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What is Civet Coffee – The World Famous Kopi Luwak Explained

Jason Gass
Last Updated: March 22nd, 2023

Civet coffee is a beverage of legend. Coffee that is made from beans plucked from the feces of a wild cat, seems unimaginable. However, this coffee, known as kopi luwak coffee, is a real thing and is rumored to be the best coffee in the world.

All About Kopi Luwak / Civet Coffee

all about kopi luwak or civet coffee
Image: Dorian Bodnariuc

Civet coffee or Kopi Luwak is considered to be the most unique and expensive coffee in the world. The reason this coffee is so expensive and hard to find is the way that it is processed. The first part of the coffee cycle with Civet coffee starts with the bean being ingested by the Indonesian Palm Civet.

This small cat-like animal eats the coffee fruit and the partially digested bean is passed through the digestive system and eliminated in the Civet’s poop.

While this sounds a bit gross, the way that the bean is processed after it has been removed from the Civet poop removes any bacteria or other contaminants that might make you sick. And, when the bean is roasted, like with regular coffee beans, any bacteria that may be on the beans is killed, creating a safe and delicious coffee product.

One of the most confusing things about Civet coffee is that many people think that Kopi Luwak is a variety of coffee plants, when in fact it is just the way it is processed using the Civet cat. Civet coffee can be any number of different coffee varieties grown in Java, Indonesia, and other southeastern Asian countries.

Kopi Luwak vs Civet Coffee

kopi luwak vs civet coffee
Image: d1nda

When you hear the name Civet coffee and then you also hear Kopi Luwak, you may think that these are two different types of coffee. However, these are the same type of coffee, both processed through the digestive system of the Civet cat.

In Indonesian, “Luwak” is the Sumatran word for the Asian Palm Civet Cat. The word “kopi” is the Sumatran word for coffee. The people of Indonesia call this coffee Kopi Luwak.

In the United States and Canada, the coffee is simply called Civet coffee, in reference to the Civet cat. Some people even call it “cat poop coffee”, though the Civet is not really a cat, and this is a bit of an unappetizing description.

What is Civet Coffee?

civet coffee
Image: shankar s

Civet coffee is frequently considered a gourmet coffee offering. It seems strange to find enjoyment in coffee beans collected from the poop of the Civet cat, but those that have tried the Kopi Luwak claim that this is the best coffee you can find.

In nature, Civet cats consume coffee cherries from coffee plants. They may like the fruit because it is sweet or because it offers them some sort of nutritional benefit. This is still unknown. Native Indonesian peoples used to collect the beans from the Civet cat poop and use it to brew a coffee that was thought to have healing properties.

When colonists began to explore Indonesia, this “special” coffee became a bit of a legend and an exotic delicacy.

Today, with the increased demand for Civet coffee, Civet cats are bred in captivity and fed coffee cherries with the sole purpose of processing coffee beans for this expensive, gourmet coffee blend.

The flavor that you enjoy with Civet coffee is a combination of the type of coffee plant the cherries are from and the process that the bean goes through, passing through the digestive system. Arabica coffee beans are the preferred type of coffee cherry for Kopi Luwak coffee.

Why is Civet Coffee So Expensive?

why is civet coffee so expensive
Image: shankar s

Before we jump into why Civet coffee is so expensive, it is helpful to know how much Civet coffee costs. There are a lot of factors that go into the price of Civet coffee including the amount you are buying, whether the coffee is collected from wild Civets or is produced by caged Civets, and the currently available supply.

In the United States, a pound of Civet coffee can cost between $100 and $ 500 USD. The more expensive Civet coffee generally comes from wild Civet cats. If you are purchasing a cup of Civet coffee in a coffee shop or restaurant, expect to pay between $35 and $80 USD.

This is pretty expensive for a pound of coffee or a cup of coffee. So why is it so expensive? Well, there are not many people that want to spend their days sorting coffee beans from cat poop. It is not a great job, and it becomes even more tedious if you are searching the rainforest for Civet droppings that might contain coffee beans.

The other factor here is that Civets in the wild only eat the ripest coffee cherries, so there is already a bit of difference in the quality of the bean. You add that to the fact that the bean is exposed to the cat’s stomach acid, and you have a very unique and impossible-to-reproduce product.

