All about this infamous coffee and the cat-like creature that makes it possible.
Years ago I heard a rumor of a rare coffee that was collected from the droppings of a wild animal. For quite a while, having nothing to substantiate this I had dismissed this as either an urban legend, or something so rare I was unlikely to ever have access to it.
Well thanks to the coffee explosion this rare and unusual blend is readily available, though still very expensive. My interest in this was rekindled when I noticed Armeno Coffee Roasters, my favorite source for fine coffee is now carrying Kopi Luwak Coffee.
So what exactly is it? The Indonesian word “kopi” translates directly to coffee. The word Luwak refers to a small wild animal native to Indonesia and Vietnam.
So you know what coffee is… what’s this luwak critter? Known as the luwak, luak, musang, toddy cat, civet, palm civet and civet-cat, many people believe it is a wild cat. While it is a mammal it is actually a cousin of the mongoose. Probably it’s closest North American counterpart is the skunk with which it shares the ability to excrete a noxious odor from scent glands near it’s anus. Blueplanetbiomes.com has some wonderful information on this animal.
The animal can range from four to eleven pounds and is largely nocturnal. While it is an omnivore, the luwak is particularly fond of perfectly ripe coffee cherries. Thanks to coffee farmers, the luwak has no troubles finding plenty of coffee.
Once eaten, the coffee cherries take the normal route through the animal’s digestive path. The amazing thing is while the fruit of the coffee is being digested, the bean is left largely unchanged, eventually passing in the animals droppings.
The droppings and their caffeine-laden content are collected by farmers. The coffee is then cleaned and the green, un-roasted bean shipped to roasters.
Why would you want to drink this shitty coffee? There are a lot of theories on why kopi luwak is different. Research has determined that coffee passed by a luwak has been changed chemically. Specifically the process seems to break down some of the bean’s proteins which are known to contribute to the bitterness of coffee.
So research from the University of Guelph in Canada, reported here, and further detailed in this article confirms the coffee’s chemical makeup is altered by it’s special little journey, I think it also important to consider the luwak’s own affinity for fine coffee.
When coffee, like other fruit, is harvested, not all the fruit will be perfectly ripe. Since the majority is ripe and it is to be combined for use, the end product comes out well; however, if you have an animal which naturally selecting only the ripest fruit you will end up with a product of unparalleled quality.
Is it safe? While many are understandably skeptical of eating anything that has already been through the gastro-intestinal track of another, research shows that due to the thorough washing, the luwak coffee may even have a lower bacteria level than other coffees. Certainly whatever the washing process misses the roasting process will make up for.
While I cannot say I have tried this rarest of all coffees, it is on my to-do list. Thankfully Armeno Coffee Roasters offers it in a four ounce sampler for a mere $30. Expect a detailed report here once the taste test is in.
An update: Thanks to Troy at AnimalCoffee.com I have now tried Kopi Luwak. Read my full review here.