Kopi Luwak is a coffee bean that comes primarily from the islands of Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor, the Indonesian island of Sumatra leading the way in its production. It first gained popularity among plantation owners during the Dutch colonial occupation of Indonesia. Today, many claim that Kopi Luwak is the best and most flavorful coffee in the world.
What Makes Kopi Luwak so Special?
So what makes this particular bean so special? Kopi Luwak is not a specific origin bean, as other coffees are. Instead, the unique qualities of this bean revolve around the process involved in producing it.
Coffee berries of various origins are eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, or “Toddy Cat.” Though affectionately termed a cat, the Palm Civet looks more like a hybrid between a cat, a fox and a weasel. The Vietnamese version of this coffee type is even referred to as “weasel coffee” for this reason. Elsewhere you might find it affectionately nick-named cat-butt coffee or cat-poop coffee.
After the civet eats the berries, they pass through its digestive tract and eventually the beans reemerge from the other end. Since the beans do not digest, they come out intact in the feces of the civet. These beans are then cleaned thoroughly, roasted to taste and sold for ridiculous amounts of money.
The difficulty of this process is what makes Kopi Luwak so expensive. Production is extremely low, which gives these beans a price tag of anywhere between $100 and $600 a pound. The Vietnamese “weasel coffee” is even pricier, selling for up to $3000 for a single pound.
So does the fact the Kopi Luwak is eaten actually make a difference in its flavor, or is all that cleaning really for nothing? The process of digestion breaks down the proteins in the beans, proteins being one of the key factors in how a coffee’s flavor manifests. These chemical changes do not eliminate the flavor of the original bean, but they do add their own distinctive elements. Kopi Luwak is known for its thick texture, strong and rich flavor and a distinct lack of bitterness. It is usually light roasted in order to preserve as much of its flavor as possible.
Though true Kopi Luwak may cost an arm-and-a-leg, scientists have succeeded in finding a way to reproduce the same process without the use of a civet’s digestive tract. These clone coffees sell for amounts comparable to other coffees. For those looking for the real thing, however, one should take special care to check a seller’s official certificate of authenticity to make sure they are getting what they are paying so much for.