Coffee connoisseurs are known to be willing to shell out large sums of money for a high-quality bean. The high-end beans, such as Kona or Blue Mountain, are known to go for extraordinary sums of money. Then there is Kopi Lowak, reputed to be the most expensive coffee in the world. While price can vary, Kopi Lowak (which translates as “Civet coffee”) can sell for as much as $50 per quarter-pound.
This isn’t particularly surprising, given that approximately 500 pounds a year of Kopi Lowak constitutes the entire world supply.
What is surprising is why this particular coffee is so rare. It’s not the plants that are rare. It’s the civet droppings. That’s right, the civet droppings. Coffee beans aren’t Kopi Lowak until they’ve been passed through the digestive tract of paradoxurus hermaphroditus, otherwise known as the palm civet.
Palm civets are nocturnal, tree-dwelling raccoon-like little critters, native to SE Asia and the Indonesian islands. They also have a love of coffee cherries. They eat the fruit whole, but only digest the outer fruit, leaving the bean intact. Suppliers of Kopi Lowak opine that while the beans have not been destroyed, or even visibly changed, they have undergone a transformation while in the civet’s digestive tract. Regardless of whether the digestive enzymes have wrought some changes in the beans, or whether it’s the unfailing instinct that palm civets have for coffee cherries at the peak of ripeness, the beans retrieved from civet droppings have a unique flavor all their own.
Right now most of the world’s supply is sold in Japan, though a very few US markets are starting to stock it. It’s strictly limited availability would virtually guarantee a high price, even if the coffee were unremarkable. As it is, Kopi Lowak is reported to have a character unlike any other coffee, complex with caramel undertones and an earthy or gamey flavor.
So, if you want a cup of coffee, and feel like crap, here’s the cup for you.