Civet coffee, more properly known as kopi luwak, is a rare coffee that is processed in a most unusual and unexpected manner. The beans used to make civet coffee have not been picked directly from a coffee plant by humans, but are instead selected and consumed by civets, cat-like mammals. After the civet excretes the berry in its feces, humans collect the dung, which is then washed so as to extract the berries, which are then ready for roasting and preparation as a beverage. Some marketers of civet coffee advertise it as the most expensive coffee in the world.
Kopi luwack coffee has its origins in Indonesia, home of the Asian palm civet. These creatures are apparently quite fond of coffee beans and are reputed to be very selective in the beans that they choose to eat, which may contribute to the excellent flavor of civet coffee. Recent studies have shown that while the coffee bean passes through the digestive tract of the civet, it is exposed to enzymes that trigger chemical processes that mellow out the flavor of the bean. As a result, connoisseurs claim that civet coffee is both sweet and lacks bitterness.
Demand for civet coffee has created some problems for its producers as well as coffee merchants. In many places, civets are hunted for food as well as their musk, which is prized for its use in perfumery. Some natives also kill the civet because the animal preys on poultry. As a result, it can be difficult to harvest civet dung in the wild, forcing coffee producers to find other ways to meet the demand for kopi luwak.
Entrepreneurs are now setting up civet farms in which the animals are kept in cages and fed coffee beans. While this makes it easier to access civet dung, some aficionados claim that the coffee produced from the beans consumed by caged civet is not as good as that from wild civet. Meanwhile, coffee merchants are concerned that they may be receiving shipments of inauthentic civet coffee beans.
In some places, the demand for civet coffee as well as concerns about the ethics of its sale and production have caused researchers to develop ways of synthetically producing a kopi luwak-like coffee without needing the assistance of actual civets. Coffee beans are subjected to an enzyme bath before roasting, which imitates the process of digestion, resulting in a mellow coffee that can be sold at a competitive price.