Add all of this to the fact that Civet coffee is very rare, with very few Civet farms producing coffee beans, there is a good reason this coffee is so expensive.

Where Does Civet Coffee Come From?

where does civet coffee come from
Image: Sasha India

All Civet or Kopi Luwak coffee comes from the rainforest regions of Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. These are the only two places in the world where Civet cats live, and coffee is also produced.

The digestive process is much like fermentation, so there are coffee producers that claim to have replicated the fermentation/digestive process that occurs in the Civet cat. However, these coffees are not authentic and do not have the same flavor profiles as natural or farmed Civet coffee.

How is Civet Coffee Made?

how civet coffee made

The one difference between Civet coffee and regular coffee is the Civet cat. Coffee cherries are eaten and digested by the Civet cat. After the cherries have passed through the Civet’s digestive system, they leave the body in the feces of the cat. The beans are not digested and can be collected.

Coffee beans from the Civet poop are washed and any bits of the cherry that remain are removed. Following washing, the beans are then dried and roasted. Most often the beans are sold whole. This allows the buyer to fresh grind and brew their coffee just before consumption.

Is Civet Coffee Safe to Drink?

is civet coffee safe to drink

Yes, it is OK to wonder if it is safe to drink Civet coffee. It seems a bit risky to drink a beverage made from a product, pulled from the poop of a wild animal. However, the way the beans are processed after they are gathered from the Civet poop eliminates the risk of illness from almost all microbes or bacteria.

The roasting process in particular is essential to kill any harmful bacteria or microbes that may remain on the Civet coffee beans. This is also fair to say with regular coffee beans which may be exposed to microbes and bacteria from a wide range of animals that live in and around the coffee plants.

Why Drink Civet Poop Coffee?

why drink civet poop coffee
Image: Zara VasquezEvens

As with many other delicacies, or gourmet food items, the reason for drinking Civet coffee is the experience. Civet coffee has been an everyday drink for Indonesian people for many years.

It has gained a reputation for being a very tasty and enjoyable coffee, so, many coffee enthusiasts search out Civet coffee. Because of the cost, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but to tell the story is enough of a reason to give it a try.

The Kopi Luwak Coffee Controversy

the kopi luwak coffee controversy
Image: Studio Sarah Lou

This is something that we think is important to point out and make coffee drinkers aware of before they run out and find a Civet coffee to try.

Due to the increasing demand for Civet coffee, these beautiful and majestic animals are being raised on farms, for the sole purpose of producing Civet coffee. The domestication of animals for food production purposes has been a tenant of civilization for thousands of years. However, the recent cultivation of Civet cats for coffee bean production has been viewed with scrutiny.

Most Civet farms hold cats in small cages that are tightly packed in small areas. The Civets are fed nothing but coffee cherries, though their diet in the wild is much more diverse, and they require more than coffee cherries to be healthy. Civets are independent, territorial animals that live solitary lives in very large natural spaces. Cramming these animals in small cages is unnatural and leads to mistreatment and poor living conditions for these animals.

There is value to the people that raise Civet cats for their coffee processing. And this is where the controversy lies. Is a cup of coffee worth the mistreatment of wild animals? Likewise, should native peoples struggle to support their families and communities without a steady source of income?

There are many answers to these questions. As coffee drinkers, we can help promote humane conditions for Civet cats and sustainable harvesting practices by purchasing Civet coffee that has been gathered from natural sources or from cats that have been raised in a cage-free environment.

Final Thoughts

Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee is a unique coffee experience. Many people find the idea of drinking coffee from the poop of a wild cat, off-putting. However, this coffee is considered a gourmet experience that any coffee lover should enjoy.

If you are looking for Civet coffee to purchase, make sure you research your options and select those that are protective of the species while also supporting the cultures and peoples that have made this coffee a legend.

About The Author

Jason Gass

Jason Gass is a Colorado based freelance writer and blogger whose goal is to share a good cup of coffee and great stories around a campfire with close friends. When he’s not working, he spends most of his time traveling, searching for the best breweries, and road-tripping in his teardrop trailer with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.

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