Cat-butt coffee: A critical review

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world. At my local specialty coffee bean store, it sells for $420 per pound—or $10 for a 10 oz. brewed cup.

Kopi Luwak is very different from that cheap, gauche coffee you and I drink every day. This is because each hand-harvested bean of Kopi Luwak has been artisanally shat out of the digestive system of a small Indonesian pseudo-cat.

Yesterday, my husband and I split a cup of Kopi Luwak in an attempt to figure out whether having cat butt all over your coffee beans really did noticeably improve the flavor, or whether this was all just an elaborate practical joke on the part of Indonesian farmers.

The Asian Palm Civet is not really a cat, per se. It's a viverrid, a family of animals not found in North America. Viverrids belong to the same suborder as cats, so they are related. But, if you're not from Asian or African tropics, these animals will probably look a little weird to you. Imagine what might happen if the bastard love child of a ferret and a lemur had babies with your house cat. That's an Asian Palm Civet.

And Asian Palm Civets, as it turns out, really like to eat the fruits off of coffee plants. Although the civet can digest the fruit itself, the same can not be said for the bean at the center. Coffee beans pass through the civet whole. But they don't leave unchanged. Enzymes in the civet digestive tract break down proteins in the coffee beans. We know this because researchers at the University of Guelph actually did a detailed analysis in 2002, comparing Kopi Luwak and normal Columbian coffee beans. (You will be pleased to note that the same study confirmed that Kopi Luwak is safe to drink.)

Civets poop out coffee beans. This can happen on farms, or in the wild. Either way, once the pooping is done, somebody comes along to harvest the "processed" beans, cleans them, and roasts them. And then you have Kopi Luwak.

Here are the two things you need to know about the taste of Kopi Luwak:

• There is a difference in flavor. Kopi Luwak is noticeably not bitter. Swallow a sip, and it's like you just drank some water. There's no sting or heavy flavor left in the back of your throat. That makes sense. Proteins are part of what is responsible for the bitterness of coffee. Kopi Luwak beans have fewer whole proteins than normal beans. So they're less bitter, but still taste good. As my husband put it, "Everything that is wrong with cheap gas station coffee is right about this."

• That difference is totally not worth the price. Again, to quote my husband, "If I were a Russian oligarch or an investment banker or something, and $420 a pound represented a much smaller amount of my time worked, I'd probably drink this. As it is, not worth it."*

Cat-butt coffee: The coffee of the 1%?

Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that Kopi Luwak originated during Dutch colonization of Indonesia, when Indonesians were banned from drinking any of the coffee they worked to grow and harvest. Instead, they gathered beans from civet poop and brewed that. And they talked about how great this cat-butt coffee was. Eventually, the Dutch colonists got curious, tried it for themselves, and then pretty much took it over. That's how Kopi Luwak became a luxury item. It's been expensive since the 19th century.

Of course, that history also lends a little more evidence to the theory that, somewhere, Indonesian farmers are having a good, long chuckle.

• • • •

Read more about Kopi Luwak in a 2010 New York Times story.

If you'd like a smoother brew at a more reasonable price, I'd recommend the Aerobie AeroPress. It's $30, makes a damn fine cup of coffee, and does not contain any cat butt.

Image: Kopi Luwak, Kaffee, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ohallmann's photostream


  1. Calling it “cat-butt coffee” is like calling my breakfast items “chicken-cloaca eggs” served alongside “cow-mammary milk”

    1. Not quite. All eggs and milk are dispensed that way, but only cat-butt coffee beans come out of a cat butt.

        1. Yeah, I just looked to edit my comment accordingly. 

          Serves me right for reading the comments before the article.

          Small tidbit: In Geman  the animals called “Schleichkatze”, which, I guess, translates best as “tipttoing/sneaking cat”.

