The Straight Poop About Civet Coffee

The Straight Poop About Civet Coffee
How can people who love to drink exotic coffees tell the good poop from the bad? Now, there’s a scientific way to do it, at least if the coffee you’re talking about is the famous civet coffee, which is first eaten and then pooped out by civet cats before having the beans roasted, bagged, and sold. If you’d like to know the straight “poop” about civet coffee, read on!

Civet coffee, or “real Kopi Luwak” as it’s known as in Indonesia, can’t be identified just by looking at it from any other sort of coffee. It has been tempting for some unscrupulous individuals to commit fraud, and sell coffee which  they claim is civet coffee, when it is some other sort. So, how can you be sure that you’re not getting ripped off when you fork over the exorbitant price it costs, which can range from $150-$227 a pound?

How can scientists determine what is civet coffee and what isn’t?

The July 27 online  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society, reports that scientists have figured out a method to make sure that the civet coffee you’re drinking is the good s—t, instead of just plain, run-of-the-mill manure.

Civet coffee is made in countries like Indonesia, where mammals called civet cats or “luwaks” pick the ripest coffee cherries to munch on. They’re after the soft fruit that surrounds the coffee beans. They poop the beans out, and then the beans are cleaned and fermented in a process known as “wet-formation.” After that, they are dried in the sun and roasted. The resultant coffee is sold throughout Southeast Asia in stores, and you can also buy civet coffee online.

Scientists can determine what is civet coffee and what isn’t by verifying the coffee’s “metabolic fingerprint.” To do this, they use metabolomics technology, according to the co-author of the study, Eiichiro Fukusaki. Compared to regular coffee,  the civet coffee levels of malic acid and citric acid and the ratio of inositol/pyroglutamic acid are correspondingly higher.

What is metabolomics research?

Metabolomics research is the study of metabolites. Metabolites are substances that are produced during metabolic processes like digestion.    Metabolites which can be detected by and mass spectrometry and  gas chromatography.

Though identifying coffee in such a way might be used on a wide-spread basis some day, there first have to be technological improvements made, according to Osaka University biotechnology professor Fukusaki.

How effective is the process to determine what is genuine civet coffee?

The study is a “very good beginning” says Stanley Segall, though more research is necessary. She is a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, a scientific society based in Chicago.

According to Segall:

It’s the first study of this type, and it’s not clear to me that they were really rigorous in terms of sample selection. It would have been useful if they had compared two sets of coffee cherries from the same tree, with one passing through the civet and the other not going through the animal, to see if there was a fingerprint difference between the two treatments.”

It might be true that the proteins in the coffee beans are broken down in the stomachs of the civets, but Segall thinks it’s debatable if that does anything to make the coffee taste any better.

If there is any difference in the taste, it might have more to do with the fact that the civets like to eat only the coffee cherry beans which are the ripest.

They are more consistent in selecting the riper coffee beans than a low-paid farmer likely would be, according to the president of International Coffee Consulting, Rocky Rhodes.

Rhodes says that while it might be true that civet coffee has a different amount of certain acids in it compared to regular coffee, that might not not have anything to do with the coffee’s flavor.

He states that the flavor of coffee is more dependent on the coffee cherries that are picked and how the coffee is treated throughout each stage in its processing.

Scientists have determined a method to detect the genuine civet coffee from the fraudulent rip-offs that claim to be civet coffee — in other words, they can tell the good poop from the bad. But, does knowing the straight “poop” about civet coffee ultimately make any difference in the coffee’s taste?

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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2 Responses to "The Straight Poop About Civet Coffee"

  1. Robat   September 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    It makes me wonder if Juan Valdez’ droppings were ever saved and sold.

  2. mstone   September 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

    The story tries to make it sound as though the civets are in the wild when actually they are caged and force fed the coffee cherries. Don’t buy this coffee as it promotes animal cruelty.


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