Cat Poop Coffee: Time To Cut The Crap?

An artist’s impression of how Kopi Luwak must be made. Graphic credit: silverfox5213/Deviantart

Kopi Luwak or Cat Poop Coffee

Touted as ‘the most expensive coffee in the world’, Kopi Luwak enjoys a rare prestige among the whole gamut of coffee varieties. The only shocking part is that it is made from poop from a cat-like animal. A luxury food item, its single cup of coffee can cost up to $80 in the United Kingdom and the United States. The root of its popularity lies in its novel taste coupled with an unusual production process.

‘Kopi Luwak’ or civet coffee is made from partly digested coffee beans defecated by a cat-like mammal ‘Asian Palm Civet’ indigenous to Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These civet cats are small omnivorous mammals feeding on coffee berries and excreting the partly digested beans which are then washed and processed. The fermentation process in the stomach of the civet takes away some of the acidity of the coffee beans thereby imparting a uniquely rounded and smooth flavor to the coffee.

The Indonesian jungle cat, most properly known as the Asian Palm Civet. Photo credit:

The Palm Civet

Although, it is not certain how this process was discovered, the story goes back to 19th century Indonesia which was a Dutch colony at the time. Since the stock was mainly exported to Europe, locals were prohibited from consuming coffee produced on the plantations. But soon they discovered that the ‘Palm Civet’ or ‘Luwak’ as they are called in Indonesia prowled the farms at night eating the ripest coffee berries.

While the pulp gets digested, the beans are defecated as it is. They are then washed, dried and roasted. It soon became a hit not only with the locals but among the Dutch as well.

From being treated as pests prior to the discovery of Kopi Luwak, the palm civet came to be regarded as a precious asset valuable for its massive income generating capacity.

The west was introduced to Kopi Luwak in 1991 by Tony Wild who was the coffee director of Taylors of Harrogate at the time. It was eagerly lapped up by the public and spawned a thriving industry which capitalizes on the special digestive mechanism of the palm civets that provides Kopi Luwak its distinctive flavor.

That the process of procuring the product is an arduous one adds to its appeal. Unfortunately, the whopping demand cannot be met simply by the organic process of collecting the coffee beans. Distressing evidence exists according to which civets are caged and force-fed large amount of coffee berries so as to yield coffee beans in abundance to suit the commercial ends of manufacturers. This proves detrimental to the health of the animals, sometimes even causing death. Concerned animal experts and researchers have shared their alarm over the cruelty borne by the caged civets.

There have been numerous stories about force-feeding these poor animals in captivity for a boost in production. Photo credit: nydailynews

Tony Wild is a staunch advocate of putting a stop to this appalling practice of caging wild civets. In an article in ‘The Guardian’, he estimates the global produce of Kopi Luwak and pins it at about 50 tons a year. Many suppliers still advertize it as being obtained organically from the feces of the ‘wild’ palm civet while the process could only possibly yield about 500 kilograms a year. This gap is artificially filled by harvesting coffee from the captured and caged wild civet cats. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to tell the genuinely ‘wild’ Kopi Luwak coffee from that obtained from the captured civets. The difficulty of certification makes it imperative to put an end to this industry.

In case you’re wondering, Kopi Luwak is certainly not one of its kind. Its trade has seen a downfall in popularity after being sullied by the controversies of animal abuse and fraudulence in business. Since then, a number of alternatives have taken over the profitable trade of animal poop coffee. Following in the footsteps of Kopi Luwak, is the Black Ivory Coffee processed from the droppings of Thai elephants. The process is similar to that of Kopi Luwak wherein Thai elephants are fed coffee berries the seeds of which are picked from its poop a day later. Predictably, it is sold at exorbitant rates in a few places like Thailand and Maldives. Other such unconventional delicacies include Jacu Bird Coffee and Monkey poop coffee.

Whether it is Kopi Luwak or any of the others from the family of animal poop coffee, one needs to ask whether this unique brand of coffee really teases our taste buds or is it just another quirky relish?

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