Coffee From A Most Unusual Place

Kopi LuwakWith islands that ooze culture, mystery, intrigue from every volcanic pore it is not at all surprising that these same qualities exist in every living thing that resides here.

Coffee from anywhere is steeped in history and most certainly a candidate for a debate on intrigue.

I have to admit that up until recently I had remained blissfully unaware of this particular, extremely special brew and its slow roast method of production. Only produced in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Bali, Kopi Luwak has gained worldwide fame and is currently one of the most expensive coffees on the market.

It sells for between US$100 and $600 per pound. Even more expensive than Starbucks.

Its history is closely related to the Dutch Coffee Industry but it is purely an Indonesian product born out of ingenuity and necessity; the latter being the Mother of Invention.  In the early 18th century Dutch businessmen established cash-crop plantations on Java and Sumatra and this included coffee. Exporting some of these crops back to Europe reaped a hefty 1000% return of investment for these merchants; the raping of the colonialized  territory of the East Indies was of little concern. 

During the era of the “Cultivation System”, between 1830—1870, the Dutch prohibited native farmers and native plantation workers to pick coffee beans for their own enjoyment.  The farmers, seeking to indulge in the consumption of coffee, soon learned that certain animals, and one in particular, enjoyed the bean as much as the European market did.

Species of Luwak or Asian Palm Civet would eat the coffee plant fruit. Then leave the bean intact and undigested in their droppings.  The workers would  collect the Luwak’s droppings and sort through it to extract the beans; clean, roast, and grind. Thus allowing them the clandestine privilege of making the much sought after caffeinated brew.

The Luwaks pooped it out at $600 per pound but production was slow.

The fame of aromatic civet coffee spread from locals to Dutch plantation owners and soon became highly regarded among coffee connoisseurs . Due its unusual process, the civet coffee was expensive even back in colonial times.

The fate of the farmers who broke the rules is a question with an answer based only in speculation so I won’t go there. 

On a recent trip to Tampak Saring Holy Spring and Besakih Temple I made a stop at one of Bali’s boutique coffee plantations. Guided through the plantation past dozens of different varieties of coffee that anyone would recognize in their local grocery store there was the star of the show…the Luwak.

Asleep after a long night of coffee production this small possum-like creature was curled up like an armadillo in the corner of its tree house. The creature appeared to be well looked after but clearly not receiving to many royalty checks for it’s excretory efforts.

Unlike in the rest of the world where a cup can run up to US$50, here at the plantation you can indulge in the ultimate coffee taste-test for IDR50,000 or approximately $5 a cup; it’s a very small cup though, more like a shot.

The taste…not at all like chicken.

For more photos of Indonesia click here

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40 thoughts on “Coffee From A Most Unusual Place

  1. I love indonesian coffee, I tried some good Arabica on Sulawesi Island, exactly in Rantepao where they grind coffee beans on the street with use of homemade engines. Gorgeaous smell and strong taste. I hope to try Luwak next time, but genuine one! 🙂

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  2. Eew! I’ve heard about this, and wondered who had the notion to make coffee out of pooped beans. Now I know. It does make sense – I only hope that those same farmers who were so oppressed, are now realizing some profit …

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  3. Fascinating process! The most unusual coffee I’ve ever had was in Aswan, Egypt, where the tradition there is more Sub-Saharan and Arabian. Lots of spices were used, and it actually kind of burned. An experience not to be missed, though.

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  4. As much as I love coffee I must admit this is not high on my list. Unfortunately that $600 a pound price tag has lead to mistreatment of some civets at the hands of unscrupulous people.

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  5. Tim, great story. I don’t know if pooped out coffee is any worse than pooped out eggs – both need to be cleaned well before using. But it doesn’t matter. I buy Melitta coffee on sale – two pounds for $8.99 – don’t think I’ll bother upgrading.

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    1. Strange things happen when you are told you can’t have something you have always had. Another result from a society oppressed during the colonial era.

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  6. That’s when you know that you’ve a ultra-sophisticated palate…when you’re willing to pay that kind of change for coffee beans that were pooped out by an exotic animal that hardly anyone has heard of…wow. Sounds like the ultimate “I’ve arrived!” Still, loving coffee as much as I do, I’d really LIKE to try it!

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  7. Now there’s a job—room and board for pooping. I think they eat civets in China, so clearly it’s better to be a civet in Indonesia. Fine coffee is kind of wasted on me. My palate is simply not that discriminating. The silver lining is that I’m just as happy with a $10 bottle of wine as a $100 bottle. My palate has matured some. I no longer enjoy instant coffee and I think I’d probably turn up my nose at a $5 bottle (box?) of wine.

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  8. Ok, that is really fascinating and I’m glad those workers found a crafty way to get a good cup of coffee. I’ve never heard of a Luwak, but he looks really cute and seems to enjoy coffee beans almost as much as I do! Given that I can’t drink coffee right now, the Luwak is going to be very useful to me. I’m going to think of him pooping out coffee beans every time I get the urge for a cup of coffee and that should get me through until when I can drink it again!

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    1. I knew you would get a kick out of this; being the frustrated coffee lover. When you can drink it again you may have to find a way to embrace the poop!

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  9. hi tim; i can only dream about such coffee. the most expensive I ever had was some valued at $40 a pound. It was mistakenly sent to me by gevalia and under u s law since i didn’t order it i got to keep it for free. glad to hear the critter was cute. probably would have been hard to drink the coffee if it had been ugly or looked obviously mistreated. enjoy the coffee my friend, max

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  10. Ooooo. Yuck. Makes me wonder if there is something we don’t know in the USA about our coffee. We visited a Costa Rica coffee plantation on a recent trip. Even though they are not pooping the beans, it is a highly labor intensive process to get coffee to us.

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    1. They had little choice. If a cup of jo was what you wanted and you were a farmer you better find a pooped out bean and brew it…or drink tea.

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  11. How interesting! I had no idea that there was coffee in Indonesia!! Another interesting place that also have coffee is the Galapagos Islands 🙂

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