The Kopi Luwak: its history, its rarity and its lack of ethics

Produced in Indonesia, the Kopi Luwak is one of the most expensive and rarest cafes in the world. The origin of its rarity comes from the fact that in this part of the world, the fruits of coffee are eaten by a small mammal: the Asian civet. The Civet digests only the pulp of the fruit leaving the coffee bean intact. The coffee beans ferment in the belly of the animal. The acids and enzymes of the stomach act to ultimately produce a particular beverage. This one is described as smooth, chocolate and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.

The history and origins of Kopi Luwak

How was this discovery made? Because still, looking for coffee in the feces of an animal, you have to have a good reason.

Paradoxurus hermaphroditus pennantii

Our story begins at the beginning of the eighteenth century. At that time, the Dutch created coffee plantations in their East India colonies. Between 1830 and 1870 (Cultuurstelsel period), the Dutch banned natives and employees from picking coffee for their personal uses.

Drawing of a coffee cherry


Producers are struggling to meet the ever-growing demand of Kopi Luwak. Some producers have a double operation: they produce regular coffee and collect the wild civets (which come on their grounds at night to feed on the coffee).

Enterprising individuals capture civets and install mini farms, often in their backyard. One can easily imagine (and a simple search of the internet confirms it) that they are farms of gavage. The producers only give them coffee to eat.

On the other hand, according to a New York Times article, there is no real regulation. That is, even the government does not know the number of coffee producers.

Given the money at stake, coffee beans, often of inferior quality or counter-ways also flood the market. In this same article of the New York Times, there are interesting anecdotes about the methods developed to try to cheat on the provenance of the coffee.

Civet on a farm producing kopi luwak

An artificial imitation of Kopi Luwak

Because of the decrease in the population of civets (which can be hunted for meat), several studies were conducted to imitate this coffee without having to resort to this animal.

One of these studies has been completed. You can see the project here and there. The license was bought by a company: “Coffee Primero”, which produces and distributes this imitation at a competitive price with ordinary quality coffees. I personally have not had the opportunity to taste this coffee so I can not tell you more. Even if there is a biochemical treatment, the taste can come close to the original. I think it’s a good alternative to try to consume it.

Source used for the article: NYT

MAJ: A somewhat more recent article has been published in National Geographic.

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