S. Korean researchers made civet coffee commonly known as Kopi Luwak in the lab by identifying the digestion and fermentation conditions Taste of Civet Coffee Reproduced Without Animal Abuse
July 28 - 2022
Coffee Geography Magazine
A South Korean research team has succeeded in reproducing the taste of civet coffee, known as “kopi luwak,” without harming any animals using fermentation technology. Civet coffee is made from coffee beans plucked from civets’ feces. It’s the world’s most expensive coffee but raised social issues such as animal cruelty and an unsanitary environment. Keimyung University in the southeastern city of Daegu said Monday that its research team had succeeded in reproducing the taste and fragrance of civet coffee by scientifically identifying the digestion and fermentation conditions similar to those in which civets typically live.
After several years of research efforts on coffee beans, fermentation and optimal roasting conditions, the research team succeeded in mass-producing civet coffee in a sanitary environment without having to harm animals.
The new civet coffee comes in three different types, including a savory fragrance and mild taste, unique and fresh taste, and abundant fruit fragrance. The caffeine content is more than 40 percent lower than typical civet coffee. The research team completed a patent application, vegan certification and trademark application for the research results, which will be published in academic journals in and outside South Korea.
Kopi luwak is a coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries, which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. It is also called civet coffee. The cherries are fermented as they pass through a civet's intestines, and after being defecated with other fecal matter, they are collected. Asian palm civets are increasingly caught in the wild and traded for this purpose.
Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, and in East Timor. It is also widely gathered in the forest or produced in farms in the islands of the Philippines, where the product is called kape motit in the Cordillera region, kapé alamíd in Tagalog areas, kapé melô or kapé musang in Mindanao, and kahawa kubing in the Sulu Archipelago. Weasel coffee is a loose English translation of its Vietnamese name cà phê Chồn. Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms: selection – civets choosing to eat only certain cherries, and digestion – biological or chemical mechanisms in the animals' digestive tracts altering the composition of the coffee cherries.
The traditional method of collecting feces from wild Asian palm civets has given way to an intensive farming method, in which the palm civets are kept in battery cages and are force-fed the cherries. This method of production has raised ethical concerns about the treatment of civets and the conditions they are made to live in, which include isolation, poor diet, small cages, and a high mortality rate.
Although kopi luwak is a form of processing rather than a variety of coffee, it has been called one of the most expensive coffees in the world, with retail prices reaching US$100 per kilogram for farmed beans and US$1,300 per kilogram for wild-collected beans.
The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected to the history of coffee production in Indonesia; Dutch colonialists established coffee plantations in Indonesia and imported beans from Yemen. In the 19th century, farmers in central Java started to brew and drink coffee from excreted beans collected in their plantations.
Kopi luwak is brewed from coffee beans that transversed the gastrointestinal tract of an Asian palm civet, and were thus subjected to a combination of acidic, enzymatic, and fermentation treatment. During digestion, digestive enzymes and gastric juices permeate through the endocarp of coffee cherries and break down storage proteins, yielding shorter peptides.
This alters the composition of amino acids and impacts the aroma of the coffee. In the roasting process, the proteins undergo a non-enzymatic Maillard reaction. The palm civet is thought to select the most ripe and flawless coffee cherries. This selection influences the flavor of the coffee, as does the digestive process. The beans begin to germinate by malting, which reduces their bitterness. When performed in nature, or in the wild, these two mechanisms achieve the same goal as selective picking and the wet or washed process of coffee milling: 1) harvesting optimally ripe cherries and 2) mechanically and chemically removing the pulp and skin from the cherry, leaving mainly the seed. Traditionally, excreted coffee beans were collected directly in plantations and forests.
As the international demand for kopi luwak increased, some producers turned to caged production methods to increase yields. In 2014, the annual kopi luwak production was grossly estimated at less than 127 kg. It is produced in Indonesia, East Timor, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The taste of kopi luwak varies with the type and origin of excreted beans, processing, roasting, aging, and brewing. The ability of the civet to select its berries, and other aspects of the civet's diet and health, like stress levels, may also influence the processing and hence taste.