3 Unexpected By-Products of (both real and fake) Luwak Coffee

The cost and caché of “the world’s most expensive coffee” — kopi luwak — has created at least three related industries.

BACKGROUND: Long-time readers might recall that Kopi Luwak is made from coffee beans that have been partially digested by the Asian Palm-Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus); an animal that cherry picks only certain fruits (some say, perfectly ripe and ready fruits) from from coffee plants.  The fruit is fully digested, but the bean inside is excreted, unharmed but slightly changed from its digestive trip.  Those beans are then cleaned, roasted, and sold as “kopi luwac” (literally, “civet coffee”).  This product was the subject of the 1995 Ig Nobel Prize in Nutrition. Food-Science Professor Massimo Marcone’s book, In Bad Taste: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies is a good source on this and related topics.

Asian Palm Civet photo from WikiMedia Commons
Asian Palm Civet (photo by Praveenp, 2009)

First: Coffee growers eager to supply the lucrative demand for this product have been capturing and caging civets so they can farm luwak coffee in volumes that simply could not be achieved by seeking civet-scat in the wild. In reaction to this, there have been several anti-cruelty campaigns aimed at luwak coffee.

Second: Some sellers mix beans that have never seen the inside of a luwak into their coffee, but still call their product kopi luwak and claim that it is harvested from luwak scat. Reaction to this practice includes the book, “Don’t Buy Kopi Luwak Coffee Before You Read This Book“, for people who have “…ever felt disappointed or cheated because of fake kopi luwak or because kopi luwak beans were mixed with other coffee beans.

Also in reaction to this practice, scientists from Osaka, Japan, and from East and West Java, Indonesia have developed a biochemical test that they believe can distinguish whether a sample of coffee beans ever traveled through the digestive track of an asian palm-civet. Their paper was published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The paper does not mention how much it would cost to perform this test on what was already the “most expensive coffee in the world”.  If the results are positive, you still would not know whether that civet who processed the beans was caged, free-range, or wild.

Third: The success of these coffee growers has inspired others, such as “Black Ivory Coffee“, which has been through the digestive system of an Elephant.

BONUS PRODUCT: There may be some consumers who want their coffee to be expensive and to have been eaten by an animal, but are not comfortable with some aspect of civet or elephant pooped beans. For these people there is Monkey Parchment Coffee. The Rhesus monkeys involved eat the coffee cherry and spit out the coffee bean, leaving only teeth marks and perhaps some saliva on your costly grounds.