Sprudge.com: Just Say No To Kopi Luwak

THESIS

When media coverage of kopi luwak appears positive or even curious, it leads to increased interest from the reading public. This is a negative thing for several reasons.

ABSTRACT

1. Kopi luwak is not delicious.

2. Kopi luwak is a ridiculous, literally disgusting fad that retards the public valuation of specialty coffee – it is a gimmick, and a lousy tasting gimmick at that (see #1).

3. Civet cats are cruelly caged to produce almost all commercially available kopi luwak. Unlike the gavage practices that go into making foie gras, the end result of civet caging is neither delicious (see #1) nor applicable to the process of creating a delicious cup of coffee.

EDITORIAL

For years we’ve wished kopi luwak would simply go away, fade into obscurity, and be exposed for the sham it is. (Ed. note: we’re certainly not the first to rail against kopi luwak, and we recommend recent work on the subject from Andrew Hetzel and Lily Kubota.) This cruel, disgusting novelty process amounts to needless animal torture and presents no appreciable culinary benefit – its appeal is bound solely to ruse and ignorance. But fade away it hasn’t: Dean and Deluca (“purveyors of fine food, wine and kitchenware”) are now offering kopi luwak from Doi Chaang Coffee Co. at a $55 per 50 gram price point, Oliver Strand re-blogged recent coverage from Norimitsu Onishi in the NYT last April, Philippine kopi luwak production is on the rise and has grown to overtake caged production in Indonesia, your tax dollars are paying for this nightmare of civet content and horrendous syntax at PBS, and now Boing Boing (usually reputable Boing Boing!) is giving the years-old fad plenty of coverage on the site’s main page.

The Boing Boing feature posits itself as “critical analysis”, but save for the statement that kopi luwak “is totally not worth the price,” there’s hardly a critical thread in the article. The feature is mostly a rehash of regurgitated claims from the kopi luwak peddlers, namely that enzymes in the digestive tract of the palm civet digest proteins in the coffee:

“Proteins are part of what is responsible for the bitterness of coffee. Kopi Luwak beans have fewer whole proteins than normal beans.”

Which is to imply that when a civet cat poops out some beans, those beans are going to have fewer proteins –> and because proteins cause bitterness in coffee –> these poop beans will make for a less bitter cup of coffee. This conclusion is wrong and obviously total horseshit (or cat shit, if you’d rather), and now we’re going to tell you why.

THERE IS NO ONE MAGIC BULLET THAT MAKES COFFEE TASTE GREAT. Anytime you read a claim that says “X reduces bitterness in coffee,” recognize that this is fuzzy logic and call shenanigans immediately. Bitterness in coffee is not caused by any one thing, but rather, it can be caused by a whole multitude of things. The only way to “reduce bitterness” in prepared coffee is to cultivate it well, process it with care and attention, mill and sort it carefully, take precautions so that it doesn’t get compromised during shipment, store it well, roast it like you really give a damn, and don’t fuck up the preparation. If your coffee is too bitter, there is an error being committed during one or more of these steps; it is patently ridiculous to claim that any part of this process can be eased or mitigated by first passing unprocessed coffee cherries through a jungle cat’s butthole.

In fact, even if it were that simple – even if logic could bend, while cruel marketing nonsense held dominion over the truth – unroasted cherries that contain fewer proteins do not necessarily equate to a great cup of coffee. During the roasting process proteins denature at a high temperature, and the constituent amino acids react with other compounds (like sugars) to form browning compounds and aromatics. Read: Maillard reaction. We pleasantly associate these browning compounds and aromatics with delicious coffee, and without them, well…the results are displeasing.

While it might be “different,” kopi luwak generally has other faults, and roasters drawn to the novelty (and high price-point) of the stuff are likely going to dark-roast the hell out of it. We’ve tried it at Sprudgelabs SF, and our cupping notes included the words “moldy” and “musty” (see #1). Expert cupper and Sprudgie Award winner Stephen Vick had this to say on his kopi luwak experiences:

“On the cups that didn’t present defect I found very mild sweetness and acidity with some grassy, iodine notes and a pretty rough finish. One of four cups was moldy and another single cup showed phenol. I tasted band-aids, iodine, and oyster.”

It could be pooped out mid-flight by a soaring rainbow unicorn for all we care; why would anyone want to pay over $1 per gram for coffee that tastes like moldy band-aids? But shell out they do, to the tune of untold thousands. In fact, Kopi luwak has become so popular that now civet cats are caught in the wild, caged, and force-fed coffee cherries for harvest. This sucks no matter what, but the practice takes on a kind of foul post-modern ironic sheen when placed in its appropriate context (see #1, #2, #3, “Editorial”).

CLOSING ARGUMENT

Kopi luwak is the foie gras of coffee, if foie gras tasted like Alpo dog food and cost roughly the same as caviar.

