Civet coffee, also known as Kopi Luwak (Indonesian for “civet coffee”), is an unusual luxury type of coffee produced by harvesting coffee beans from the dung of the Asian palm civet. Civet coffee is currently the most expensive type of coffee in the world.
The civet is a small cat-like animal (they belong to the same suborder, but not the same family) native to several regions of Asia, including China and Southeast Asia. It weighs about seven pounds, is two feet long, and eats predominantly fruits and small animals like insects. In some areas, like Sri Lanka, the civet is regarded as a nuisance animal, somewhat analogous to the North American raccoon. One of the palm civet’s favourite foods is the coffee bean – which is, ultimately, why civet coffee exists.
Civets eat the coffee beans, and then pass them in their dung or feces in the form of largely undigested clumps. Civet coffee collectors then collect the dung, wash and dry it, and parcel it for sale. The civets can eat and process any form of coffee, so there is not a specific taste or type of coffee produced by this method – for example, arabica, robusta, and other coffee plants could be processed in the same manner. However, coffee connoisseurs agree that civet coffee lacks the usual bitterness of coffee, has a characteristically rich aroma, and is thick. Medical researchers have confirmed that when properly washed civet coffee is quite safe for human consumption, despite the unorthodox and somewhat disturbing manner of its cultivation.
For the moment, civet coffee is a luxury coffee and is the world’s most expensive coffee. Most production is centered in Sumatra, Indonesia, and most production is done using caged civets living on farms. This coffee is typically available for several hundred dollars per pound. There are also synthetic civet coffees (attempting to imitate the civet’s digestive process without using the animal itself) available for a fraction of the cost, as well as authentic civet coffees (made using dung painstakingly collected from wild animals living in their natural environment) available at far higher prices.
There are also several related products. Weasel coffee is a Vietnamese-to-English translation of the same product, which is more likely to be a synthetic form. In addition, kopi muncak is a related product which is made in a similar fashion, except by collecting the dung of the muncak, a small species of deer also found in Southeast Asia.