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This Coffee Tastes Like... Animal Poo

Aug 3, 2008
How many times have you heard, or even used, the oh-so polite phrase, "this coffee tastes like s**t?" As something of a coffee addict I've tasted blends from pretty much every country on the planet and have had some really bad cups and some truly exquisite ones. Having delved a little deeper into the history and origins of the brown stuff I heard of what I thought was a myth - an altogether different type of brown stuff; animal poo coffee.

There are a lot of gourmet coffees available - the rather expensive Jamaican Blue Mountain (though something of a bitter blend) for example - but the idea of animal coffee, to give it a less off-putting name, seemed far fetched. The idea of browsing through blends at the supermarket and finding such a thing even less likely. What would they put on the label? A man in overalls with a scoop stood behind a bear? I say "bear" as that was the animal first offered as an example.

The theory - as I was told it - is that an animal consumes the coffee berry, much like the way coffee was discovered, and the berry passes through the animals digestive system. The enzymes in the animal's digestive system breaks down the flesh of the berry and the animal passes the beans in their, well, droppings. The idea being, I was told, that this adds something unique and special to the flavour.

Whilst the idea wasn't one that made me smack my lips with anticipation - in fact it made me put my cup firmly down - I have to admit I was intrigued as to whether this was true and, if it was, who would want to drink that?

Without a Grizzly Bear to hand, or a scoop, I resorted to the good old research tool known as the internet and went hunting. I didn't have to hunt too far before I found that the myth is, in fact, a truth. There is a company selling such gourmet coffee online. Not from a bear but 'animal coffee' via a Luwak. A what?

A Luwak is an Asian Palm Civet, a mammal the size of a cat that is common in south east Asian countries. The coffee bean is eaten and processed by the Luwak and then collected from the droppings. According to the company, the Luwak use their keen sense of smell to find the best, ripest coffee beans ensuring that only the superior berries are, er, harvested. The acids in the Luwaks' digestive tracts permeate the bean and remove the proteins, giving a far sweeter tasting bean. Not that I've tasted one to judge. The beans are collected from the forest floor by workers who then clean them of dung and roast them.

Given that gourmet coffee is usually the most expensive, is 'animal coffee' any different? No, far from it. A one pound (450g) pouch of the extra brown stuff costs from 110 Dollars or 180 Dollars depending on whether you fancy a Robusta or Arabica pouch. For those that are truly interested and fancy trying a cup, a London department store has begun blending the coffee with Jamaican Blue Mountain to create what has to be the most expensive cup of coffee; the extra gourmet brew was last reported as selling at 50 pounds for a cup.

It begs the question, in this world of Fair Trade rules for coffee farmers, how much of a cut are the Luwaks getting?
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