Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: Tea made of Insect Poop

You might have heard of Kopi Luwak or Cat Poop Coffee, an Indonesian coffee made from beans digested and excreted by civet cats.
I love coffee. I mean, I LOVE COFFEE. I would inject it if I could. But…no. No to civet cat poop, for a wide variety of reasons.

But insect poop tea? Well, actually, that sounds pretty interesting.

I noticed this new publication this week:

Xu L., Pan H., Lei Q., Xiao W., Peng Y. & Xiao P. (2013). Insect tea, a wonderful work in the Chinese tea culture, Food Research International, DOI:

Pu-Erh (pronounced ‘poo-air’) is a type of tea that is fermented before drinking. Like wines, these teas grow more valuable with age, and have a rich taste. Poo Poo Pu-Erh (really, not making that up) is a special type of tea from the Punnan region of China made of droppings from insects eating tea leaves.diagram of how to make insect tea

Several different species of insects and plants are used to form a whole array of possible tea tastes.  The most common seems to be a moth with the charming name of the Tea Tabby.  Basically, you put out a rack of tea leaves, add caterpillars, and then use a sieve (or hand pick!) out the feces.

(As a side note, this is an Elsevier journal, and they have pay-walled this paper so you have to pay $35 to see it. I would have expected at least SOME editing for a paper whose authors’ first language is clearly not English.)

Note that the poo looks a lot like pellets. That’s a unique characteristic of caterpillar digestive systems–they wrap their their poo inside a little chitin layer, sort of like a spring roll.

Insect feces tea is priced with a huge range–I’ve seen between $250 and $1000/lb, so it is quite the delicacy.  If someone offers you a cup of this tea, it is a high compliment indeed! Drink it!

People pay that price for a tea made out of insect poo ecause it is supposed to have a wide range of healthful properties. The paper I linked to above did an analysis of what chemicals are in the tea, and it certainly contains lots of antioxidants and a wide array of amino acids.  Does it actually make you any healthier? Probably not any more than any other tea, really.  But it’s pretty damn interesting.

I have written several times before about how we have all sorts of insects in our regular food supply, but just pretend not to know. There’s nearly always a detectable amount of insect parts in your coffee or chocolate, for example.  Most of the rest of the world (i.e, outside North America and Europe) eats insects on a semi-regular basis.

Why do we get squicked so easily by the concept of insects as food, or insect products in our food?  Would you drink insect poo tea? Why or why not?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. I’d like to think I’d try it, but I do have the conditioning of ‘we don’t eat bugs or things that have been digested by animals’. It’s a silly distinction, I admit: I eat other arthropods (crabs, shrimp, lobsters), and things that contain material digested by bacteria or fungi (I don’t drink alcohol, but I enjoy cheese* and yeast bread). And I’ve probably eaten insects by accident. So I like to think I’d at least try it, since if someone likes me enough to serve me $250 per pound tea, I’m not going to waste that. (OTOH, given it’s $250 per pound tea, even if it is the best thing in the world, I’ll stick to my more conventional green teas, so it would have to be tried as someone wealthy’s guest. Which means I can play guest obligations against my cultural conditioning.)

    * And actually, eating cheese means I don’t know if I’ve eaten things that have come into contact with animal digestive processes, given I never pay attention to if rennet is used, and if it’s natural or artificial.

  2. I don’t eat shellfish. I just think they’re nasty (and I can’t stand the smell). I tried to explain it to a friend saying they were like aquatic bugs and as I was saying it, I realised I wouldn’t mind eating a bug and if I were to visit a country where they’re commonly eaten, I’d be keen to try one.

  3. I don’t mind that insects are used for food coloring. So I’d probably try it. I wouldn’t BUY it. But I’d try it.

    Also, yeah, you definitely ingest bugs and bug parts.


  4. Most of us love bee vomit and think nothing of slathering it on our English muffins or spooning it into our tea, so why not. If anyone is buying, I’ll try a cup.

    1. Oh man.. I can’t wait for farmer market season to begin again… I’m all out of delicious, delicious bee vomit.

  5. I’ve raised kids and let dogs lick me on the mouth. Last night, I dropped a Lindor ball in the dog dish and ate it with barely a swipe. So I think I could handle bug poop tea. Except I have yet to encounter a tea that I actually enjoy, so there’s that.

    I have had the civet poop coffee. I liked it, but not so much more than allegedly lesser coffee that it was worth the price. I didn’t fret about the trip thought a civet’s bowels though. Dog lick mouth, remember.

  6. I posit that anyone who’s done any appreciable amount of bicycling has ingested a number of flying insects that way.
    I hear that roasted caterpillars are delicious, crunchy, and have a gooey filling. That honestly sounds delicious to me.
    It also reminds me of watching Destination Truth – a favorite part was always the inevitable “let’s try a local delicacy seemingly designed to turn the stomach of Americans.” One time, they had a woman doing sound for them, who surprised them by asking for seconds of… I want to say it was honey-roasted ants?

  7. Only if the poo-tea is vegetarian. Even if I’m ingesting bug parts that’s no reason to start doing it intentionally.

    I don’t really see bug meat as grosser than other kinds of meat. Certainly it’s less gross than pig noses, organ meat, etc.

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