Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world.
Luxury ingredients come in all shapes and sizes. And food and drink that costs the earth is often prepared using utterly unappetising methods.
But in the great pantheon of strange foods that we consider delicacies, few can be more unusual than Kopi Luwa coffee.
Here, Twisted investigates why Kopi Luwa is so expensive and ethical concerns around production.
Why is Kopi Luwak coffee so expensive?
As one of the world’s most popular drinks, coffee comes in many forms.
Every country that specialises in bean growing has their own premium products.
But the price of Kopi Luwak is more expensive than any of its rivals.
This coffee is so expensive and sought-after because of where it comes from – the anus of the Asian palm civet.
No, we're not joking – and the demand is huge.
While nearly 900 million kilograms of coffee are produced each year, just 250 to 500 kilos of wild Kopi Luwak is made.
The battle of supply versus demand helps to explain why a cup of Kopi is so costly.
How is Kopi Luwak made?
The palm civet is a cat-like creature native to Southeast Asia.
An omnivorous creature, it survives on all manner of small animals, insects and fruits, including those of the coffee plant.
Palm civets eat coffee for the fleshy pulp of the fruit, but are unable to digest the hard beans.
As the beans are ingested, the civet’s intestinal tract impregnates them with digestive juices.
Once the beans are excreted in the civet’s droppings, they are collected by hand before being ground and roasted as normal.
The result is a coffee with a unique, smooth taste, unlike anything else on the planet.
What is the price of Kopi Luwak?
While this process may sound intriguing, a sample does not come cheap.
An average 500g bag of “normal” coffee may cost you anywhere between $3 and $10.
But the same weight of Kopi Luwak will set you back at least $500 dollars.
This extraordinary price is due to the low level of production in comparison to demand.
But the production of Kopi Luwak is now coming under intense scrutiny.
Beware of fake Kopi Luwak coffee
In an attempt to cash in on the trend, there are a whole host of pseudo-Kopi Luwak vendors, selling knock-off coffee at hugely inflated prices.
Mark Prince of Coffee Geek claims there is "probably 5000 per cent more Kopi Luwak sold each year than is actually produced."
Clearly, the scale of the fake produce is a huge issue for genuine manufacturers.
Is Kopi Luwak coffee ethical?
There are insidious ethical concerns over Kopi Luwak production.
In fact, there are a number of facilities that cage civets in order to produce Kopi Luwak.
The conditions the animals are kept in are often woefully inadequate.
In addition, they are fed a diet consisting entirely of coffee fruit.
Although farming civets is a much less-labour intensive way of securing the beans, the results are dire for the animals’ wellbeing.
Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit assessed 16 sample plantations in Bali and reported a bleak picture of animal abuse.
The university described cages as "soaked through with urine and droppings".
Elsewhere, it was noted by the researchers added that the civets were covered in "sores and abrasions".
Concern for animal welfare
Many have raised concerns over the welfare of animals in the production of Kopi Luwak.
In addition, it's also actually had an adverse effect on the final product.
Civets select the beans that they eat based on ripeness while in the wild and as part of a balanced, omnivorous diet.
This selection process is integral in the production of top quality Kopi Luwak.
By removing the selection element, the beans that pass through are of poorer quality.
The huge question marks over the Kopi Luwak trade are forcing some individuals to take action.
Coffee consultant and the man responsible for introducing the coffee to the West, Tony Wild, has called for an end to the practise over ethical concerns.
The Sustainable Agriculture Network has also prohibited the caging of civets for its guidelines in Indonesia.
Solution for Kopi Luwak coffee
There are potential solutions coming from the scientific community.
Manufacturers in Vietnam have managed to artificially reproduce the enzymic effect of the civet’s digestive tract.
This means that they can create a bean that has the taste of true Kopi Luwak with none of the unpalatable side effects.
If technology can help produce a superior product without harming animals, there may be hope for Kopi Luwak.
With its unusual origins and controversial manufacturing process, the world’s most expensive coffee is certainly a divisive product.
Though technology can assist, we will have to pay for to get a taste of the real thing guilt-free,
It may be expensive, but the consequences of a cheap cup of Kopi Luwak are far worse than a big price tag.