Perhaps one of the most mind-bending coffees on the planet is the kopi luwak from Indonesia. This coffee is brewed after the beans have gone through an ancient process of being ingested, digested, excreted by an animal, and then collected, roasted, and brewed. Yup, that’s right, the beans are eaten and excreted first. Don’t let this process turn you away from the kopi luwak, as this coffee is one of the most expensive coffees on the planet, weighing in at $600 per pound. However, there is another side to this coffee – besides the process of brewing – that is being revealed to be inhumane.
Around the 1800s, during the colonial era of Indonesia, Indonesians working for Dutch plantations were barred from harvesting their own coffee beans. This lead the native workers to collect and brew the excreted beans from a local animal, the palm civet.
Palm civets are known for selecting only the best of sweet coffee cherries as it is a crucial part of their diet. Once they’ve eaten the cherry, the coffee bean is digested and goes through a natural process of fermentation in the digestion process. This impacts the final aroma of the actual coffee bean.
The popularity of kopi luwak has skyrocketed due to its alternative sourcing and ridiculous prices. Tourists flock to Indonesia to experience the aroma of kopi luwak. However, because of this, tens of thousands of palm civets now sit in battery cages and are farmed themselves. They are force fed coffee cherries and live in horrific conditions while farmers collect the excreted beans. These palm civets are deprived from a healthy diet, environment, exercise and basic necessities that make up humane conditions for animals. Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia has said the following on the matter:
“The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens”, “The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages. There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there’s a real conservation risk. It is spiraling out of control. But there’s not much public awareness of how it is actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew”.
Additional investigations held by PETA uncovered numerous false claims regarding naturally sourced beans from wild palm civets. This means that it is extremely hard to find ethically sourced kapi luwak.
This is another controversial topic among the coffee community. Many coffee critiques have said that the coffee is nothing special, and the hype surrounding kopi luwak is the infatuation with it’s alternative origin and expensive price.
Kopi luwak may be one of the most interesting coffees on the planet, but the impact on the palm civets raises an important question: is it worth it? Whether or not you care about animal rights, the fact that many critiques don’t find anything special about this coffee costing $600 per pound is enough to question everything about buying a cup of kopi luwak.