      1. Depends on how you define ‘cat’.  Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged defines cat, n., as, among other things:

        1c : an animal that in appearance or behavior resembles any member of the family Felidae — usually used with a qualifying term <bearcat> <toddy cat> <polecat> <native cat>

        And note that one of the names mentioned, ‘toddy cat’, is, in fact, a common name for the Asian Palm Civet.

        So it’s a cat.  Not in the ‘member of the family Felidae’ sense of the word, but in the ‘animal that resembles a felid’ sense.

          1. [LanguageGeek]
            Interestingly (well, to me, anyway), M-WU doesn’t include a definition of ‘fish’ that would extend to whales or sea stars.

            The OED says that “popular language” sometimes uses such an  extended sense (“…extended to include various cetaceans, crustaceans, molluscs, etc.”), but notes that “popular usage now tends to approximate” the modern scientific sense, and adds a usage note that “Except in the compound shell-fish, the word is no longer commonly applied in educated use to invertebrate animals.”

            Dictionaries only record how skilled native speakers use the language, of course, but the differences between the entries for ‘cat’ and ‘fish’ suggest that ‘cat’ is commonly used in an extended sense that ‘fish’ is not.

            At least not in “educated use.” :-)

          1. Oh, pfff yourself.  Nothing wrong with M-WU, and when I posted I happened to be on a different computer that didn’t have OED access.

            The OED says pretty much the same thing (cat, n.1, def. 4a)  and gives “civet cat” as an example. 

            Is that good enough, or will you sneer at any source that doesn’t support your prejudices?

          1. Um, what?  Is there something wrong with the markup?

            (It was a PITA to preserve the angle brackets without confusing Disqus, but it looks fine from here.)

  2. “Artisanally shat” is a keeper. It’s going to be tough to find places to drop that into conversation though. Anyone want to talk ab out ambergris with me?

    1. To be cat butt coffee it would have to be brewed in a cats butt. You seem to be writing about cat butt bean coffee. Say it out loud, and you will be singing it all day.

      Cat butt bean coffee.
      Cat butt bean coffee.
      Cat butt bean coffee.
      Cat butt bean coffee

  3. If you like less-“stingy” and milder, smoother coffee, cold brewing is worth investigating. I don’t know how the flavor compares to Kopi Luwak, but it’s a darn sight cheaper.

  4. Interestingly enough, a scientific study was undertaken on Kopi Luwak by Massimo Marcone, and documented in his book, which boingboing wrote about way back in 2007: .

    The scientific evidence actually proves that there is a difference in taste, because the beans are processed in being digested: the outermost layers of dirt and bacteria are effectively removed by the digestive juices of the civet.

      1. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie…

        If we read your article, how could we ever post high enough in the comment chain for people to notice?

        1. hahah, I’m a perp too.  Sorry Maggie, we just want attention because you’re so great.  It’s true!  No facetious!

        2. Well, the new comment format permits people to reply to the first comment or the first reply to the first comment or the second reply to the first comment, etc, etc and thus get on top.

    1. I mean — you could just taste it. My girlfriend brought back a few bags of civet coffee from Vietnam (that’s the cheap way to get it, FYI) and it tastes incredible. No comparison between it and other forms of coffee — it’s different and great.

      1. Agreed, it’s got a more chocolate aroma than Kopi Luwak. Personally do not drink it any more. 
        Working in an Indonesian office for 2 year’s and consuming 3 cups of Kopi Luwak a day, killed my addiction to coffee. 

      2. The stuff from Viet Nam is usually farm produced – the civets are kept in awful conditions. Please don’t buy, well, *anything* in Viet Nam.

    2. Outermost layers of dirt and bacteria?    Are you familiar with how coffee is grown, harvested and processed?  Perhaps you mean that natural coffee bacteria is replaced by pseudo-cat butt bacteria?

  5. How much of a feat would it be to make or synthesize some of these enzymes and soak some beans in a vat rather than either raising or following around some wild psuedo-cats so you can individually pick out beans from their poop?

    1. No need to follow the critters.  They tend to have favorite places to cop a squat and will to the midden heap over and over.  So a crafty harvester just has to find where those spots are and make his (or her) weekly rounds with a pooper scooper.

      1. Crafty harvester? The doco i saw on them last some dude had a bunch of those cats in cages. I mean it wasnt quite a ‘battery-hen’ setup but it wasnt far off it..

  6. $420 a pound!?!

    My cat will shit out coffee beans for half that.  Plus, he’s a REAL cat, which I can only assume will improve the taste.

    1. Hmmm….  But how do you get the beans inside the cat?   

      As a cat owner I find that is nearly accurate.

      1. One of my cats would eat a rock if you put gravy on it.  He either thinks he’s a dog or some kind of lizard.

    2. I don’t know anything about civets but my cat buries her “artisanal efforts”. I assume yours does too. That said, you’ll need to adjust your cost of production costs to cover mining expenses.

      1. Not a problem.  They have robotic litter boxes.  A small initial investment, and then it’s all profit!

    3. Yes, yes. Of course you could get half of that. Your cat is probably just a common house cat. Whereas my two cats are of the royal Puptaruptapimpnaporn line, descendants of residents of the royal palace of Siam. Why, we don’t even need to include coffee beans to get $420 a pound for their butt leavings. But if we did include coffee beans…!

      Furthermore I suggest we investigate the product produced from goats feeding on coffee fruit. Isn’t the legend that “dancing goats”, goats that had et’ them some coffee fruit and where in the throes of a killer caffeine buzz, alerted nearby goatherds to the magical properties of the coffee bean?

      I believe goats could certainly increase production and lower the price of digested coffee beans.

        1. C’mon!  Being shit out by a cat is bad enough, who wants to drink coffee from beans that goat has. . .

          Oh, wait.  You said “masticate.”  Never mind. . .

    4. My cat will shit out coffee beans for half that.  Plus, he’s a REAL cat, which I can only assume will improve the taste.

      Not one crack about a toxoplasma macchiato?  How disappointing.

  7. I have been lucky enough to have this coffee twice: once in a cafe in Saigon and then on a coffee and spice plantation on Bali. Both times, the coffee was smooth, delicious and followed by  smooth waves of caffeinated euphoria. 
    In Bali, my wife and I got to feed pieces of banana to a couple of  civets. Then we sat, ate raw cacao seed and drank civet coffee. All for a few dollars : )

    1. How’d did you get to Bali for a few dollars? Tickets are really expensive no matter where I look. 

  8. Has anybody tried processing coffee beans in a solution of artificial digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid to mimic the civet’s stomach action? 
    I bet Breaking Bad’s Walter White could do it!

    1. The developing world has found it easier to simply put the civets in cages and force feed them the beans.

    2. Artificially processed civet coffee is fairly easy to buy, and it’s been judged to be comparable. I did a search for it just a few weeks back and could buy it for $17/lb. Google it yourself, lazybones.

  9. I’m still trying to train my cat to operate a french press. I suppose I could wrap coffee beans in a thin layer of meat and use those as the reward when he completes part of the task successfully…

  10. Thanks for trying this for the rest of us.  I always wondered about this.  I agree with your husband, totally not worth it, but still good to know there is a noticable, and nice improvement in flavor.  I think I’ll stick to my cold brewing.

  11. “Artisanally shat out” is my new favorite phrase and will henceforth be applied to anything coming out of my bosses mouth.

    1. I too would like to give a shout out to the catchphrase of the day, “artisanally shat out.”  I suspect, however, noot is in danger of conflating his boss’ orifices.

  12. Why don’t they produce the enzymes from the psueduo cat’s gut, and treat the beans with them? Then you can manufacture a much higher volume of this stuff since actual animals won’t be involved.

    1. I too would like to give a shout out to the catchphrase of the day, “artisanally shat out.”  I suspect, however, noot is in danger of conflating his boss’ orifices.

