Why you should avoid the most expensive coffee in the world.

It is the most expensive coffee in the world, and it is plucked from the poo of a cat. This is Kopi Luwak

Yes, you read that right. You see, the Asian Palm Civet of Indonesia (aka the Luwak) has a nose for ripe coffee cherries. Selected very carefully, it will eat a few of the best cherries and let them travel through the digestive system, processing the coffee bean in digestive juices along the way. A rare process indeed.

These beans are then plucked from the poo, washed and roasted as per normal then sold for around US$300/Kg green (compared to a typical coffee which is around US$9/kg). It sells for US$35-$80 per cup giving it the trophy of the most expensive coffee in the world.

There is high demand for this coffee and naturally, low supply. Recent exposure in the film “The Bucket List” (2008), as well as the fact it’s an interesting story means it’s something that people want to try, despite the expense. 

But there are some things you should know about Kopi Luwak before you go rushing off to Indonesia with wads of cash.

1. It’s not good coffee.

Tim Carman, food writer for the Washington Post had this to say:

“It tasted just like…Folgers. Stale. Lifeless. Petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water. I couldn’t finish it.”

And expert cupper Stephen Vick had this to say:

“On the cups that didn’t present defect I found very mild sweetness and acidity with some grassy, iodine notes and a pretty rough finish. One of four cups was moldy and another single cup showed phenol. I tasted band-aids, iodine, and oyster.” (via sprudge.com)

The general consensus of the coffee industry is that it’s just not good coffee. Clearly the price of this coffee comes from the story and hype alone.

Expensive doesn’t equal best.

2. High demand has lead to exploitation and counterfeiting

When you’re a poor farmer in Indonesia and rich tourists keep throwing money at things you collected from poo, it doesn’t take long for you to think of ways to exploit this stupidity. Unfortunately the Palm Civets get the raw deal. Many farmers ‘factory farm’ the Palm Civets by keeping them in cages and feeding them only coffee cherries which can’t be a pleasant existence for the cat.

It also removes the value of the civets naturally selecting the cherry.

In addition, coffee processed ordinarily is being packaged and sold as Kopi Luwak with most punters not even realising. The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) believe that there is around 50x more Kopi Luwak being sold than what actually exists -you’ve got to be shitting me, most of it is counterfeit!

There is no way to know if your Kopi Luwak is wild, farmed or counterfeited unless you see the whole process.

Kopi Luwak: it’s not all that it’s crapped up to be.

Here’s a coffee I think is worth the high price. The HR61 microlot from Colombia. It was purchased for $286/Kg by Proud Mary Coffee Roasters in Melbourne. Just like a fine wine, the rare flavour notes and quality of the coffee result in high prices, achieved through auction – a much truer reflection of value. Read more about it via Beanscene

In summary, your purchase of Kopi Luwak in any way will support the whole, terrible, industry. Avoid it.

2 thoughts on “Why you should avoid the most expensive coffee in the world.

  1. Great blog and thanks for sharing your opinion on the topic. Kopi Luwak was on my bucket list too. I am living currently in Vietnam and will be in Indonesia 6 months per year starting this April.

    In Vietnam we have a similar coffee (Idea has been maybe imported from Indonesia). It’s sometimes offered as gift to diplomats visiting Vietnam.

    I am just wondering when you talk about exploitation and counterfeiting . Is there a way to find responsible producers who offer real guarantees? I see here http://www.tourfrombali.com/blog/food-in-indonesia/) that price can be up to $1,000 per kilo – for this price there should be some reliable producers with a great ethic.

    Like

  2. You make some great points in your article. A couple things to keep in mind are that the Kopi Luwak marketed to tourists in Indonesia is almost always sourced from caged animals. The locals emphasize the experience over the quality of their coffee. I recently visited a Kopi Luwak farm in Ubud, Bali, and they had caged animals on display. It was a rather disgusting. Although the healthy looking animals were presented to the tourists, we were able to get “behind the scenes” to find many malnourished animals kept in small rusty cages that were responsible for producing the majority of the kopi luwak that was being collected and processed for tourist consumption.

    Beyond the mistreatment of the animals, the coffee was being roasted over a fire. Can you imagine this producing a consistent quality roast? Of course not. Not only that, but the roasted coffee was manually ground with a stick & stone. Very old world. Imagine roasting and grinding Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee this way. Great coffee, but it would taste horribly, since the under/over exposure from uneven grinds would be significant. My point is, even if this caged-sourced Kopi Luwak was good coffee to start with, it would be destroyed by their processing. Of course, force-fed civets will never produce a quality tasting coffee, but that’s not my point. This type of production accounts for almost all of the Kopi Luwak being targeted to tourists in Indonesia.

    On the other hand, wild-sourced Kopi Luwak that is processed, roasted, ground and brewed in the same way as other specialty coffees is truly remarkable. Although I do appreciate your remark that supporting kopi luwak in any form can bring harm to the animal, certain communities in Sumatra are getting it right, and they’re showing that when sourced ethically, it supports a sustainable and beneficial outcome for the environment, animal and community. Here’s an example of how responsible sourcing should be done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-jPHjYrbGI

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