi Luwak coffee is considered the height of luxury and can cost as much as £60, however the price in animal welfare has left a bitter taste.

Now Selfridges has decided to remove the exclusive and highly prize coffee from shelves following concerns about the impact on the civet cats that are crucial to its production.

Bizarrely, the coffee, which is said to have a uniquely smooth taste, is harvested from the excrement of the civet cat.

Historically, plantation workers in the forests of Indonesia discovered that the civet cats in the wild would only eat the finest coffee beans.

They collected the part digested beans excreted by the animals and made coffee that had a unique flavour.

It was believed that the quality of the beans, coupled with the effects of the part digestion in the animal’s body were needed to develop the taste.

As the coffee became known around the world, so a market developed with the result that farmers captured and caged the wild cats to ensure a plentiful and ready supply.

However, animal welfare campaigners found the conditions in the tiny battery farm style cages are often cruel, filthy and inhumane.

Undercover video footage by welfare campaigners found the tiny civets exhibiting neurotic behaviour such as incessant pacing, spinning and head-bobbing – indications that the wild-caught animals are going insane from boredom.

One farmer explained civets are generally kept caged for around three years.

Another compared civets eating too many coffee berries to humans smoking, as their health deteriorates during captivity because of a lack of vitamins and nutrition.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has campaigned to highlight the suffering with the result that Selfridges has decided to remove the coffee from sale.

The move follows an earlier decision by Harrods to stop selling coffee produced from caged civets.

However, a number of UK websites are currently selling the controversial coffee for between £180 and £300 a kilo.

The WSPA has launched a campaign for an independent certification scheme to ensure the coffee only comes from civet cats that are not held in cages.

It has contacted a series of retailers in the UK and around the world asking what steps they are taking to verify whether their coffee is from farmed or wild civets.

The animal charity has met with the Rain Forest Alliance and UTZ Certified, two organisations working across the world to certify that food products such as coffee meet responsible animal welfare standards.

Dr Neil D’Cruze, the head of wildlife research  at WSPA, said: ‘Retailers all over the world have committed to only obtain civet coffee from guaranteed ‘cage- free’ sources and it is clear that this is the animal friendly product that consumers want.

‘We are encouraged by the dialogue we have had with these leading international certification bodies which we hope will result in retailers and consumers being able to make an informed and humane choice, preventing the cruel capture and confinement of hundreds of civets.’

Despite the controversy surrounding its production, the civet cat coffee still retains an air of luxury and mystery.

It recently featured in the Hollywood move, The Bucket List, where Jack Nicholson’s terminally ill character chose it as one of the experiences he must try before he dies.

A spokesman for Selfridges said the company previously sold civet coffee from a small sustainable supplier, however it has now decided to permanently remove it from shelves.

There is no evidence that the coffee it was selling came from mistreated animals.
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The Sad Truth Behind Civet Coffee

By Orietta C. Estrada December 6, 2013

Civet coffee was first introduced to the west in 1991, by then coffee director of Taylors of Harrogate. He didn’t realize at the time what incredibly novel item civet coffee, or “Kopi Luwak,” would eventually become. Now, that unsuspecting explorer has made it his life’s mission to end the trade of civet coffee. This year, English luxury retailer Harrods ceased sales of kopi luwak sourced from caged civets. PETA also recently claimed a victory as coffee retailer, Kojava, officially agreed to end its sales of civet coffee. But, why? What’s the buzz about? Well, as seen in this video, the buzz certainly isn’t about caffeine. It’s about cruelty.

Asian Palm Civets

Asian Palm Civets are beautiful, wild, weasel-like animals that live in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. They are often referred to as cats because they meow and their young are actually called kittens. Civets are nocturnal animals that hunt and forage for food from dusk till dawn. They are omnivores and enjoy a diverse diet of fruit, insects, and small animals. Solitary beings, they are territorial by nature and a single civet typically holds dominion over a whopping six and a half square miles of territory. Unfortunately for civets, part of their diet includes cherries from coffee trees. Unable to digest the beans, civets pass them whole, and that is where the novelty of civet coffee arises.

Civet Coffee is Civet Poop

Civet coffee isn’t like your normal cup of Joe. Yes, it comes from beans, but only after being pooped by a civet. Apparently, something in the digestive enzymes of the animal gives the coffee a certainflavor. Mind you, the beans are plucked from the dung, along with anything else that the civet passes. (As far as we know, Civets, unlike unicorns, do not poop rainbows.)

Poopeaux as a Delicacy

Kopi luwak is expensive. Four ounces is about $50, and one pound is nearly $180. The reason why it is so expensive is that collecting wild civet droppings is a time sensitive and onerous task. Thus, only a small amount is gathered annually. The task of gathering civet dung requires a lot of effort because the gatherer must hunt for it. Once it is found, it must be fresh because otherwise the beans can develop fungus and become unusable. Kopi luwak is a delicacy because it is rare and only 500 kg is produced annually. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Truth

The kopi luwak market for wild cage-free civets only produces about 500 kg annually. However, the market is now industrialized. It is estimated that about 50 tons of civet poop is collected annually. According to one source, a single farm can produce 7,000 kg per annum from 240 caged civets.

Let’s do some quick math: If, 50 tons is equal to 1.6 million ounces, and every four ounces goes for approximately $50 (that’s $12.50 per ounce), multiply that by 1.6 million ounces and that’s $20 million per year! How can something rare also be mass-produced? There are no regulations in place that can officially distinguish kopi luwak from wild civet droppings verses wild caged civet droppings.

Civets are arboreal animals and they belong snoozing in the trees during the day, after foraging and hunting during the night. Captive civets are confined to battery cages, force-fed a diet of only coffee cherries and are unable to rest during the day. These territorial animals are stacked on top of one another inches apart, deprived of vitamins because of their strict diet and are in a perpetual state of distress, as seen in this video. It would be impossible to create a humane environment for caged wild civets. Firstly, they need over six square miles of territory; secondly, they’re nocturnal and typically sleep in trees; finally, they need to hunt and eat a diverse diet, and this can’t be done in a cage.

Cruelty is a buzz-kill and retailers are catching on. But, if that’s the case, then why is kopi luwak still being stocked on shelves in the west and sold internationally through online retailers? In a word, consumers. Unfortunately, the stigma of drinking a blinged out coffee, regardless of its cruel and unusually unclean beginnings, is high. It is the fecal consumer that will eventually kill the civet cat. If the facts of the matter can’t sway the ignorant consumer, then, let them drink scat.

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