What is “civet cat” coffee?

civet coffeeYou might have heard about civet cat coffee, also known as kopi luwak. One of the most costly cups of coffee available, a single cup in Australia can easily cost twenty dollars. So what exactly is this costly coffee?

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The civet is a possum sized mammal found throughout South East Asia and is a cousin to cats. Civets live in forests, foraging for berries and fruits and spending much of their time in the trees. Sometime after the introduction of coffee to Indonesia, the local population discovered that native civets had taken to eating coffee fruits and leaving the coffee beans undigested in their droppings. We don’t know who first decided to give it a shot, but at some point people discovered that if you collect these undigested beans, (carefully) clean them and roast them, they produce a particularly aromatic brew of coffee.

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To produce civet coffee, civet cats are let loose in a coffee plantation, free to choose the coffee fruits they want. The coffee beans then pass through the digestive tract of the civet, where the enzymes in the civet’s gut seep into the beans, breaking down chemicals in the bean. These beans are then excreted and collected for cleaning and roasting.

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Civet coffee is quite different to other types of coffee, usually tasting less acidic and bitter, with a smoother flavour. Some coffee critics are quite critical of the taste, claiming that it is bodiless and ‘thin’. Nevertheless, many people seem to love the taste of civet coffee, despite the steep price.

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