You may be familiar with Kopi Luwak, which was until recently considered the most expensive coffee in the world. If not, its manufacturing process, which we explain in this article, will surprise or even horrify you. You will also see the dark side of this exceptional drink praised by baristas, which can be summed up in two words: animal abuse.
Kopi Luwak: first consumed by plantation slaves in the 18th century
The Kopi Luwak would have been discovered in the 18th century in Indonesia. The Dutch colonists had then started the culture of coffee, on the islands of Sumatra and Java. The slaves who worked on its plantations were of course not allowed to consume the delicious grains.
However, the Luwak, a small omnivorous mammal, had no use for this ban. Once night fell, he feasted on the precious coffee cherries with impunity.
The slaves then sneaked up his excrement in the early morning to retrieve the grains stripped of their pulp. Then they just had to dry them and roast them to make their own coffee.
Today it is considered one of the best coffee in the world . Is this really the case?
Kopi luwak (or civet coffee): among the most expensive coffees in the world
Luwak digestion of coffee beans makes it much less bitter than traditional coffee. We also notice a more chocolatey and caramelized taste, with marked traces of hazelnut.
Like blue Mountain, the reputation of Kopi Luwak quickly reached the owners of the plantations, who made it their favorite coffee. Before spreading around the world, when Tony Wild imported beans prized by coffee connoisseurs to Europe in 1991.
The manufacture of Kopi Luwak also requires a lot of work. Whether industrial or artisanal. Global production has therefore never really succeeded in meeting demand.
Divided between Indonesia, which concentrates the majority of Luwak farms, but also Thailand, the Philippines, China and Vietnam, it is also very difficult to quantify precisely.
The price of Kopi Luwak has therefore naturally increased, reaching peaks, since the end of the 20th century. A cup of this luxury coffee can cost as little as a hundred dollars in some Western bars and restaurants. The kilo of grain is sold between 200 and 400 dollars.
Kopi Luwak has therefore become, in the Western imagination, the luxury coffee par excellence, intended for the most discerning gourmets. Oprah Winfrey offers it to her guests in her show, from 2003.
Films feature him. For example, in 2007, “The Bucket List” (“Without further delay, in French version). The hospital director played by Jack Nicholson adores the delicious drink there, until Morgan Freeman as a mechanic tells him the true origin of the product.
The questioning in recent years of the industrial production process of Kopi Luwak
Luwak droppings are traditionally collected from the wild to make the precious brew. However, soaring coffee prices have led unscrupulous producers to capture normally wild mammals. These are now often kept in cramped and overcrowded cages near coffee plantations.
For example, a recent report published in Animal Welfare magazine assessed the breeding conditions of several luwaks belonging to sixteen different plantations. The conclusions of the investigation are edifying. The industrial production of Kopi Luwak is assimilated there to a slave industry.
Luwaks in captivity see their diet reduced to only coffee cherries, while it is normally much more varied. On the other hand, they suffer from claustrophobia and are under great stress which can lead them to self-harm.
This business is however very lucrative in a country where more than one inhabitant in five must live on a dollar a day. A survey conducted by Le Point tells that between March and May, Rustico Montenegro and his wife, a Filipino couple, harvest about eight kilos of grain daily. Since a kilo is valued at 1,200 pesos, each working day earns them around 190 dollars.
The poor living conditions of the Luwak used to produce Kopi Luwak can therefore dissuade people from tasting this exceptional beverage. However, if you are serious about enjoying coffee that has been left in droppings, we have the solution.
In Thailand, elephants indeed produce coffee in the same way as Luwak. Coffee cherries are however offered to them in addition to their diet.
Production is also strictly limited, while 8% of profits are donated to associations that protect elephants in the Golden Triangle. In short, this is the perfect opportunity to reconcile your love for coffee and ethical considerations.