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What Is Kopi Luwak?
Kopi luwak is not a coffee type or a genus. It rather refers to the harvesting and processing method. It can consist of various coffee beans of different species like Arabica or Robusta.
Kopi Luwak is coffee that was partially digested by the Asian palm civet. “Kopi” is the word for coffee in Indonesian, and “luwak” is the name of the Asian palm civet. The civet eats the whole coffee cherries, digests the cherry’s flesh, and then excretes the coffee beans. In the digestion process, the beans are subtly modified. The result is a coffee with a totally different flavor profile, like no other on the market. The beans are also naturally selected since the civet will only eat the ripest cherries.
A Bit of History
The folklore history says that Indonesian workers discovered civet coffee on Dutch plantations. The story says they were not allowed to use any of the beans they picked from the plants. They loved the stuff, so they found a way to get it by foraging it. They would pick it up from around the plantations, on the ground. The wild Asian palm civets that entered the plantations would eat the coffee cherries and their digestive systems gave kopi luwak the famous rich aroma and smoothness. The plantation owners tried it eventually, and soon it became their coffee of choice.
How Is Kopi Luwak Made
Kopi luwak is produced in the Indonesian Archipelago on the islands of Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java. The Asian palm civet (also known as the luwak), is a small animal related to the mongoose. It all starts with the luwak’s love for coffee fruits. The civet selects only the best coffee cherries, which they eat. Trained farmers forage for and collect kopi luwak from the jungle, around coffee farms. The workers bring the beans to the farm and process them. Next, they thoroughly wash, dry them, and remove the parchment. At this point, kopi luwak is like any other coffee, just treated with more care because of the price.
What Makes it Special?
There are two reasons why these coffee beans are special. The rigorous selective process and the digestive fermentation in the intestinal tract of the luwak.
During the digestive process, the coffee beans remain intact. The civet will only assimilate the cherry flesh. The civet coffee is the result of the enzymes found in the luwak’s intestines. The partial digestion produces free amino acids and shorter peptides. This, in turn, allows for a final coffee bean that is less bitter and smoother. Specialists describe it as having a “creamy taste, full-bodied aroma, and natural sweetness.”
The traditional process involves collecting the civet coffee from the jungle in the wild and then process it. Because of the process, there is a limited supply of it. Recently appeared many farms that use caged animals that are force-fed coffee cherries. Civet farming has two problems: the inhumane treatment of the civets, and the low quality of the final product.
Kopi Luwak – The Rarest Beverage in the World
The Most Expensive Coffee In the World – Is It Better or Not?
Coffee connoisseurs appreciate the incredibly smooth taste with a milder acidity than the regular Arabica beans. There is a lot of debate whether civet coffee is better than your regular joe. This debate is partly driven by the price tag attached to this specialty coffee. Fact is that kopi luwak is the smoothest low acid coffee you’ve ever drunk, without losing any of the nutty and earthy profile. I love it best brewed as an espresso, but that doesn’t mean a manual drip or French press brewing is not equally great. More about this later…
Admittedly, there’s no shortage of people who consider the high price as the reason to drive the interest. Some coffee specialists argue that kopi luwak is far from extraordinary, taste-wise. They bring the subject of novelty and rarity as the reason behind the ever-increasing high demand of civet coffee. On the other hand, kopi luwak lovers swear by the exquisite distinct taste and flavor of quality civet coffee.
There are even debates about the selection process, saying that civets are no better than a trained coffee picker. That’s only partially true. A human can certainly select the best cherries based on visual aspect and maybe touch feeling. However, a civet will use its smell to select the absolute best fruits. It is very important whether the animals are kept in captivity, or not. Authentic kopi luwak is only picked from wild animals. The section on authenticity has more info on this.
Taste is Subjective
Kopi luwak is without a doubt one of the best coffees in the world, but it is a luxury. As with any luxury item, the price tag will drive some dispute regarding the absolute value. People who afford it, will just buy because they just love it. The fair conclusion here is an ancient saying about personal preferences: de gustibus non est disputandum; there is no disputing about personal taste.
