Is civet coffee worth the price?

A civet involved in the production of kopi luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee.
Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Superlatively expensive, kopi luwak coffee is famously prepared for roasting by passage through a civet cat. Have you ever tried a food with a legendary reputation, and was it up to snuff?

‘Coffee people’ are not like the rest of us. I mean I’m a fan of a decent cup but the kind of people I meet who run the new independent coffee shops, the roasters and champion baristas, they’re, well, intense. You might imagine the starey-eyed evangelism comes from drinking too much of their own product, but if you’re brave enough to enter conversation you quickly work out that they’re actually just extremely committed to the thing they love … and keen to share.

I first met Reiss Gunson a couple of years ago after I’d written a piece on domestic coffee makers for the Guardian. He turned up unannounced on my doorstep late one night with a grinder and a big box of beans and proceeded to demonstrate, in quite some detail, where I was going wrong. Reiss is a ‘coffee person’ par excellence. He takes coffee so seriously that he roasts and blends beans to order for individual customers, so when he asks me to try something I do. Even, as is the case this morning, when it’s been picked out of cat shit.

Kopi luwak is variously marketed as ‘cat-poo coffee’ or occasionally ‘the most expensive coffee in the world’. The reason it’s so costly is that, rather than harvesting the coffee fruit (known as ‘cherries’) and extracting the bean by the usual methods, some Sumatran villagers collect the faeces of the civet cats which live on the plantations and pick out the beans. (I don’t know, since you ask … tweezers? Some sort of sieve? For all I know they just use their fingers).

It’s said that the beans taste better either because of something that happens to them inside the cat, or possibly because the clever little beasts pick only the finest and ripest of fruit. Either way, only about half a tonne is produced each year and the headlines just write themselves.

Which, in a way, is rather the problem. As a rare and luxury product with great story attached, kopi luwak – ‘a great gift for the foodie who has everything’ – tends to get packed into tiny little sachets, stored for ages and sold as a gimmicky gift and is as a result almost guaranteed to taste – well to be brutal, a bit like shit. Worse, according to industry gossip, up to 40% of the product sold as genuine kopi luwak is nothing of the sort. (We have to hope that any such sharp practice involves the passing off of regular coffee rather than passed beans through an inauthentic animal).

It would be easy to conclude that kopi luwak was just another of the world’s great ‘stunt eating’ experiences. Great for gross-out stories, an opportunity for TV presenters to make gurning faces and poo jokes, but Reiss, ‘coffee person’ to the end, wasn’t going to let that pass without trying me on the real stuff.

Kopi luwak producers have recently begun to set their little gatherers loose on Arabica rather than Robusta beans. This is a much better flavoured variety. With this as a starting point Reiss roasts batches specifically for the brewing method you’re going to use (again, since you ask, it’s still a Rancilio ‘Miss Silvia’ espresso machine souped up with a PID controller and a bottomless triple basket). As the beans mature and then begin to deteriorate after roasting, each bag is dated with a week long ‘window’ for consumption. My bag was intended for opening this morning, coincidentally, my birthday. If cat-shit coffee is ever going to taste good, today is the day.

I was up early this morning – frankly buzzing with expectation. I cut open the foil pouch and took a good deep sniff. It would have been idiotic to expect anything that had been roasted at such a high temperature to retain any fecal honk – in fact it just had a delicious fruity whiff from which, if I was truly pretentious, I should probably try to define the individual subspecies. That said, having absolutely no idea of the diet of a Sumatran moggie or any of the flora of the area, it would be fairly irrelevant.

To be a bit technical, the coffee brews faster than my regular blend on the same grind and produces a less oily shot with a pink tint to the crema. On first taste it’s pretty fantastic with all of the higher notes you tend to get with a well-roasted bespoke coffee (regular civilian drinkers, myself included, seem to see coffee in terms of big, bassy low-end flavours and smells. Coffee people seem to seek the distinctions in the lighter, more evanescent notes) but the defining characteristic is a lovely, long, subtly nutty aftertaste that looks like it’s going to carry on right through to the bacon sandwich I’m lining up as breakfast.

Will kopi luwak replace my regular blend? Yeah, right! On what I get paid it’s going to be many many more birthdays before I can afford another pouch of this stuff. Of course I love the idea that it’s been through a cat, what food lover wouldn’t? And tonight I’m going to serve it to some food geek dinner guests with genuine delight.

