Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian term meaning civet coffee and is quite popular throughout South or South-East Asia
Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian term meaning civet coffee. It refers to the specialty coffee derived from beans that are digested and excreted by the Asian palm civet – luwak in Indonesian, Paradoxurus hermaphroditus in science – which is quite numerous throughout South and Southeast Asia.
The palm civet and the coffee production process
In natural conditions the palm civet – luwak – is a nocturnal animal whose diet is based mainly on juicy fruits and insects. Notably, the luwak has a sweet tooth for coffee cherries, of which it selects the finest and ripest (Waycap Refillable Capsules & Coffee, 2018). After being eaten, the coffee beans are digested by, fermented within and finally defecated by the palm civet. The beans are then manually collected, carefully washed and open-air dried. When the external skin has been removed, the beans are sorted and stored for the roasting process (Myhrvold, 2018). This peculiar way of collecting coffee beans and producing such a unique coffee was started by Indonesian native workers during the colonial period. In the 19th century, in fact, the Dutch forbade local farmers from harvesting and producing their own coffee (Myhrvold, 2018). This process results in one of the most expensive and appreciated coffees in the world.
The taste of the Kopi Luwak coffee
Being one of the priciest coffees on earth, consumers might wonder what it tastes like. The taste of Kopi Luwak depends on multiple factors, such as tree variety, soil quality, ant the seasonal fruits eaten by the civet. This combination of elements results in each small batch being unique. The flavour of Kopi Luwak is usually described in terms such as ‘earthy’ and ‘musty’, with hints of caramel and chocolate. The selection and digestion processes also play an important role in determining the final product’s taste. In fact, this nocturnal animal naturally tends to choose only the best coffee cherries, hence the fine quality of the coffee (Waycap Refillable Capsules & Coffee, 2018). Moreover, the civet’s gut and digestive fluids might influence the flavour, as its gastric juices and enzymes increase the citric acid levels in the beans. During digestion, the enzymes break down some of the bean’s proteins, which are the element that gives coffee its typical bitter flavour. This process results in a final product characterized by lemony tanginess and a smooth, delicate aroma, without any unpleasant aftertaste (Myhrvold, 2018; Waycap Refillable Capsules & Coffee, 2018).
Concerns about animals’ health
Demand for this specialty coffee has ballooned, especially since the release of the comedy The Bucket List (2007), where Jack Nicholson’s character reads a description of this product to Morgan Freeman’s (Brown, 2020). Considering the exclusive characteristics of the production process, unethical methods to increase the production rate have been spreading. Palm civets, which are wild animals, are often caged and malnourished (Brown, 2015), force-fed with nothing but coffee beans and left in squalor and disease (Brown, 2020), thereby causing a rise in the mortality rate of this animal and creating uncertainty concerning food safety. It should be underlined that the quality of the coffee derived from caged palm civets is much lower than that coming from wild luwak. This phenomenon attracted the attention of the media and several investigations concerning animal cruelty in the production of one of the world’s priciest coffees have been conducted recently (Lynn & Rogers, 2013). That is why some eco-friendly companies can guarantee – through certificates that were promoted mainly by animal rights associations – that their Kopi Luwak production methods are sustainable and responsible, based on ethical sourcing of coffee beans from wild civet droppings (Brown, 2015).
San Martino: a company that works with ethical methods
ArtOn Café and San Martino have a partnership based on friendship, love for coffee, and responsibility towards the local communities and the planet. ArtOn Café’s friend Daniele Delbianco has been living in Indonesia for 20 years, speaks the local language and is married to an Indonesian woman called Anna. He has sent us at ArtOn Café the following details about San Martino’s work and products. Here are some of the single-origin coffees you can find in their catalogue: Burbon Sumatera, Aceh Gayo, Java Arabica, and Sigarar Utang.
San Martino is a company founded a couple of years ago in Indonesia. It aims at helping the local farmers that work on small fields and are often overpowered by intermediaries. The company was started by Daniele and Pablo, who come from Italy and have been working in the coffee sector for a couple of years.
San Martino collaborates with local farmers who guarantee a single-origin micro-lot coffee, which is processed according to the standards requested by San Martino. Regarding the luwak coffee, the San Martino company has been working for a couple of years with Mr. Sudirman, who runs a small cooperative north of Sumatera, in the Takengon village, on the shores of a wonderful volcanic lake a few kilometres above the equator. This area, famous especially for its Gayo coffee, is located at 1400 meters above sea level and represents the natural habitat of palm civets. The males of this viverrid (a family of small to medium-sized mammals, 420-580 mm plus tail, by 330-470 mm) moves in up to 17 km2, while the females generally do not go beyond 2 km2. In natural conditions, these nocturnal animals usually live about 20 years and weigh 3-4 kg. The luwak here lives in wild conditions and therefore is able to select the best coffee cherries, which are excreted and then manually picked by the local farmers. The coffee beans are then washed and left in the sun. When they are dry, the external skin is for the most part manually removed, so that the kopi luwak natural flavour is preserved.
Daniele has sent us at ArtOn Café a short amateur video in which the manual picking process is portrayed.
Please contact us to learn more about this coffee and the activity of our friends in San Martino in Indonesia.
Coatis, the Kopi Luwaks homologous from South-America
Kopi Luwaks, from Indonesia, have homologous animals living in South and Central-America. We are talking about Coatis, also known as Coatimundis, which are highly-social animals living in large female-bonded groups, which may include up to 40 individuals (Sakai & Arsznov, 2017). Unlike Kopi Luwaks, these members of the Procyonidae family – look at their cute little faces in the picture below! – are diurnal animals (Ramsay, 2015), but just like Kopi Luwaks, Coatis eat the ripest coffee beans, which are then processed throughout their digestion. They manage to defecate up to 1 kg of coffee per day. The final product is known as Ucunhari coffee (Polojac, 2017).
Brown, N. (2015). Responsible, Sustainable Kopi Luwak Production: Could It Be a Real Thing? Retrieved January 22, 2021, from Daily Coffee News website: https://dailycoffeenews.com/2015/07/10/responsible-sustainable-kopi-luwak-production-could-it-be-a-real-thing/
Brown, N. (2020). The Price of Zoonotic Transfer: Rethinking Kopi Luwak in the Age of COVID-19. Retrieved January 22, 2021, from Daily Coffee News website: https://dailycoffeenews.com/2020/09/10/the-price-of-zoonotic-transfer-rethinking-kopi-luwak-in-the-age-of-covid-19/?utm_source=Roast+Magazine+%26+Daily+Coffee+News&utm_campaign=fcd613989a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_6_14_2018_8_20_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8f24fab631-fcd613989a-193817856
Lynn, G., & Rogers, C. (2013, September 13). Civet cat coffee’s animal cruelty secrets. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-24034029
Myhrvold, N. (2018). Kopi luwak. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Kopi-Luwak
Polojac, A. (2017). Monografie “PERÙ.” Gruppo Italiano Torrefattori Caffè. Retrieved from https://www.gitc.it/monografie-peru/
Ramsay, E. (2015). Procyonids and Viverids. In R. E. Miller & M. E. Fowler (Eds.), Fowler’s Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. Saunders. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/C2012-0-01362-2
Sakai, S. T., & Arsznov, B. M. (2017). The Nervous Systems of Early Mammals and Their Evolution. In J. H. Kaas (Ed.), Evolution of Nervous Systems (Second Edition) (pp. 413–428). Nashville, TN, United States: Academic Press. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/procyonidae
Waycap Refillable Capsules & Coffee. (2018). Kopi Luwak: civet coffee aka the infamous poop coffee.