Sunday, January 20, 2008


Kopi Luwak (pronounced ['kopi 'luwak]) or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The civets eat the berries but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. This process takes place on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, and in the Philippines (where the product is called Kape Alamid). Vietnam has a similar type of coffee, called weasel coffee which are coffee berries which have been defecated by local weasels. In actuality the "weasel" is just the local version of the Asian Palm Civet.

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for between $120 and $600 USD per pound, and is sold mainly in Japan and United States, but it is increasingly becoming available elsewhere, though supplies are limited only 1,000 pounds (450 kg) at most make it into the world market each year (Pg 23, The Gospel According to Starbucks; Sweet). One small cafe, the Heritage Tea Rooms, in the hills outside Townsville in Queensland, Australia has Kopi Luwak coffee on the menu at A$50.00 per cup. The locals line up for it, and it has gained nationwide press.

A 2004 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) scare led to thousands of these civets in China being exterminated, but the demand for the coffee was not affected.

Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee, and luwak is a local name of the Asian Palm Civet. The raw, red coffee berries are part of its normal diet, along with insects, small mammals, small reptiles, eggs and nestlings of birds, and other fruit. The inner bean of the berry is not digested, but it is believed that enzymes in the stomach of the civet add to the coffee's flavor by breaking down the proteins that give coffee its bitter taste. The beans are excreted still covered in some inner layers of the berry. The beans are washed, and given only a light roast so as to not destroy the complex flavors that develop through the process.

Some sources erroneously claim that the beans are regurgitated instead of defecated. In early days, the beans would be collected in the wild from a 'latrine', or a specific place where the civet would defecate as a means to mark its territory, and these latrines would be a predictable place for local gatherers to find the beans. More commonly today, captured civets are fed raw berries, the feces produced are then processed and the coffee beans offered for sale. A newly-developed synthetic process intended to simulate the civet's digestive system may decrease the demand for farmed beans.

A hypothesis to justify this coffee's reputation proposes that the beans are of superior quality before they are even ingested; though this is not to say that the digestive enzymes play no role. At any given point during a harvest, some coffee berries are not quite- or over-ripe, while others are just right. The palm civet evolved as an omnivore that naturally eats fruit and passes undigested material as a natural link to disperse seeds in a forest ecosystem. Where coffee plants have been introduced into their habitat, civets forage on the most ripe berries, digest fleshy outer layer, and later excrete the seeds eventually used for human consumption. Thus, when the fruit is at its peak, the seeds (or beans) within are equally so, with the expectation that this will come through in the taste of a freshly-brewed cup. As this may be true for the beans derived from wild-collected civet feces, farm raised civets are likely fed beans of varying quality and ripeness, so one would expect the taste of farm-raised beans to be less.

Kopi Muncak (also Kopi Muntjak) is a similar type of coffee produced from the feces of several species of barking deer, or Muntjac, that are found throughout Southeast Asia. Unlike civet or "weasel" coffee, this type is usually not produced from captive deer and most commonly collected in the wild, especially in Malaysia and in the Indonesian Archipelago.