|Photo by Andres Hernandez on Unsplash|
Welcome back to the letter K edition of my Coffee Journey. As every day, this post is part of A - Z 2022, as well as the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and today we're talking about Kopi Luwak.
Have you ever heard the term?
I hope you're not faint at heart - the explanation may surprise, if not upset you.
The innocent label for Kopi Luwak is "the most expensive coffee in the world".
Where is the coffee grown, and how are the beans processed?
- Cat poop
There you go.
Except it's not the kind of cats you may have in mind. It's not the domestic pussycat we all know and love. It's civets.
Civets are small nocturnal mammals native to tropical Africa and Southeast Asia. Their diet consists in small animals, tropical fruit like mango - and coffee cherries!
The coffee bean itself is indigestible for the animal, so only the pulp is digested. A thin, robust membrane protects the coffee bean from the animal's innards, so it never comes into contact with the inside of the intestine. However, the natural fermentation process does leave its mark. The acidity of the coffee bean is removed by the stomach acid and digestion, which is why the taste of the coffee is milder and sweeter. The creepers are real gourmets and feed only on the best and ripest coffee cherries.
Would you dare tasting a cup of poop coffee?
Before you cry out in horror, be aware that the vast majority of coffee cherries are fermented during the processing stage.
When we commonly talk about coffee, we often have the bean in mind, not the coffee cherry. More precisely however, it is the combination of two seeds encased in horny husk, mucilage layer, and skin.
Fermentation is a natural process that occurs when a sugar meets water. And coffee cherries are full of it. Both of sugar and of water.
Anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentation takes place in wet processing, aerobic (with oxygen) in dry - also called natural - processing. In this process, the freshly harvested cherries are placed in a container as they are and left to form microorganisms all by themselves. In wet processing, the coffee cherries (before or after de-pulping) are placed in a tank with water, where other microorganisms go to work. We talked about this just the other day.
No matter under what conditions the fermentation of coffee takes place, it lasts on average between 16 and 25 hours. Naturally fermented coffees are also considered more complex in flavor profile and sensory characteristics.
Back to my question:
Would you dare tasting a cup of poop coffee?
If you worked for Starbucks like I did, there is a chance that at some point somebody will bring a bag of Kopi Luwak, and you will put on your big girl pants and take a sip. If you try not to think what these coffee beans literally have been through, it's just a very smooth Indonesian coffee.
If you usually get an upset stomach from coffee, it may be because of its acidity. In that case Kopi Luwak may be for you! If the "crappy aspect" or the price scares you off, you may also resort to regular coffee from Indonesia.
Would you pay several hundred Dollars for a pound of this coffee specialty?
If you are considering it, keep in mind that you can't exactly know what you are paying for.
The original Kopi Luwak came from free range civets who - as omnivores - would eat anything from small birds, snakes, insects, seeds, fruit and choose only the sweetest coffee cherries, which they would poop out at a random location in the tropical forest.
This made it elaborate for the humans to pick up the feces.
"Let's make our lives easier" they said to themselves.
"Let's cage the civets and feed them only coffee cherries. We can then conveniently collect their poop and make good money. In addition, why don't we kill two birds with one stone? Let's open a "zoo" and extract money from tourists. This way they get to interact with wildlife that made the coffee and upon walking out they pick up a bag of the final product."
No sooner said than done.
Unfortunately, according to animal protection organizations, the living conditions for these civets are poor.
Starting with the fact that, as originally nocturnal animals, they are now suddenly exposed to daylight and the voices of humans, and thus to increased stress, they are cramped into the tiniest indoor cages that have a wire floor - for easier cleaning. However, standing, sitting and sleeping on this kind of ground causes sores and abrasions.
The civets have no access to clean water and no possibility to run, climb or interact with their friends.
What's more, what sounded like a good idea in the first place, namely to exclusively feed them coffee cherries for more ROI, turned out to be a mistake: Not only does it result in the civets' suffering from an unbalanced nutrition and constantly being hyper from caffeine intake, the people didn't put as much effort into picking the cherries, meaning the civets end up eating unripe ones, which not only leads to health problems, but also the quality of the coffee suffers from it.
Lastly, you as a consumer can't be sure to get Kopi Luwak coffee from free-roaming civets just because the label says so. Undercover investigations revealed that coffee from caged civets in inhumane conditions ended up as "wild civet coffee" on the market.
That's what happens in Southeast Asia.
On to Ethiopia. African civets are kept for their musk, an animal secretion used for marking territory and attracting mattes. At the same time it's a valuable commodity which is sought after as a component of perfume. Again, these animals are captured and housed in small cages for easier handling by the farmers.
Musk is taken every 10 - 15 days, and I don't want to go into how this extraction is done.
So I think we can all agree the world does not need Kopi Luwak.
Let's enjoy regular coffee - there's plenty of varieties around - and leave the civets in peace.