      1. In order to have access to a sufficient supply of pseudo cat gut to make the enterprise viable, one will have to invest in the tennis racket…

  13. Not all cat ass coffees are equal.  Some are collected from the wild and some come from production facilities where captive civets are force fed the coffee fruits and become obese.  I think I read that here back last century.  In any case, at a market price of $1K/kilo for poop someone would have to try and mechanize production.

  14. I welcome feedback on this supposition:  I thought part of the greatness of this coffee was from how the animal selects just the ripest beans for its meal.  You could get an equivalent cup quality by paying the pickers to just get the ripest cherries.  Aren’t the enzymes destroyed and outer layers (chaff) removed in the roasting process?

  15. When my brother first heard about this crazy-expensive cat butt bean coffee he said “Hell, I can do that!” He fed a couple handfuls of espresso beans to his Maine Coon Rufus and brewed a pot with what came out the other end. Not bad at all.

  16. Another variant on “let the critters select the beans for ripeness” is Jacu Bird coffee from Brazil.
    For a full description search for Jacu at

  17. Man, those must be some seriously wired civets.  Imagine if a large portion of the food in your intestines was coffee beans.  I’d be climbing the walls.  Do they have a 12 step program for them when they try to kick the stuff?

      1. Coffee berries, in addition to sugar, also have caffeine. There is a wine made from these that has alcohol and caffeine.

      2. One wonders if a jacked-up celebrity civet defense attorney has ever tried this catchy slogan of yours in a court of law.

  18. “Good to the last . . .”

    I was going to say “sphincter” but I’m sure the collective wit of the Happy Mutants can do better.

  19. Anyone here heard the term “second harvest”? No, not the nonprofit that gathers food missed by mechanized harvesting in the fields to give to food banks. I’m talking about the Native American tribes that would plant the seed they’d find undigested in their poo. Other cultures would do it too. Since learning about it, it makes it difficult to eat corn without chuckling a little. If offered a bag of this coffee I’d probably explode from laughter.

  20. * Colombian. Not Columbian.

    Sorry for being annoying, I’m overly caught up in a struggle with my voice recognition software over this one.

  21. ‘Indonesians were banned from drinking any of the coffee they worked to grow and harvest. Instead, they gathered beans from civet poop and brewed that. And they talked about how great this cat-butt coffee was. Eventually, the Dutch colonists got curious, tried it for themselves, and then pretty much took it over.’

    It’s Tom Sawyer coffee!

  22. “psuedo-cat.”  Hmph. Civets get no respect, but at least they get the last laugh at anyone who readily and knowlingly pays such ridiculous amounts of money to drink their poo.

  23. There is also an indonesian monsoon coffee that a coffee shop i used to work at had. I forget some details but basically its specifically set out to dry during monsoon season, (and crudely explaining this) it somehow affects the bitterness of the beans. The brew ends up being mild and has a low acidic content. Awesome coffee for people who have problems with the bitterness or the impact of the acidity on their stomach.

  24. Every time I hear about this product I think about the “labrador” blend enjoyed by Cheech & Chong in Up in Smoke. Different recreational drug, same concept.

  25. Slow unusual news day?
    I think every year since the internet was invented, this article, or one like it has circulated to the shock and amazement of fewer and fewer readers.
    It’s about time that kopi luwak coffee passed from the unusual to the ordinary.
    Heh heh… passed.

    1. This isn’t “news,” it’s a review of a product that most people have never tasted as written by a woman who recently tried it for the first time.

  26. So I’ve had this twice. Once from a comercial-looking bag like the one above, and one high in the mountains in Bali, surrounded by a spice plantation and civets.

    The first was delicious, as the article describes. Even made with our Italian Bialetti Moka pot, which would make most purists turn up their noses because it supposedly burns the coffee, the difference was amazing.

    The second time, though. Ah, the second time. In a spice plantation surrounded by cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla. Civets running around their cages. Fresh poop drying in the sun. The coffee was ritually roasted over a fire and ground by hand. The brew was made by pouring freshly-boiled water into a wooden cup.