Gayo Kopi – Certified Producer of Civet Coffee
Gayo Kopi is a certified civet coffee provider. Certified through the Indonesian Government, the coffee experts at Gayo Kopi find great pride in their process. They only work with wild and free civets that roam their farms. Unbothered, left in the wild, the civets eat the finest ripe coffee cherries along with other jungle fruits of their choosing, in a stress-free environment.
Gayo Kopi works with trained farmers and well-versed coffee connoisseurs. They are a safe and reliable supplier and committed to providing Kopi Luwak only from wild civets. The company also donates a portion of the proceeds to World Animal Protection’s campaign against the production of cage-sourced Kopi Luwak.
Gayo Kopi beans have a distinctive complex flavor, unique to civet coffee. The company has set up the whole process, from sourcing to roasting, to achieve perfection. You can find out more details about their processes on their website.
Authentic Kopi Luwak
We already touched on the great controversy regarding the way civet coffee is obtained. Animal welfare is a big and justified concern for most of us. Due to the high price and demand for kopi luwak, many farmers, have abandoned the traditional kopi luwak collecting. In search for quick and large profits, they transformed it into a farming initiative. Many times, farmers keep civets caged in horrible conditions while force-feeding them the coffee cherries. Unfortunately, this practice is a reality, and we must do our best to stay away from such producers.
The well-being of these animals should be of the uppermost concern. These abominable techniques do not only raise the mortality rate of the species but also allow for a lesser final product. The animals are force-fed fruits of a dubious quality, and their poor health will negatively affect the final product. Civet coffee from a farming enterprise is always a bad choice. Tim Carman from Washington Post has experienced this first hand, and he wrote a blog post about it.
Look for Certification
Authentic kopi luwak is not so easy to find on the market. Statistics show that 70% of civet coffee on the market is not authentic. The high demand gives uncertified sellers the opportunity to make massive profits with low production costs. These unscrupulous entrepreneurs deliver a product that is either obtained through animal exploitation. Sometimes the beans have nothing to do with the real kopi luwak process.
The safe way to enjoy kopi luwak is to buy from a certified producer. A certification is the guarantee that the producer sells only coffee beans sourced from wild civets, and manually collected.
If done correctly, controlled and regulated production of civet coffee allows for a sustainable working environment with great perks for local communities. Additionally, proper cruelty-free kopi luwak production is safe for the environment and beneficial for the animals. When deciding where to buy kopi luwak, inform yourself if the source is officially certified. This will ensure you are getting authentic, animal-friendly, civet coffee provider.
How to Brew Kopi Luwak
The brewing process for kopi luwak is no different than with other coffee. You can literally brew it any way you like: Turkish brewing, drip, French press, or espresso kopi luwak. All methods are perfect and don’t require any specific instructions. Just browse through our coffee brewing guide if you need more information. My favorite brewing method for civet beans is the AeroPress. We explain in our dedicated tutorial how to make coffee with an AeroPress, and why we love it so much. If you are buying Gayo Kopi, for brewing in your AeroPress it is an experience. However, unless your budget for coffee beans is outrageous, buying civet coffee is not economically sustainable. You might want to check our review of the best beans for AeroPress for your day to day AeroPress ritual.
Ok, let’s rephrase this. Any brewing method is fine, as long as you enjoy it. Here is some useful advice:
- Make sure you choose a great coffee maker and not an average one. If you are a drip coffee lover, a manual dripper makes the most sense. But if you have to use an electric drip coffee machine, make sure you use one of these.
- If you love espresso, just stay away from cheap brewers. Civet coffee is too expensive to end up in a steam espresso maker. Civet coffee is great for pulling a great shot, but so are less expensive coffees that we review in our article about espresso beans.
- Make sure you don’t under-extract or over-extract civet coffee. Out of the two mistakes, over-extraction is less obvious, since kopi luwak is less bitter than your regular coffee.
- Do not add any sugar, cream, milk, honey or other sweeteners to it. Any of these additions will alter the taste. You civet coffee will taste like any other average coffee. Milk and sugar will cover the unique flavors and the richness. Your cup will taste bland, like any other cheap coffee.
- Any coffee making technique that allows strict control over the brewing temperature is perfect.