That’s a picture of an Indonesian farmer with a handful of civet feces – the source of the most expensive coffee in the world.
I first heard of Kopi Luwak years ago – I seem to remember it being mentioned on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but I thought it was a joke, an urban myth. I was surprised to learn that it actually exists and is produced commercially in several Southeast Asian countries.
According to Wikipedia,
Kopi luwak (Indonesian pronunciation: [ˈkopi ˈlu.aʔ]), or civet coffee, refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and egested by the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).
The name is also used for marketing brewed coffee made from the beans.
Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee berries containing better beans. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans' fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet's proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet's intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.
The traditional method of collecting feces from wild civets has given way to intensive farming methods in which civets in battery cage systems are force fed the coffee beans. This method of production has raised ethical concerns about the treatment of civets due to "horrific conditions" including isolation, poor diet, small cages and a high mortality rate. A 2013 BBC investigation of intensive civet farming in Sumatra found conditions of animal cruelty. Intensive farming is also criticized by traditional farmers because the civets do not select what they eat, so the beans are of poor quality compared to beans collected from the wild.
Although kopi luwak is a form of processing rather than a variety of coffee, it has been called the most expensive coffee in the world with retail prices reaching $700 per kilogram (just over $350 a pound). The price of farmed (considered low-grade by connoisseurs) kopi luwak in large Indonesian supermarkets is from US$100 per kilogram or about five times the price of a high quality local arabica coffee.