    And it was flat-out gross.

    Yes. If you take your $450-a-pound coffee, burn it to a crisp over an open fire, grind it with a mortar and pestle, and dump it in boiling water, yes, it will taste just as bad as gas station coffee.

  27. The term I’ve heard is “cat-poop coffee”, as in “I’m not drinking that cat-poop coffee beer”, when a co-worker referenced my bottle of Mikeller Beer Geek Brunch Imperial Oatmeal Stout, a wholly excellent beer that is made with Kopi Luwak.

    I spent $18 on a 21oz bottle, as I doubted I’d ever taste the coffee (and, yeah, $10 for a pure cup would have been cheaper, but I’m more of a beer experimentalist than a coffee experimentalist). It was an excellent beer, but I’m sure you make a just-as-excellent-beer with a cheaper coffee.

  28. “Cat-butt coffee”  that just makes it sound like its been near a cat butt. It should be called  “cat shit coffee”.

  29. This coffee is produced at great expense to the civet.  No one scours the jungle in search of the “gems” these cats leave behind.  They are raised on farms where they are kept in squalid, third-world wire cages and fed minimal nutritious food so that they can be force fed more beans.

    It is a delicacy that should be avoided.

    1. I’ve seen pics of extremely obese civets that were fed huge amounts of coffee fruits to ‘process’ the beans.  It’s ghastly but at the market price I’m not surprised someone’s doing it.

    2. Erm, how do third world wire cages differ from the garden variety first world selection? Just wondering.

  30. When I was traveling with my wife in Sumatra a few years back we were able to find a little village near Bukittinggi which had a woman who sold kopi luwak, and of course we bought some beans. She roasted the batch for us right there, but unfortunately she roasted it too much. Still, when we brewed up some when we got home we found it was pretty good. Not ambrosia, but very good coffee, indeed.

    It was strictly a small village, even family operation. I suspect the combination of the need for manual collection and the small supply explains much of the cost.

    Of course, it’s safe. I mean, the beans are washed first, and then roasted like hell. And that’s before boiling water is poured over them to make the final brew. I doubt any nasties could survive that trip.However, I have to also say that Sumatran coffee in general is so extraordinarily good in the first place (good luck finding it any at Starbucks) that it’s difficult to sort out what would be added by the luwak.Btw, for those who are thinking of buying some, caveat emptor. They sell a version of kopi luwak in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (called chon coffee) which is, in fact, a blend of regular and “real” luwak coffee (although I sort of recall that other animals might also be involved). The price is cheaper than we found in Sumatra, but it’s not 100% the real thing. (They don’t tell you it’s not 100%, though.)

  31. Not sure how many of you were around when “Jamaican Blue Mountain” was the raved about brew & ridiculously expensive. Soon it was almost impossible to not run into ‘JBM’ in every coffee shop and A&P in America. It was so common in fact that it became obvious that none of it was actually Jamaican Blue Mountain that people were paying extra for.  How long before ‘cat-poop coffee’ is being sold by the gallon in every Starbucks?

    1. A more pedestrian (non-coffee-geek) example is Kona. Mostly it’s sold as a blend with other, cheaper coffees.

  32. I’d rather have the coffee fruit processed by some local (maui) workers and turned into KonaRed  Its not actually made from the bean in the center, so you get both great drinks…. and no cat sht

    1. You may want to clarify your post. In the context of this story, “processed by some local (maui) workers” takes on a whole new meaning. I assume KonaRed is not made from the poop of Hawaiians, right? 

      1. ummm, yeah right. it is NOT made from Hawaiian poop. It is made from hawaiian coffee fruit, brewed not far from our makerspace… not far by maui standards, where 20 miles is a long drive.

        1. But you do realize that Greenwell Farms is in Kealakekua, kona side of an entirely different island, 80 miles south from Makena?

