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.