Civet coffee, surely a name that seems not unfamiliar anymore, once had its heyday among coffee lovers, being considered one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world.
However, when the third wave of coffee emerged, civet coffee somehow received less attention within the community. Perhaps the production investment for this type of coffee has declined, or the perception of civet coffee among consumers has changed.
Weasel Coffee is known by various English names such as Civet Coffee, or with a more local name, Kopi Luwak, originating from Indonesia.
In the early 18th century, the Dutch introduced coffee plants to their colonial territories, including Indonesia and the Sumatra archipelago. At that time, the coffee industry in Indonesia was completely under Dutch control. Farmers and plantation workers were not allowed to harvest coffee beans for personal use because coffee was highly valuable and considered theft.
Later on, workers observed a type of civet (technically called the Asian palm civet, specifically the Common Palm Civet) consuming ripe coffee fruits and subsequently excreting them in their feces, as they couldn't digest the beans. Local farmers collected the feces and carefully cleaned the coffee beans inside. They then roasted and brewed the coffee for consumption. They discovered that this process produced a unique-tasting coffee that locals could enjoy for free.
The civets contribute to a very special coffee? Source: Internet.
When Europeans arrived in Indonesia and discovered that the local people were enjoying this special type of coffee, they also quickly became enamored with it. Although Indonesia is considered the origin of this world-famous coffee, it naturally developed in similar ways across coffee plantations and forests throughout the region, including Vietnam.
The quantity of coffee obtained from the natural civet species is relatively "modest" in comparison to conventional production methods, considering the wide range of Southeast Asian countries involved, at around 200kg per year. This scarcity contributes to the exorbitantly high prices of this coffee.
In order to meet the demand and curiosity of consumers, some establishments have started producing this civet coffee in an "artificial" manner. This means they build a system of farms to raise civets and feed them ripe coffee fruits, then harvest the coffee. However, this method does not yield distinctive products and cannot achieve the quality of the natural process.
The natural process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, as farmers need to search through dense forests for miles to find the feces of a wild civet in order to have a chance of obtaining a few dozen coffee beans. This has driven up the price of civet coffee dramatically. You can walk into a trendy café in the capital city of London and order a cup of civet coffee for a price that can reach up to £50 (approximately 1,400,000 VND). The global civet coffee market development has led to the promotion of inhumane and illegal activities such as captive breeding and trading of civets.
In nature, civets are solitary, omnivorous animals that are active at night. Their diet includes insects and fruits, including coffee cherries. To meet the demand, suppliers capture civets from the wild and confine them in cramped cages, often providing them with only coffee fruits to eat. The captive civets suffer greatly from being confined in close proximity to other civets. Intense stress and an unhealthy diet lead to severe health issues, and the animals kept in cages often die prematurely.
Civets were captured and locked up for the purpose of industrially exploiting mink coffee. Source: Internet.
Furthermore, this practice of captivity is also geared towards serving tourists. As civet coffee gains value in the market, consumers are becoming curious and eager to learn about its origins and sources. This has led to the development of tour packages (especially for foreign visitors) that explore how to have a cup of civet coffee.
In reality, even though captive breeding is done to increase production compared to natural sources, it is still insufficient to meet the curiosity-driven market demand. As a result, some traders have resorted to deception by mixing other types of coffee with additives and selling and exporting them under the name of civet coffee at high prices.
If you are not an expert or have never experienced authentic civet coffee before, it is easy to be deceived.
Civet coffee is marketed by traders as an extremely rare and precious specialty coffee. To obtain an exceptional cup of civet coffee, the following factors need to be met:
Civets must be naturally free-roaming and feed on ripe red coffee cherries (containing high levels of fruit sugars).
The fermentation process in the civet's digestive system, which contains specific enzymes, takes approximately 24 hours at the civet's body temperature (37 degrees Celsius).
After being excreted, the coffee beans need to be dried in cool and low-humidity conditions.
When the coffee beans pass through the civet's digestive system, the enzymes break down the protein structure present in the coffee cherries, initiating the fermentation process. This process removes some of the bitterness caused by acids in the coffee beans and creates a unique aroma reminiscent of hazelnut, chocolate, along with an extremely smooth coffee flavor.
At first glance, civet coffee appears to be a truly special, aromatic, and difficult-to-"replicate" coffee with large quantities. If given the opportunity to try it, it would be considered very fortunate.
To verify the quality of this coffee, some experts from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) have organized tasting sessions and quality assessments of civet coffee products. The majority of expert opinions indicate that it has a rather poor taste. Experts believe that the flavors advertised in the market are fabricated by traders. Additionally, some of the distinctive flavors attributed to civet coffee may be the result of externally applied flavorings, rather than being natural.
Faced with the opinions of coffee experts and representatives of animal protection organizations, civet coffee is gradually revealing its true nature and losing support and value in the market, especially in the third wave of coffee where transparency and sustainability are highly emphasized. It is evident that this captive farming practice does not bring real value or benefits to farmers and directly impacts animals and the environmental ecosystem.
The above is all the information about civet coffee that I believe you should know.
While it is not difficult to find this information in mainstream media, not everyone takes the time to gain a closer look.
Let iO Coffee bring you closer to that information. Let's be informed consumers and have a better understanding of the true value of the products we choose. This is also a way for us to help the value of agriculture and the development of Vietnamese coffee grow stronger and more sustainable.