Imagine you are sitting down to a nice cup of hot, dark coffee. The steam is filling your nose with bittersweet aromas – your mouth is watering, you cannot wait to taste it.
What if I told you that coffee passed through the digestive system of an animal, the excretion removed, the beans roasted and sold to you at an astronomical price. What if I told you an animal suffered its whole life in a stinking metal cage, eating nothing but nutritionally insufficient coffee cherries, just for your cup.
Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee, is exactly that.
Kopi Luwak originates from humble beginnings, having been discovered by plantation workers in colonised Indonesia. Workers, forbidden to eat fresh cherries from the plants, instead cleaned off the beans excreted from Civets, who entered the plantation to eat the ripest cherries. The Civet’s digestive system apparently gives the coffee a unique, rich aroma and taste, and soon the Dutch plantation owners were brewing luwak coffee for themselves.
In the 1980s, Tony Wild introduced 1kg of Kopi Luwak to the West. The charming quirkiness of the product caught the attention of people worldwide, and Civet Coffee soon became a luxury item.
Initially the product was completely organic and wild – Kopi Luwak farmers would literally follow wild Civets around for hours, waiting for excrement to be passed, before then returning the product to the preparation area.
However, our desire for this luxury item is surpassing our moral conscience. The charm of this luxury, historically sustainable item has vanished, replaced with disgrace and animal abuse.
The demand for Kopi Luwak has driven the industry from an organic, wild product to a by-product of animal cruelty – young civets are snatched from the wild, stuffed into battery cages and force fed nothing but coffee cherries, a nutritionally insufficient diet, until the day they die.
Meet The Asian Palm Civet
The Asian Palm Civet, the animal exploited for this hot beverage, is a small member of the Viverridae family, native to South and South East Asia. They are solitary, nocturnal animals that inhabit forest areas. The Civet is an omnivorous animal which feeds primarily on pulpy fruits and berries, as well as insects and small mammals. In the wild Civets do feast on coffee cherries, but have a range of other foods to supplement their diet.
The Asian Palm Civet doesn’t have it easy. Being incredibly cute, they are poached from the wild to be sold into the pet trade. They are hunted for bush meat, used in the tourism industry and are stolen from the wild and caged in terrible conditions in order to fulfil the needs of the Kopi Luwak industry.
Kopi Luwak is produced in Vietnam, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and is absolutely flourishing in Indonesia.
“What a Cute Little Cat”
While in Bali, I decided to head out on a lovely little day tour, expecting nothing but waterfalls and temples. However, I came face to face with the harsh reality of the Kopi Luwak industry and its relationship to tourism.
We pulled up at Git-Git Waterfall in the north of the island, and within just metres of the ticketing booth stood a couple selling Civet Coffee. It wasn’t the coffee that caught my attention, however, but the middle-aged man with two tiny baby Civets on his shoulders. “Oh, what a cute little cat,” his wife squealed. My heart sunk. This family of Civets were not only subjected to the harsh Kopi Luwak lifestyle, but also the realities of being a tourist attraction.
On the way back from the waterfall, the kittens were nowhere to be seen, whilst the parents were still caged up to be used as a sales pitch. As I left, I wondered about this family and what their lives might be like out of sight of the public eye. But I thought my day dealing with the pain of seeing Civets in cages was over. Boy, was I wrong.
(Let me be very clear, my tour itinerary did not indicate in any way there would be animal attractions, nor did they make mention we would be taken to a Kopi Luwak farm – if this had been the case, I would surely have boycotted said tour.)
We pulled up at a Kopi Luwak farm, and although I was expecting Civets in cages, I was not expecting the squalled conditions I witnessed, and was inevitably shocked by the way in which these animals were being kept. If it was like this for all the foreigners to see, what must the conditions be like behind closed doors?
In a cage no bigger than 1.5 square metres, were five civets in disgraceful conditions. They were on show for everyone to see, in broad daylight, despite being nocturnal animals. The cage was muddy and rotting food remnants stagnated on the floor. Two civets paced restlessly, desperately, along the perimeter of the cage – the most classic sign of distress in captive animals. I looked into the eyes of the most depressed civet and it broke my heart – somehow he looked petrified and lifeless simultaneously.
How Do We Stop This?
As I looked around the farm, I noticed groups of tourists laughing and drinking steaming hot Kopi Luwak, not at all being put off by the animal’s conditions.
As coffee drinkers and tourists, we have a responsibility to set an example – an example that will bring Kopi Luwak back to an authentically wild practice. We should not be encouraging the industry, but taking a stand by saying no to the question “would you like to try some?”
As tourists, avoiding places where these animals are exploited is the best way forward, as this slows the profits made from animal abuse. However, if we do come into contact with captive animals in horrible situations, we are obligated to report any animal cruelty or foul conditions to organisations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
As coffee drinkers, both at home and abroad, boycotting captive Kopi Luwak is an obvious solution. But how will you really know, for certain, those beans came from the excretion of a wild Civet? Unless you’ve witnessed the Civet defecate, you’ll never know if what it says on the packet is 100% true. The words ‘wild,’ ‘organic’ and ‘cage-free’ cannot always be taken at face value, so reach out to Harrods, to Amazon, to any other stockist of Civet Coffee you know and tell them you will not support the Kopi Luwak they supply until they change their policies, ensuring every gram of coffee they sell is wild, and is not harming animals in any way. Realistically, the best way to curb the demand of captive Civet Coffee is to boycott it all unless you can be absolutely sure it came from the wild.
I mean who really wants to drink shit coffee anyway?