Coffee culture is one that is filled with both a mystique as well as the opportunity to delve into why coffee offers a multitude of experiences. Single-origin coffee sourced from solitary estates (or a geographical area) offers very different flavor profiles depending on factors such as height above sea level, soil conditions, rainfall rates or method of roasting. Each and every cup of coffee will allow for a very different experience.
However, there are some coffees that move the beverage to heights that have the drinker and coffee aficionados in raptures due to the sheer depth of flavor and other characteristics. One of those is Kopi Luwak.
What is Kopi Luwak?
The name ‘Kopi Luwak’ gives the consumer a clue about what makes it such a special beverage. ‘Kopi’ is the Indonesian word for coffee and ‘Luwak’ is the name by which the Asian Palm Civet is known in Indonesia. It also goes by other names depending on its source in Southeast Asia; In Vietnam, it is known as ‘Weasel coffee’ and in The Philippines as ‘Coffee Alamid.’
How this magical bean is sourced is one that, depending on your point of view is either fascinating or nauseating. However, the dedicated coffee lover will tell you that the Asian Palm Civet provides a service that results in the production of a bean that offers a depth of flavor, a lack of bitterness, and a delicate earthy flavor that cannot be matched by any other bean.
So what does the Plam Civet offer that makes this bean so special? Put delicately, it offers the services of a unique digestive system. In more graphic detail, the Palm Civet consumes coffee ‘cherries’ which are then digested so that it obtains nutrients from the bean.
During the process of digestion, certain proteins are broken down – resulting in a coffee that is smooth and almost devoid of the bitterness. Once this digestion has taken place the Palm Civet excretes the beans.
Why is it So Expensive?
Kopi Luwak is extremely expensive. It should also be readily apparent why this is. The process by which the beans are harvested, cleaned and prepared for export are both specialized and labor-intensive.
The fact that it is obtained through the natural digestive process of a single species means that there is only a limited amount available at any given time. These factors contribute to the rarity and scarcity of the bean. Economics dictate that scarcity and high demand result in a higher price point.
A pound of Kopi Lewak can vary between $100 and $600. It is however, important to note that there is an enormous variance in prices – caused by origin and quality – and market dynamics. A bad year or adverse weather conditions, disease, and other factors can cause prices to spike.
Those who want to explore the subtleties of Kopi Luwak need to be aware that not all the varieties are created equal – and there are a number of producers and importers who are not entirely averse to the idea of stretching the truth when it comes to real Kopi Luwak.
Some experts have concluded that around 70% of the beans that go into a cup of Kopi Luwak in the United States do not contain unadulterated Kopi Luwak beans. Some even contain none, they are just marketed as such to take advantage of people.
Issues With Humane Harvest
There is also the problem of ethical treatment of the Plam Civet Cats themselves. Ethical Kopi Luwak is collected by farmers and other foragers from plantation sites and is a cruelty-free and sustainable resource.
However – once again the lure of incredibly high prices has resulted in unethical practices, including the use of caged Civets – which are farmed in horrendous circumstances. These animals suffer cruelty, mental distress (which can cause them to go as far as gnawing off their own limbs) and high rates of premature death.
However, for those who want to enjoy this incredible beverage there are ways to ensure that they will be getting the real thing which is sourced from wild Palm Civets – and gathered responsibly in a cruelty free manner (many believe that this is the only way to really enjoy the true wonders of Kopi Luwak and we agree with this sentiment).
As a first step, consumers should look for the ‘UTZ Certification‘ – which will provide the peace of mind that the beans are collected from the wild in a cruelty-free manner. The ‘Rainforest Alliance Certification’ logo is another way that consumers can be assured that they are purchasing an authentic and cruelty-free bean.
A cup of Kopi Luwak is a joy – and coffee lovers should experience a cup at least once. The price may seem high like other expensive coffees – however when considering the unique nature of the bean – and its smoothness and depth of flavor, it may be worth the money.