Is Kopi Luwak Coffee Really Better Than Regular Joe?

There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to specialty coffee. It’s called luwak coffee and it’s supposedly better than regular joe. But it’s also expensive and controversial, because it involves the digestive tract of a wild animal.

The story goes that the Asian palm civet, which is a small nocturnal mammal that lives in forest throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia, loves eating ripe coffee berries. But because it can’t digest them, they pass through its system undigested and are excreted in clumps that farmers collect, wash, pound to remove extra skins, sort, dry and roast to create kopi luwak.

They’re supposed to taste smoother and less bitter than regular coffee because of the natural digestive process. They also have a much lower caffeine content than regular beans, which is good news for people who have trouble sleeping, and are said to have an earthy, rich flavour profile.

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But while many specialty coffee shops stock kopi luwak, not everyone’s convinced it’s any good. The Washington Post recently described it as tasting like “petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water”. And coffee industry experts have generally found that the purported flavour differences don’t hold up to scientific tests or expert tastings.

More importantly, despite claims by some sellers to the contrary, kopi luwak isn’t even produced naturally in the wild anymore. It’s now mostly sourced from factory farms, where the civets are housed in cages and force-fed large quantities of a coffee berry that they would normally eat only as a snack. They’re also unable to get enough variety in their diet, which can lead to illness and even death.