It has literally no redeeming qualities, and worse, it harmfully associates “quality coffee that costs extra” with “poop novelty” in the public mind. The commercial harvesting of kopi luwak is a shameful, cruel fad, and people who care about coffee should be willing to stand together against it. It harms us, harms the cats, and harms the producers in SE Asia by locking them in economically with an unsustainable and exploitive fad. It also harms the consumer, someone who, let’s say, read about kopi luwak on Boing Boing and wants to know what the fuss is about – for Oh Consumer, you have been misled, and such delightful coffee could be yours for the very same $55 you are about to waste…

In 2012 Sprudge wants to spread the word: “LUWAK IS LU-WACK.” (Ed. note: we’re still working on the catchphrase.) This essay (and others like it online) are just the start, and for right now you can join this Facebook group and “Say No to Kopi Luwak” alongside us. Next year we’ll be asking for more of your help to educate against kopi luwak, so that never again will a barista, roaster, or coffee enthusiast be forced to answer that question, that awful stupid question, the one we all know so well:

“So have you heard of that umm…cat poop coffee?”

 

*Update for Monday, December 12th – Dean and Deluca have discontinued offering kopi luwak via their web store.

Comments

  1. says

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; it is just thhe way our society has evolved.
    It not oonly creates wrinkles byy mechanically nducing the crinklinbg of the lips, but it also impedes proper hydration of the skin causing it to lose elasticity and natural
    collagen. I drink at least 8 glasses a day, more if I can, and have
    very few wrinkles (and I’m well oon my way to 50.

  2. says

    using animals for the overproduction of anything is wrong. these creatures need a balanced diet. many are caged. check out the petitions on Care2’s site……there are a multitude of them.

    poor poor animals ;'(

  3. says

    kopi luwak – o get off your fuckin high horse – i agree with caged kopi luwak but remember there are some peopele that actually collect in the wild as well – dont put all kopi luwak in one category – and yes i agree with celia, well said.

  4. says

    Why is there so much swearing in this article?? I agree with Celia. The Luwak is not killed or force fed to produce the coffee beans??! I find it more cruel force feeding chickens and cows to fatten them up for you to eat!. Why not write articles on the animal cruelty of farmed cows and chickens to produce your american hamburgers and fried chicken?? like the link below:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMnGBa4Xv-M

    or maybe the cruelty of eating eggs from chickens! lets see the article on that sinclair! Don’t tell me you have never eaten an omelet or an egg cooked in any sort- because that means you would be condoning to the same thing!

    I have tried it, you saying its “not delicious” is your opinion. I enjoyed my cup of luwak, thank you. The reason why its so expensive is not because of its taste, but because of its rarity. duh!

    I have not found any “marketers” saying that the variety is expensive because it is the best tasting coffee (That is all subjective on how each individual likes their coffee). Its expensive because of its rarity!

    if you have ever learned anything about economics, The demand is higher than its supply since the Luwak can only produce so much, hence the only way to sell it is putting a premium on its price to people who really want to try it. DUH!!

    I hope you really respond to my comment. Thanks.

  5. celia says

    “to breed cow and kill their meat is that ok? not animal cruelty?or chicken or lamb?””some people eat dogs, is that ok? in Kazakhstan people eat horse.”so dog is a pet can’t eat. how about cow, chicken, lamb is not a pet can eat?we eat it..  but why drink coffee from luwak poops is not ok?? They all same… The same way they breed chicken, cage then make them eat all the time, take their eggs and eat their meat at the end. That is ok??? 

    • says

      it is OK!
      for hypocrites …
      hypocrites that think the world filled with one-foot tall grasses, butterflies and dandelions. where everyone -longhaired- smoking weed, singing and dancing about freedom while holding hands around campfire.

      unfortunately, the world is not!

      realize! meats and eggs don’t come from cans. they were living things.

  6. says

    I have too many kopi luwak already. (Here is still expensive, but I bought it directly from the farm.) I agree that it tastes okay but nothing to get crazy about. That is, I wouldn’t go through the rain just to get a cup of kopi luwak. I love coffee but my stomach is very sensitive. (I couldn’t even drink coffee from those famous coffee chain.) My stomach doesn’t have problem with kopi luwak, but my wallet does :)

    As for cruelty for luwak, I don’t think we should make a big deal out of it. It’s just like folks keeping their pets at home. Is it cruel? I don’t think so. I think we should be fair about this.

    Soo … I agree we shouldn’t make a big deal of kopi luwak. Taste-wise, it is not the best. I do hope that the price is cheaper though (so I could buy more … ha ha ha).

    /me sipping a glass of hot coffee lattee … not kopi luwak

  7. says

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  8. David says

    In a blind tasting of Indonesian coffees at this year’s Nordic Barista Cup, the Kopi Luwak on the table was chosen by the vast majority in attendance as their favourite coffee, much to everyone’s chagrin.

  9. guest says

    If the civets are kept in factory-farm conditions in a giant shed, can we call the coffee (partially) shade-grown?

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