Is it the best coffee in the world? I’m nowhere near enough of a connoisseur to be able to tell you. What I can say is that most of the reviews I’ve read of kopi luwak have been from disappointed people who’ve been sold a gimmick. If you ever get that chance to try the real thing it definitely rewards the effort.

I’d heard a lot about kopi luwak and tried quite a few bum lots before today, so it’s a pleasure to finally discover that it actually deserves its reputation. But have you ever had the chance to try one of those legendary foods with a great story behind it? Did it live up to your expectations?

Posted by: Tim Hayward –

Sweets Magic from Kepahiang, Bengkulu – civet coffee

Sweets Magic Pudding made from Kopi Luwak
The fame of Kopi Luwak attracted Takuro Naruse a young entrepreneur from Nagoya to visit Kepahiang District in Bengkulu a few months ago and see first hand th  Kopi Luwak production.
Kopi Luwak, well known since more than 200 years ago, is expensive due to its unique process. In 2010, Norimitsu Onishi wrote for the New York Times: “Costing hundreds of dollars a pound, these beans are found in the droppings of the civet, a nocturnal, furry, long-tailed catlike animal that prowls Southeast Asia’s coffee-growing lands for the tastiest, ripest coffee cherries. The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit — essentially, incipient coffee beans — though only after they have been fermented in the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.”
Takuro Naruse said Kopi Luwak is a good ingredient for sweets pudding currently very popular in Japan.

Kepahiang, Bengkulu

Office the Regent of Kepahiang
The Regency of Kepahiang, located in the Province of Bengkulu, at the southern part of Sumatera Island is rich in mineral and natural resources. The topography makes it ideal to grow rice, coconut, coffee, tea, corn, wood, natural rubber, pepper as well as various types of fruits.
Kepahiang boasts a number of tourism destinations, including conservation and education sites concerning the giant flower, Rafflesia arnoldii.  This parasitic stinking plant that has no roots, leaves and stalk could reach 1 meter in diameter and 10 kg in weight.
The plant was first sighted in Bengkulu in 1818. Scientific record listed the discoverers as Dr. Joseph Arnold, a botanist and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a British who was then the Governor of Bengkulu and eventually founded Singapore.
Kepahiang District developed a program called SELUNA, to manage and optimize the cultivation of sengon trees for industrial wood products, dragon fruits and the production of Kopi Luwak.

Sweets Magic Takuro

Naruse who represented Sweets Magic, a sweets business company in Nagoya explained that he will be working with the regional government and Kepahiang community, including Satmakura, a cooperative that assist farmers in the area.
Kepahiang’s Kopi Luwak has a distinctive taste and aroma and Sweets Pudding with Kepahiang brand name will be launched by Sweets Magic in Nagoya.
Sweets are like jewelries is the concept marketed by Sweets Magic. The company believes that the sweets and puddings are as exquisite as jewelries that bring happiness to the customers.
With this concept, Sweets Magic has a manufacturing philosophy termed absolutely uncompromising, meaning that that they will not compromise production cost for the best materials but will have reasonable price for consumers.

The Encyclopedia of Puddings

Presently, Sweets Magic has a seasonal line of products such as Premium Vanilla Pudding, Tropical Fruit Pudding, Roll Cake Black, Premium Vanilla Roll and Almond Caramel Roll.
The Premium Vanilla Pudding use quality ingredients including vanilla from Madagascar, eggs from Nasu organic farm in Kumamoto, and milk from the mountainous area of Hida.
The Tropical Fruit Pudding is a 3 layers delicacy with coconut milk, mascarpone cheese and fruit puree consisting of banana, mango, passion fruit and orange as the main ingredients.
Sweets Magic has seasonal products and claimed to have produced more than 500 recipes of sweets, pudding and cakes.
Reviewing their discontinued products is like looking at an encyclopedia of sweets and puddings. Among the past products were Matcha Uji, Tiramisu Le Zodiac, Quattro fromage, Royal Milk Tea Pudding, White Coffee Pudding, and Pumpkin Pudding.
Sweets Magic puddings have to be served cold and can be identified by their elegant black and red ceramic cup that won the Good Design Award in 2008.

