The #1 most expensive coffee in the world is made from the #2 of a jungle cat.
Kopi Luwak, aka Bali jungle cat poop coffee, is produced mainly on the islands in the Indonesian Archipelago. Agrowisata Abian Kusuma Sari, a coffee plantation in the Tampaksiring region of Bali is one such plantation and the location for a taste test extraordinaire.
The luwak, or civet, is a small nocturnal animal that looks like a cross between a cat and a ferret. They roam through the jungles after dark, selecting the most ripe, sweetest coffee cherries to feast on for their fruit pulp. The fruit enters the animal’s digestive tract, where natural fermentation takes place as the enzymes seep into the coffee beans.
After spending about a day and a half in the civet’s digestive tract, the partially digested beans are expelled in clumps through the defecation process, thus gaining the alias “cat poop coffee.” The collected beans, which have maintained their shape and still covered with the berry’s fleshy inner layers, are harvested, washed and roasted.
Even though they are temporarily in contact with bacteria, the beans contain insignificant amounts of pathogenic organisms associated with feces because the outside of the bean is not completely digested and after collection it is thoroughly washing and then roasted, sometimes multiple times.
The Agrowisata Abian Kusuma Sari plantation is ensconced in a jungle lushness enveloping the walking paths on the way to the tasting area. We were guided through the coffee and spice gardens and educated on all the plants in the thick growth. Finally we reached the tasting area, a pleasant, shaded terrace overlooking a stunning panorama of dense jungle valley.
We were served around a dozen or so different types and flavors of tea and coffee in small glass demitasse cups to sample. The flavors were wonderful and diverse, some savory, some sweet. I especially liked the Bali Cocoa coffee and the Bali Ginger tea.
But the pièce de résistance, of course, was the moment of truth when you make the decision as to whether you will try the poop coffee. I was the only one in our group willing to take on the challenge.
Intrepidly, I grasped the handle, took a big gulp…. and swallowed. I have to admit, I was surprised that it tasted that good. I’m not one of those fans of overly-strong, burnt-tasting coffee, so the smooth flavor with just a tiny hint of caramel tickled my taste buds.
I drained the cup, down to the last dropping.
A scene featuring Kopi Luwak coffee can be seen in the 2008 movie The Bucket List where Morgan Freeman takes great joy in revealing to Jack Nicholson that he has just enjoyed coffee make from cat feces. “You’re shitting me!” says Nicholson, to which Freeman replies amid a huge belly laugh, “No, the cats beat me to it!”
In 1995, an Ig Nobel Prize – a parody of the Nobel Prize whose stated aim is to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think” – was awarded to John Martinez of J. Martinez & Company in Atlanta, Georgia, for “Luwak Coffee, the world’s most expensive coffee, which is made from coffee beans ingested and excreted by the luwak (aka, the palm civet), a bobcat-like animal native to Indonesia.”
Aside from the initial repulsion of ingesting something that has been excreted by another species, there are two additional issues of debate surrounding Kopi Luwak coffee – taste and treatment.
There are mixed opinions regarding the taste of Kopi Luwak. The Specialty Coffee Association of America claims the taste is similar to normal coffee beans. “Cuppers” (professional coffee tasters) claimed that while they were able to distinguish the Kopi Luwak as distinct from the other samples and that it was less acidic, they did not find it to be remarkable, making it more rare than distinct and regarding it as a gimmick.
Supporters argue that the process may improve coffee through selection and digestion. Selection occurs when the animals choose the ripest, sweetest cherries. During digestive fermentation, enzymes permeate the beans with amino acids which may improve the flavor and remove the bitterness.
Most coffee drinkers are able to distinguish a distinct taste. Just the fact that it is less acidic makes it favorable to many people.
A 2012 investigation by The Guardian newspaper found Indonesian civets were being confined in cramped cages and force-fed a debilitating diet of coffee cherries in conditions described as “awful” and “horrific.”
At the Agrowisata Abian Kusuma Sari plantation, we were shown where the expelled coffee is collected. Or rather, not shown. “We do not cage the animals,” said our plantation guide. “Nor do we force-feed them the coffee cherries as is unfortunately is being done in some areas. We harvest the defecated beans from the wild before processing them. It is our opinion that the animals will naturally select the sweetest cherries, which ultimately makes the smoothest, best tasting coffee.”
Kopi Luwak is considered the world’s most expensive coffee due to the uncommon method of production, and scarcity of only 500 lbs. of the beans produced every year. The price for 16 ounces of the beans can be as high as $600. A quick search on Amazon turned up a bargain of $389.99.
My steaming mug of the luwak crappachino was only $5.00.
The experience? Priceless.