Civet coffee is among the most expensive coffees in the world—a cup can cost $80. Coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of this cat-sized creature native to southeast Asia make a remarkably smooth brew, producers and aficionados say. But the cost isn’t just financial. Although civet coffee, also known by its Indonesian name, kopi luwak, originated with beans collected from the feces of wild animals, increased demand has encouraged producers to keep the animals in cages and force them to subsist on a nutritionally deficient diet of coffee beans.
“It’s the foie gras of coffee,” Camille Delebecque, a synthetic biologist, said during a recent visit to Wired. Delebecque saw a depressing civet farm on a trip to Indonesia a few years ago, and it got him thinking about alternatives.
After conducting a few DIY bio experiments in his kitchen, Delebecque decided to start a company. He teamed up with Sophie Deterre, a food scientist whose experience includes working on bitter orange aroma for Grand Marnier, to develop a fermentation process they say mimics some of the changes that occur in coffee beans as they wend through a civet’s digestive tract.
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