The taste

Pudding made from Kepahiang
We at Omar Niode Foundation had a good opportunity to taste Kepahiang Coffee Pudding at the Autonomy Expo and Forum held last May in Jakarta.
Kepahiang Regency had a booth showcasing their flag products, including Sweets Magic Pudding made from Kopi Luwak. Holding the shiny chilled cup was like holding an exquisite China. A long slick spoon came with the 15 cm tall and 5cm wide ceramic cup.
The pudding color was light green and the texture of the coffee pudding was not as smooth as custard pudding. One can taste a very fine coffee chip that melts right away.
The regent of Kepahiang is ecstatic with the product that made Kepahiang known and featured in TV Japan.
Hopefully Kepahiang’s collaboration with Sweets Magic will endure, as it is a small business that increases the economic welfare of the area.  Given Kepahiang community support and judging from Sweets Magic ‘s experience in consulting companies and communities there will be ways to sustain the magic. –
Photos from the collection of Dian Anggraini, Sweets Magic and Kepahiang Regency.   

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Characteristics of Civet Coffee

Civet coffee

Civet coffee known for its high aroma, smooth taste, and low acidity – often quite sweet and very full in the cup – civet coffee is made with coffee beans that are retrieved from the excretion of an animal called the civet.

Civet Coffee Producing Regions

Civet coffee is produced in various countries including the Philippines, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, and East Timor. In Indonesia civet coffee is known as Kopi Luwak and in the Philippines it is called Kape Alamid.

How Civet Coffee is Produced

The coffee beans pass through the civet’s digestive tract where the outer fruit is mostly digested, and then the beans are then defecated onto the ground. Coffee farmers then collect the coffee beans and usually wash and sun-dry them.

Natural Lack of Bitterness Requires Only Light Roasting

One of the most pronounced characteristics of civet coffee beans is their natural lack of bitterness, so they are only lightly roasted to preserve their complex flavors.

Where is Civet Coffee Popular

Civet coffee produced in the Philippines is known as Kape Alamid (in Tagalog regions) and Motit Coffee (in the Cordillera). Civet coffee is popular in coffeehouses in Vietnam where there is even a market for simulated civet coffee.

Sumatra Civet Coffee

The largest regional producer of civet coffee is Sumatra (KEPAHIANG REGENCY, INDONESIA), where the coffee plants are mostly the Arabica varietal (Coffea arabica var. arabica). Some Sumatra civet coffee farms produce wild civet coffee while others produce farmed civet coffee by constraining the civets within defined boundaries.

Natural Selection By Civets Provides Premium Beans

The civet’s unique ability to select only perfectly ripe coffee cherry (fruit) to feed upon helps to ensure a consistent high quality of coffee beans.

This natural selection process for the best quality coffee beans is one of the reasons why wild-collected civet coffee has such a smooth flavor profile and aroma which may not be the same with farm-raised civets that are fed coffee beans picked by farmers.

Enzymatic Changes In the Civet’s Digestive Tract

When the civet eats the coffee cherry, the fruit is mostly digested in the civet’s stomach, but the seed inside (the coffee bean) is not. Research has shown that enzymes in the civet’s digestive tract cause certain chemical processes to occur on the coffee beans’ surface and also within the porous coffee beans.

Specific proteins that normally give coffee a bitter taste are broken down by the enzymes, resulting in a less bitter coffee and allowing the coffee’s notable highlights to shine through when the coffee is given a light roast.

While some people are concerned about civet coffee’s potential bacterial contaminants (e.g., E Coli), others claim that civet coffee is perfectly safe because the civet’s stomach enzymes help to eliminate the bacteria, as does the washing, sun-drying, and the high temperature of the roasting.

Scientific Classification of Coffee Producing Civets

Civets are classified as Paradoxorus Philippinensis (an endangered species) in the Philippines, but in Sumatra they are in the family Viverridae.

The civet has been compared to animals in the cat family and also the weasel family, though it is not related to either. One of the most numerous types of civets on civet coffee farms is the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).

Other Animals That Provide Pre-Digested Coffee Beans

Civets aren’t the only animals that are utilized for their coffee bean processing abilities. Defecated coffee beans are also gathered up from the feces of wild Muntjac (barking deer) in Indonesia and Malaysia – this coffee is known as Kopi Muncak (or Kopi Muntjak).