          1. As I understand it, Kona Red is made from awesome Kona coffee grown on Big Isle. The berries (or maybe w/o bean) are shipped to Maui and Kona Red is made in a greenhouse off Omaopio Rd Maui.   The Community Work Day (Maui) seedling greenhouse is on the same property.

  33. While understandably not very cheap, it still is $10. To split a cup and say it’s for a “Russian oligarch or an investment banker” I think may be slightly overplaying it!

  34. And you have to brew it while grooving to Journey to the Center of Cat Butt by Cat Butt.  1989, Sub Pop Records.  Get it while it’s hot.

  35. Alas, the closest I’ve come to cat butt coffee, is monkey-picked tea.  But with all the shit flinging, nose picking and masturbating those monkeys must be doing I figure its gotta be close.

      1. The reviews at Amazon are pushing me toward a “buy” decision. Some negatives but mostly positives.

    1. Both my lady and I have barista experience, and use it daily (multiple times usually.)  I would agree with you if you were talking about not good coffee to begin with.  Buy an espresso bean, espresso grind it and then add water to suit your taste.  Mine is 2 oz espresso, 2 oz water, 1 oz cream.  Awesome.

  36. For something cheaper yet very mild try 100% Kona. Amazon has it and if you get a bad bag the grower replaces it for free. Best coffee I’ve ever had . 

  37. It’s a civet.  Can you say, “SARS?”
    Maybe later we can all have civet pate foie gras for that extra little caffiene jolt.

  38. Strangely, I was at Coffee & Tea LTD yesterday (I assume that’s where you go for your coffee) in Linden Hills – I much prefer the Galapagos Bourbon coffee – another interesting historic bean (from the Bourbon tree, the only relation to the alcohol is the family they’re both named after). Also, I once had a “second cup” so to speak after another customer ordered the kopi coffee before I came into the store, and it was still delicious.

  39. For what its worth:
    Trung-nguyen has developed an enzymatic industrial process to get the Kopi flavor.  Hell I love vietnamese coffee in general and if you get a cup (with sweetened condensed milk) in a restaurant its most likely to be Trung-Nguyen.  Its great coffee, even the non-enzyme stuff.

  40. Do you s’pose the interested home-brewer can coerce a domestic feline to swallow a bunch of green coffee, then roast their own after kitty is done “processing”?

    Also, if one instead employed a binturong, would the resulting beans take on their distinctive buttered-popcorn aroma?

  41. I was told in Jamaica that the best coffee was made from beans confiscated from the secret storage caches of rats. The rats selectively take only the perfectly ripe red beans (because they taste the best) and ignore the partly green ones that are usually included in the harvests gathered by human pickers.  These rat caches aren’t digested and pooped, just beans at their prime ripeness.  Maybe the good taste of the Civet crap beans have nothing to do with passing through the animal but rather are the top quality beans to start.

  42. I tried to train my sister’s pet cat to produce cat-butt coffee.
    Didn’t improve the flavour of the coffee, no matter how much I force-fed the poor animal.
    Looking on the bright side, there is no apparent difference between the normal behaviour of this cat, and caffeine-OD-induced psychosis.

  43. Hi, I’m Mac, and I’m gonna be the grumpy guy on the comments section.
    I’ve got to start with this. Please don’t associate Kopi with specialty coffee. I work in the specialty industry and by no means is cat-shit considered a fine beverage. I’ve tried it, it tastes like cat-ass. The method by which the coffee is produced is inhumane to civets, who are caged in the same fashion you see those PETA ad chickens. WITHIN the specialty coffee industry, theres this great blog, a blog that blogs about the really great stuff, the great coffee and the great processing methods that go along with the coffee. Civet doo doo is never included as an acceptable or successful processing method. I’ve attached the link to “Sprudge”, that blog that the specialty industry goes to, below. PLEASE! I beg of you! Don’t tell your readers to drink it. It’s awful! A far better coffee can be found from a local roaster. Someone who, preferably, has not shit their beans.
    I love your site. Thanks BoingBoing.

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