At a few hundred dollars per pound, kopi luwak may be the most expensive coffee in the world. However, the price isn’t just being paid by consumers, but also by the animals who are used to make it. Otherwise known as civet coffee, or just plain old cat-poo coffee, kopi luwak is literally made from the excrement of Asian palm civets, who are small cat-like creatures.
For “regular” coffee production, the beans are separated from the fruit, fermented and roasted. Those who make kopi luwak are capitalizing on natural fermentation by using the gastrointestinal tract of civets who eat the berries, ferment them during digestion and excrete the undigested beans in a form that somewhat resembles a candy bar.
The resulting beans supposedly come out with a rich, smooth, earthy, chocolatey flavor. Although, the Washington Post’s food critic Tim Carman had a different take on it and said, “It tasted just like…Folgers. Stale. Lifeless. Petrified dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water. I couldn’t finish it.”
The beans were initially gathered from the excrement of wild civets who selectively ate the best and ripest berries, but the rarity and uniqueness led to producers realizing they were sitting on a proverbial cash cow and they subsequently jacked up prices and started factory farming civets throughout Southeast Asia.
While the product itself has been criticized by coffee connoisseurs, who just think it tastes bad, the intensive farming of civets has been criticized by both producers, who believe farming ruins the quality, and by animal advocates who believe the conditions civets are kept in are cruel and lead to a high mortality rate.
“The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens,” Dr. Chris Shepherd, Southeast Asia Senior Program Officer at TRAFFIC, told the Guardian. “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.”
Unfortunately, in their haste to make money, producers are now rounding up other kinds of civets, including those who don’t even naturally eat coffee berries. As the trend grows, more civets are being captured, which has raised concerns for civet species, including the binturong, who is rare and listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The IUCN has also listed hunting and trade as a threat to the common palm civet, who is killed as a pest and for meat, or captured for the pet trade. Indonesia has a quota for taking 270 civets annually for the pet trade, but the quota is largely ignored and not enforced by authorities, according to a study published in the journal Small Carnivore Conservation.
“The problem is everybody has heard of this new exotic coffee, but very few people know what a civet actually is. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had civet coffee but had no idea that a civet was even an animal,” Shepherd told TakePart. “If people knew what it was, I think they would either be completely horrified and grossed out, or have some compassion for the little guy. Either way, hopefully the crazy demand in America and Europe would go down.”
Please sign and share the petition asking Indonesian officials to stop cruel civet farming.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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