The history of this distinctive beverage dates back as far as the early 18th century, during Indonesia’s colonial era. Back then, regular coffee was already a famed drink popular among the elites and rich people.
Local farmers were compelled to cultivate the coffee plants to be traded, but they were not allowed to have some of the products for their own. One day, the natives observed that certain species of Asian palm civet that live in the area leave coffee seeds in their droppings, and that the seeds remain intact and undigested.
Out of curiosity, the farmers cleaned and processed the coffee beans, and for the first time tasted the beverage. Little did they know that the coffee they had just discovered was even better (and valued much more) than the regular ones they harvested for the colony.
The main producers of Luwak coffee in Indonesia nowadays are Sumatra, Bali, Java, and Sulawesi.
The Asian palm civet, called luwak, scours and sniffs the juiciest, ripest coffee beans from the tree and eats them. During the digestive process, the coffee cherries and pulp are removed but the coffee beans remain intact.
Fermentation also occurs during the civet’s digestive process, before the coffee beans are excreted. The fermentation process explains how the Luwak coffee has less bacterial contents than other coffees, despite being processed from civet’s droppings.
The beans from the droppings are to be washed, sun-dried, then roasted before being ground and brewed.
One of the distinctive features of the Luwak coffee is its strong aroma. When the civets choose their coffee beans, they only go for the ripest and the juiciest, so that is already one way to ensure quality. The process that happens also reduces the bitterness, so the taste is great for those who prefer a lighter coffee taste. Even so, Luwak coffee has a thicker texture. The coffee has many varieties, including Arabica and Robusta.
Originally, the luwak or Asian palm civets were considered pests, as they eat the cultivated coffee beans. Many farmers hunt this species and kill them at sight. Sadly, luwak is now an endangered species.
That is one of the reasons that many farmers chose to hold their civets captive, cage them, and feed them with coffee beans chosen by the farmer. That method has sparked protests from animal rights activists because the farmed civet are kept in small cages with no freedom and are often treated cruelly, with minimal attention paid to the animals’ well-being. Wild civets only choose the ripest coffee cherries, and when farmers fed them unripe ones, the animals may become ill.
The practice also reduces the quality of the coffee. The coffee flavor from farmed civets is less authentic, as stress influences the digestive process. The farmers also often feed civets unripe coffee cherries, instead of letting the animals choose the best coffee cherries on their own.