The most expensive coffee in the world is kopi luwak — or “cat-poop coffee.” With prices fetching as high as $1,360 per pound ($3,000 per kilogram), what is this coffee? And, more importantly, how can it possibly be worth that much? Here are the details on this coffee that makes even your expensive bottle of wine seem affordable.
Kopi Luwak’s Name Describes What It Is — Cat Poop Coffee
“Kopi luwak,” the most common name for this coffee, comes from Sumatra — where it’s primarily harvested. “Kopi” is the Indonesian word for coffee, and “luwak” is the local Sumatran word for the species of cat that’s involved in the coffee’s processing. The official name conveniently leaves out the method of processing — pooping.
(In Vietnam, which is another major producer of the coffee, it’s sometimes called “weasel coffee.”)
Yes, The Processing Method Is Pooping
What makes kopi luwak unique is its processing method. The luwak, which is a cat-like mammal that lives in Sumatra and the surrounding region, eats the coffee cherries directly off of the trees. The cherries are then digested by the cat, and the beans are defecated about 24 to 36 hours later unharmed. Farmers go around collecting the defecated beans, and finish processing them like any other coffee.
Yes, Kopi Luwak Is Safe to Drink
Despite coming from the defecated droppings of the luwak, kopi luwak is safe to drink. Researchers have found only a negligible amount of harmful bacteria in the droppings — not enough to make you sick. Additionally, the coffee is roasted after it’s finished being processed. During roasting, it’s brought up to 400-plus degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty hot enough to kill any pathogens.
The Coffee of the Poor Became the Coffee of the Privileged
Today, only the rich can afford even one cup of Kopi Luwak, which sells for as much as $100 per cup in some coffee shops. It was originally enjoyed by poor farms, not wealthy traders and royalty, though.
When the Dutch brought coffee trees to Indonesia, they prohibited the native farmers from picking coffee cherries off of the plants for their own use. The farmers noticed that the luwak’s droppings contained unadulterated beans, and they began collecting, processing and roasting these beans. Eventually, the Dutch also tried the dropped beans, and it quickly became a favorite among everyone.
Kopi Luwak Is Distinct, But Not Distinguished
So, is kopi luwak worthy of its high price? The short answer is no. To quote Tim Carman, a food writer with the Washington Post, kopi luwak “tasted just like…Folgers. Stale. Lifeless. Petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water. I couldn’t finish it.”
The digestive process of the luwak alters the chemical structure of the coffee. Peptides are shortened, amino acids change and the seed even begins to germinate.
The cumulative effect is a distinct, but not better, flavor. Specifically, the coffee’s acidity is muted, and it has a smoother body — characteristics that might remind you of cold brew.
If you’re a cold brew fan, kopi luwak might appeal to your preferred tastes. It’s not a better coffee than coffees that are produced more traditionally, though. If you have a chance to try it, go ahead. We aren’t sure it’s worth $100 for a cup, though — that could buy you a lot of coffee that’s just as good.