Updated on July 8, 2019
Some may have heard about Balinese coffee: Balinese coffee is very good, Balinese coffee is unique, Balinese coffee is something typical and national pride, Balinese coffee is very expensive … What’s so special? After all, coffee didn’t arrive in Southeast Asia at least till 16th century, so is not concerned to an ancient recipe. So, is it really so good? After reading this article, more than one will not be urging to try it. Besides, personally I did not like it at all, which is quite consoling considering how expensive it is.
When we say Balinese coffee we actually mean Kopi Luwak, a way of manufacturing it in Indonesia and some places in The Philippines. Kopi comes from the English word coffee and Luwak is the Indonesian word for civet. And what is a civet? It is an omnivorous mammal the size of a cat, spread throughout southern Asia, from India to Indonesia. Considering its behavior, habits and size, it would be equivalent to a raccoon in North America.
So this animal, why is it related to making coffee? Here comes the funny part: they are fed with coffee berries. As they can not digest them completely, they pass through their digestive system until they exit mixed with feces. It is considered that this partial digestion process optimizes the coffee so much that the very Juan Valdez would freak out; this digestion make the coffee lose some bitterness. After half-digested berries are separated from little racoon’s poopy, they are washed and slightly roasted to avoid losing the transferred properties.
This process is therefore slow and laborious, and depends on the amount of civets available and their intestinal transit. All this added to that is considered an extraordinary flavor, makes it one of the most exclusive coffes and therefore one of the more expensive in the world; those who want to buy it, have here their best chance, since being national product is much cheaper, it can be found for about 100 €/kg, but it should be bought at reputable shops or they will give us for a ride. In Japan and the United States, its two largest customers, it is currently sold for nearly 500 €/kg. And yes, we are drinking the cat poop.
When I was explained this process, of course after having already drunk the coffee, my question was the same as that of most people: AND WHO WAS THE FIRST TO CAME UP WITH THIS? So a dude was so desperate to grab a coffee that he used the berries the civet living in his garret had defecated? Awkward, odd… but hey, he took advantage of it.
Anyway, I could understand it if I shared the widespread marketing that of Kopi Luwak is delicious, but in my opinion is one of the worst coffees I’ve ever had, although rather than the coffee itself, I think it was because of the preparation: making it the traditional way, the grain is neither finely minced nor filtered, and almost everything remains as sediment at the bottom, so the first half of the coffee doesn’t really tastes much but the bottom is very bitter and lumpy. My friend Alba and her husband were in Bali in 2016 and agree with that.
There are different varieties, but all with the same manufacturing process. If you have special interest, agencies and hotels organize excursions to local factories where coffee and other infusions are made; therein the manufacturing process is explained and the different types are tested. Usually these factories are one of the stops for day trips to temples or other areas of interest. You can also go with your own car and pay the entrance.
In many accommodations in Bali (as was my case in the first place, where the photo of the civet was taken) they have some civets and make their own coffee, but be sure it will not be the one on your breakfast included with the room; it actually will be worse, but the rest of the Balinese breakfast is delicious.
So by now no one can say he did not know what he was drinking. And if in the end it turns out that if you love it but can’t afford it, you can always grow coffee and feed it to your turtle, you may become a millionaire…