Kopi Luwak (Cat Shit Coffee) – How Does it Taste?
Among the many types and varieties of coffee around the world, one has risen in popularity for the peculiar way it is collected.
Kopi Luwak, vulgarly known as “cat shit coffee”, is not a specific type of coffee, not a new type of coffee plant, nor is it a single origin that has a different taste than most. Its fame comes from how it is processed.
Kopi Luwak Origin
The Kopi Luwak is originally from Indonesia, one of the oldest coffee-producing countries. Back in the 1600s the Dutch, who had colonized the islands, imported the coffee plant from India and started cultivating it.
Coffee was and still is a lucrative trade and not much time passed before the local colonial government decided that it was forbidden to collect the coffee cherries without their consent. Basically, around 1830, the production was regimented and strictly controlled.
The selling of the coffee beans got subjected to taxes and government control. But it only applied to the actual cherries growing on the coffee plants.
A different type of coffee beans was available! The locals soon discovered that a small animal, the palm civet, naturally ate and digested the coffee cherries, then defecated the seeds, without damaging them.
The Dutch law didn’t forbid the collecting of dung. So using the loophole, local farmers started to collect the feces of the palm civet, wash them and get the coffee beans to then roast and brew.
Thus Kopi Luwak, or cat shit coffee, was born!
Its popularity was slow to rise outside the immediate area, Indonesia, Philippines and South East Asia. Only in the last century, the Kopi Luwak became worldwide famous and the production soared.
Processing Cat Poop
Nowadays the cat shit coffee is industrially collected, with plenty of animals sadly kept in cages to eat coffee cherries and then defecate the beans. Then they are washed and prepared to be roasted, as you would normally for any other type of coffee beans. The beans are mostly of the Arabica type that is widespread throughout the Indonesian archipelago, nothing special about it.
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The peculiarity is that the palm civet prefers to eat the ripest cherries, thus naturally discarding those that aren’t, and the acids and enzymes that the gastrointestinal tract of the animals produce to digest food, alter the composition of the coffee beans, and thus their aroma. It comes out modified, for the better hopefully.
Other Animal Poop Coffee
Palm civets aren’t the only animals that like to eat coffee cherries. Cat shit coffee isn’t unique.
Bats like to chew the cherries and spit out the beans, which are collected and brewed. Monkeys in South America also select and eat coffee cherries, creating “monkey shit coffee”. “Black Ivory” coffee comes from elephants and is becoming popular in Thailand.
There are many omnivorous animals that naturally are attracted by the coffee plant cherries and somehow their digestive system influences the taste of the remaining beans.
Coffee Bean Quality
The important question is:
Does cat shit coffee taste good?
Well, it depends. Firstly, the palm civet that produces the Kopi Luwak can eat different types of coffee. Arabica is the main type of coffee cultivated in Indonesia, but Robusta is present too. Of course, the coffee beans of one type don’t taste the same as the other and the digestion of the palm civet isn’t capable of changing that.
Separating the beans that come from a Robusta plant from that of an Arabica isn’t easy. The cat shit coffee can have wild variations in quality depending on where the palm civet lives and whether it ate all Arabica or both types of cherries.
The fame of cat shit coffee came from the principle that after spending about 30 hours in the digestive system of the animal, the coffee beans come out with a cleaner flavor, smoother, less acidic and bitter, and with a heavier body.
That’s in theory.
It was probably true many decades ago when the first Kopi Luwak coffee became known in the west, at a time when processing coffee and comparing different origins was still in its infancy. The palm civet did, naturally, what most farmers weren’t doing back then.
Therefore, at the time, Kopi Luwak was better than the average coffee you could find. But that’s hardly true nowadays. Today coffee cultivation and production are highly regimented and controlled, even automated.
Cherries are picked for their ripeness with a scientific-like method and left to dry for precisely the same time as it was proven to produce a quality cup for their specific type of beans, in a single location.
There’s much less room for errors and human approximation. Today it’s hard to argue that an animal, be it the palm civet or bats or elephants, may be able with their digestion to process coffee better than farmers with decades of experience and the technologies of today could.
Kopi Luwak obtained a great fame in a period when coffee production was unreliable and a single farm could produce excellent coffee one season and average the next one. Nowadays this rarely happens.
This makes Kopi Luwak still attractive but with a few caveats.
Why Brew Cat Poop?
Brewing cat shit coffee is undoubtedly an experience. Not much for its intrinsically different taste, as we have seen, it may wildly vary, but because of its fame.
It is not much justified today, coffee experts worldwide don’t rate Kopi Luwak very high in the world of coffee. Its price is steep, given the rarity: as you can imagine, the amount that can be produced every year is limited by the population of the palm civet and their capability to eat enough cherries.
Thus brewing cat shit coffee may be out of curiosity more than a quality-led decision. The flavor is different but not so different to justify the high price it is sold at. Nor is it justifiable the cruelty towards animals that the spike in popularity of the Kopi Luwak caused.
Many poor civets are kept in cages and fed only coffee cherries to produce as much coffee as possible. Caffeine has a similar effect on them as humans. Other than the terrible conditions in which those animals are living in, the constant caffeine wreaks havoc on their brains. Insomnia is rampant, to name just the minor issue.
Last but not least, the limited production of cat shit coffee made many farmers sell normal coffee as “kopi luwak coffee”, to make more money. It is evaluated that up to 80% of the Kopi Luwak sold worldwide doesn’t come from the palm civet at all, it is just branded as such. Consider the risk then of buying a normal coffee for a high price before thinking of brewing it. Learn more about how to buy the real deal with this book!
In the end, cat shit coffee may be a good coffee, if you can find the true one among the fake ones and when it comes from 100% Arabica beans. It is hard to know for sure both data. Thus, you may end up brewing a normal coffee, good or not, at the price of an exclusive one.
Buy it out of curiosity just once maybe, but do consider the ethical consequences for the poor animals and be aware it’s definitely not the best coffee you can buy for that price.
Plenty of great single-origin, fair trade, ethically sourced coffee exists for half or less the price of cat shit coffee. Check out our list of the Best Organic Coffee Brands!