The World’s Most Expensive Coffee
We all love our coffee, but how much do you love your coffee? Would you be prepared to pay $80-$100 for a cup coffee? In some places, half a kilo, around one pound, of this expensive brew, can cost up to $600, sometimes more!
Even more, would you be prepared to pay for coffee that has been eaten by a wild cat (a civet), passed through the animal’s intestinal system, and excreted in the usual manner to lie on the ground until collected by a human who separates the undigested beans from the dung? What about drinking such coffee? Yet this is how kopi luwak starts on the way to being processed into the world’s most expensive coffee. This coffee is treasured by some people and given to dignitaries and heads of State as a luxurious and respectful gift.
Found in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the civet has a long tail, face markings like a raccoon, and stripes or spots on its body. So it’s a very cute wild animal! Their digestive enzymes change the structure of proteins in the coffee beans, which removes some of the acidity to apparently make a smoother cup of coffee.
Such is the demand for this coffee that civets are now kept in captivity and fed exclusively on coffee cherries (yes, they are called cherries), which can lead to malnutrition. So much for a balanced diet! Not to mention their living conditions, going from freedom to roam their natural habitat, to being kept in sometimes very small cages that prohibit movement. Such inactivity can lead to obesity and deprives the civets of social interaction with other civets. Continually standing on a wire floor causes sores on their feet, leading to constant and intense pain. Not at all conducive to a good quality of life.
Unfortunately, there is no certification system to distinguish wild kopi luwak coffee from that produced in an industrialized and cruel environment. Some coffee certifiers condemn animal cruelty and are working to ensure standards of environmentally responsible production.
Coffee experts say that wild civets eat only the choicest and ripest coffee cherries whereas civets kept in captivity are fed any berries. So a further level of exclusivity is created by adding the word ‘wild’ to the label of the coffee. This has led to more coffee being labelled kopi luwak than is actually produced.
Not a Matter of Taste
Although the average consumer won’t pay the extraordinary price that this coffee demands, there are people willing to pay for the experience of perceived luxury or high quality. It isn’t a matter of taste; coffee drinkers don’t have to like it: it’s all about the story. Whatever you think about the quality of kopi luwak, there seems to be a market for products that claim rarity or have the perception of luxury and exclusivity.
One coffee expert sampled coffee from several farm lots, including coffee from caged luwaks (civets) fed on the same cherries from the farm lots which hadn’t been through a civet before production. In his opinion it was clear that luwak coffee was notable for the story, not any superior quality of flavor.
So if you think you are missing out by not drinking kopi luwak, perhaps you are being a good environmental citizen and friend to the civet. And next time someone praises the flavour of kopi luwak, you will be able to enlighten them on the story, perhaps after you’ve asked them their opinion on the flavor of the coffee.