Civet Coffee Bean Varietals

Civet coffee is usually sold by weight. The most common type of civet coffee bean is the Arabica varietal (Coffea arabica var. arabica), but Robusta (Coffea canephora var. robusta) and Liberica (Coffea liberica) are also produced.

The Liberica coffee plant species is considered endangered in the Philippines, as is the Philippine civet (Paradoxorus Philippinensis), so the Philippine government along with private foundations have encouraged initiatives that preserve both the coffee plant species and the animal in the region.

The Price of Civet Coffee

Civet Coffee is one of the world’s rarest coffees, as well as the most expensive, selling for up to $600 per pound on the world coffee market. Civet coffee is also sold by the cup in many coffeehouses in Southeast Asia.


Process to make civet coffee

Civet coffee as an expensive coffee need long process to produce from its raw material to drinkable coffee with a high standard of scrupulously. The processes are as below 

  1. Pick a truly ripe coffee from their trees (Arabica or robusta).
  2. Selects the coffee, the coffee chosen are coffee with red colour, ripe and fresh.
  3. Washed the coffee with clean water to erase the dirt or pesticide stacked on the bark of coffee.
  4. In the evening, the chosen and cleaned coffee put inside the civets’ cage for minimum at 1-2 kg per day per single civet. These should be accompanied with other fresh and ripe fruits like banana, papaya or others).
  5. The day after in the morning, civet will produce its feces called raw beans.
  6. The feces/raw beans cleaned in the bucket of water with flowing water few times until they are really clean. The floating coffee is throwing away.
  7. After they are clean, the raw beans are dried for about 2-3 days under the sun heat until the level of water become 20%.
  8. After dry enough, the civet coffee’s bark are peeled. Can be used traditional tools until they become green beans.
  9. The green beans dried under the sun heat for 1-2 days till the level of water become 10-12%.
  10. The green beans are roasting afterward till they become roasted beans. There are three types of roasting namely: light roast (cinnamon roast), medium roast (American roast) and lastly is dark roast (Italian or Viennese roast). The roasting process is better using automatically machine to get an evenly and better/perfect shape of coffee’s cooks.
  11. The roasted beans are grinded afterward using a coffee grinder machine till they become powder coffee (grounded beans).
  12. The civet coffee powder (grounded beans) are ready to pack and market.

Types of civet produce civet coffee

Civet or in latin known as Paradoxurus hermaphrodites is a mammal also as a carnivore which consume meat and fruits. Civets are also part of nocturnal animal which live actively search for food at night. In English, civet is known as common palm civet, common musang, house musang or toddy cat.

Hence, based on these types of civets there are two types of coffee produced by. Firstly, civet coffee produced by wild civets and secondly is civet coffee produced by inmate civet. Wild civets live in a free habitat or outside the cage and search for food at its habitat, and hence in order to get this type of civets’ feces people need to search to the place where the civets live which is nearby the coffee plantation. On the other hand, the inmate civets are type of civets which intentionally caught up and managed to inmate them to get its feces. Moreover, not all types of civet can produce good quality of civet coffee, those of them can produce good quality of civet coffee are pandan civets and bulan (Vivericulla Malaccensis) civet while those which produce less quality civets coffee are Rase civets and Binturong civets (Archictis binturong).

Some reasons why civet coffee become an expensive coffee

  1. Civet coffee come from best and chosen coffee as civet only eating ripe coffees.
  2. Civet coffee having an enzymatic fermentation process naturally inside the civets’ digestion which can change the chemistry composition and increasing the quality of taste.
  3. Civet coffee have very low caffeine at about 0,4-0,9% (while non civet coffee have caffeine at 10-25%).
  4. It can increase the stamina, smoothing the blood circulation, increasing the memory ability and prevent diabetes. 
  5. It has low protein and higher fat which makes the taste tastier.
  6. Civet coffee is free of pesticides or other dangerous chemical instruments because they don’t eat (seed) coffee which contaminated by pesticides or other dangerous chemical instruments.
  7. Civet coffee produce limited production, although the efforts to increase the production has been done but it still can not fulfill the markets’ need because the production of civet coffee is complicated and need a cooperation from civets themselves which numbers are limited.