Indonesia’s self-proclaimed “King of Luwak”, Gunawan Supriadi, is having a hard time keeping up with demand for the beans excreted by his stable of pampered civet “cats”.
And he’s not alone. Demand for coffee brewed with beans plucked from the dung of the furry, weasel-like creatures — known locally as luwaks — is surging among well-healed connoisseurs around the world, exporters say.
About 40 civets at Supriadi’s plantation in West Lampung district, Sumatra, provide the intestinal machinery for his Raja Luwak (King of Luwak) brand of bean. Lampung is the undisputed capital of luwak coffee.
“My target is to have 150 civets soon because I have to meet the surge in demand,” Supriadi said.
“In 2008, I gathered about 50 kilograms of luwak beans and sold them to local distributors. In 2009, I sold 300 kilograms. In 2010, I sold 1.2 tonnes.”
The “golden droppings” of the luwak, or Asian palm civet, fetch up to $800 for two pounds in countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
It’s another story altogether at retail level. Single cups of the world’s most expensive coffee have been known to sell for almost $100 in specialty outlets in London.
The civets play two roles. Firstly, they tend to choose the best berries to digest. Experts say wild civets are the most discerning, but their droppings are also the most difficult to harvest.
Having nibbled off the thin outer layer of fruit, the civets put their digestive juices to work. The enzymes penetrate the beans — usually arabica in Sumatra — and change their chemical balance in subtle ways.
The end product, after a good wash and light roasting, lacks the bitterness of ordinary coffee and has a unique, soft flavour.
“If luwak coffee is a car, then it must be a Rolls-Royce,” Supriadi said.
MORE evidence that coffee, particularly among female drinkers, has a positive effect against the most common form of skin cancer worldwide has been released.
Women who drank more than three cups per day of caffeinated coffee saw a 20 percent lower risk of getting basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a slow-growing form of cancer, than those who drank less than a cup per month.
Men who drank the same amount saw a nine percent lower risk, said the research presented at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research in Boston.
“Given the nearly one million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact,” said researcher Fengju Song, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC.”
The data was derived from the Nurses’ Health Study (Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (Harvard School of Public Health).
The nurses study followed 72,921 participants from June 1984 to June 2008. The health professionals study tracked 39,976 participants from June 1986 to June 2008.
Basal cell carcinoma was the most frequently diagnosed skin cancer in the groups, totalling 22,786 cases.
The benefits of coffee drinking were not seen against the next two most prevalent types – squamous cell carcinoma (1953 cases) or melanoma (741 cases).
Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma form of skin cancer, and is the most common cancer in the United States. Seventy-five percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas