Over the last few years, probably starting in about 2003, much has been written and spoken about a coffee that costs up to (I heard it mentioned) US$3000 a kilo. It is the coffee known as Kopi Luwak and now famous because of the fact that it is subjected to the digestive process of a species of civet cat endemic to Java. To be precise, the so-called Civet Cat more properly known as the palm civet — isn’t really a cat at all, but rather a distant cousin of the mongoose. Native to southeast Asia and Indonesia, the palm civet exists entirely on fruit — in particular the fleshy red cherry of the coffee tree, which grows abundantly in those parts.
According to the Indonesian Tourist Board the ‘luwak will eat only the choicest, most perfectly matured beans which it then excretes, partially digested, a few hours later. Plantation workers then retrieve the beans from the ground, ready for immediate roasting.’ I can confirm that there is a bit of spin doctoring in this statement. They actually pick the beans out of the turds (see pictured) then clean and polish the beans before roasting.
In our recent trip to Bali I (and Jenny from the WA Barista Academy) had the opportunity to experience the whole process — from the cherry on the tree to the coffee in the cup via the civet cat’s intestines. Our first glimpse of the civet cat was whilst we were wandering through a tiny demonstration coffee plantation in a Denpasar roasting facility. Sadly the poor animal was in captivity and I think that, given the amount of money they collect for semi-digested coffee beans, its only purpose for living was to eat and poo coffee cherries.
Apart from the cherries they harvested from this lonesome animal (which I can’t imagine amounting to much) the guys at the Denpasar roastery also bought beans from villagers as far away as Java. The person driving this sector of the business was also interested in trialing the feeding of beans to other unsuspecting captured animals. He did make the point that not all the resultant beans from the cats were necessarily that great as it did depend on where the coffee was collected. In Bali for instance, some of the cats ate Robusta beans meaning that the result in the cup was not going to be as good as the luwak coffee that came from cats that only ate Arabica beans.
We did taste the coffee. We paid AUD$50 for a two cup pot. I, as did the others I was travelling with, tried to savour every sip and turn it into one huge sensory assessment. It didn’t take long (or many sips) for me to decide that the coffee was neither clean or particularly interesting in a good way. It was interesting — we had consensus on that — but the characteristics in the cup that we were all experiencing weren’t that pleasant. The coffee was musty, it had a fermented taint (and a distinct poo note) and reminiscent of coffee that we would have discarded during a cupping because of perceived defect levels.
Sorry if I’ve dashed any hopes you’ve had of enjoying this coffee but as far as we’re concerned, the reputation that this coffee is worth the money you have to fork out to buy it, is completely undeserved.