Coffee is a fairly polarizing beverage, as far as cups of ingestible liquids are concerned. People tend to love it or hate it for a multitude of different reasons. There are people that hate the taste of coffee but drink it anyway for the quick pick me up, and there are also people who like the taste but don’t like the caffeine and so they drink decaf. There are also people who absolutely love coffee and will comment on the “fragrance” or “hue” of the dark roast they had earlier that day. The point is that to most consumers not all coffees are equal, and there is an entire specialty sector of the coffee market dedicated to the production of high quality coffee beans.
Kopi Luwak is the name for coffee beans that are produced through feeding coffee berries to a civet and then collecting the berries/beans from the animals feces. Apparently, when the civet is digesting the coffee berries, there are enzyme reactions going on in the civets digestive tract that break down the proteins which gives the coffee beans a less bitter, and better taste. Although drinking the juice of a defecated coffee bean may not be the most appetizing image, retail prices for a kilogram of Kopi Luwak beans is around 700 US dollars. Unfortunately Kopi Luwak bean producers have been under much criticism, mainly due to authenticity problems and animal rights concerns.
Originally the defecated beans were picked from civet poop found around coffee plantations. This process of gathering the beans, which didn’t actively produce Kopi Luwak style beans and kept the numbers available relatively low, explains the high retail price. However, there has been an increase in Kopi Luwak “farms” that have reportedly been keeping the civets in cages and force feeding them coffee berries to harvest. This new style of production is unethical and has also lead to a decrease in product quality. In the original method of creating Kopi Luwak style beans, the civets had free will to which coffee beans would be eaten, and in time pooped out and harvested. The starting material for the original Kopi Luwak beans was of higher quality than the “farmed” Kopi Luwak beans, and unsurprisingly the final product, the coffee, reflects this difference but not to the extent where anyone can do anything about it. However, many of these farms will maintain the claim that their civets are in fact wild. Labeling the civets as wild not only maintains the eco-friendly front of this business, but it also keeps prices high by maintaining the belief that these coffee beans are extremely rare.
I think that this is super interesting because it is almost as if producers of the Kopi Luwak beans are creating a false supply curve. By creating this image of the beans still being produced in this rare and natural way, they are tricking consumers into willingly paying an artificially high price for their product. What is also amazing is the fact that their is room in this market for growth. Vice recently interviewed a man, Blake Dinkle, who replicated the process of feeding animals coffee cherries and harvesting the beans with elephants. After a couple years of experimental trials, Dinkle is now selling his Black Ivory Coffee to upscale middle eastern and asian hotels for ~180$/100g of coffee.