By Allison Xin
Evidence that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure comes in the form of one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Kopi luwak, which can reach prices of around $700 per kilogram, is composed of coffee beans harvested from the excrement of palm civets. Civets, which look a bit like the result of a regret-filled night between a raccoon and a leopard, are omnivores that feed on ripe coffee cherries. After the civets consume the coffee-bean containing fruit, the animals’ digestive process gives the coffee a unique flavor. (Or so many claim. To be honest, there’s not a lot of scientific funding going into carefully examining why some animal poop is tasty.)
Some critics praise the cat-poo coffee to the high heavens, citing its smooth, deep flavor as well as its lack of bitterness and aftertaste. Others, like Tim Carman from the Washington Post, are not so… appreciative. According to Carman, kopi luwak is stale and lifeless, and resembles “petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water.” He also claims he couldn’t finish his cup out of disgust (presumably while angrily adjusting his monocle and top hat.) Many other critics are of similar opinion as they consider kopi luwak as a novelty item rather than a true high-end coffee.
But I digress. I’m no coffee connoisseur (hate the stuff, actually) and certainly not qualified to pass judgement on such matters.
Kopi luwak’s problem isn’t its flavor profile but just how popular it is. The coffee has some major potential for profit, and many Indonesian plantation owners have tried to squeeze every bit of poop and profit from the poor civets. A recent search conducted by Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and World Animal Protection found nearly 50 wild civets caged in tiny enclosures scattered around 16 Bali plantations. Not only were the animals force-fed only coffee cherries to increase kopi luwak production, but the civets often lived in cramped, unsanitary cages with no protection between their flesh and the sharp wire.
Currently, no regulations exist to certify whether kopi luwak is produced by wild or caged animals, and it doesn’t seem like any new laws are going to be passed soon. For now, it’s best to avoid kopi luwak like the plague. Chances are, if a coffee claims to literally made of crap, it’s probably figuratively crap as well.