Partially due to its titillating beginnings, Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) has become the world’s most expensive coffee.
Civet coffee isn’t acutally a type of coffee, it refers to the way it’s processed – once the wild Asian palm civet eats coffee berries, the coffee seed passes through and the civet poops it out. This seed is collected, cleaned, and prepared.
Undoubtedly, this is the main reason for Kopi Luwak’s popularity and high price tag – the novelty factor of ‘crap’ coffee. The curiosity it creates makes it a self perpetuating marketing machine.
But there’s another reason for its success – it’s also really good coffee.
There are a few reasons why we think the taste is so good. The first is in selection. Since there’s an abundance of coffee cherries in the palm civet’s habitat, it makes sense that the civet will choose only the ripest, tastiest cherries to eat.
The second reason is what happens inside the civet. As it digest the cherry, the seed ferments in its digestive tract and improves its flavor.
Once you add rarity into the mix (since the civets are wild) you get a cup of coffee which sells for between $30 and $100 a cup. And since only 500kg is collected annually, it starts to make sense how Harrods at one time were selling 1kg for $10,000.
This 500kg sourcing limit might be reminiscient of how DeBeers are thought to store 90% of the world’s diamonds, never to be sold to increase its value, but it makes sense from an ethical standpoint to preserve the ecology.
Up until now, this is a wonderful thing. A marvel of nature which brings us a cute, fuzzy little animal which craps out the world’s finest coffee as its gift to us! It’s so beautiful it sounds like it came from a Roald Dahl novel!
But it was ruined by greed. It’s deeply saddening how the civets been cruelly exploited and tortured to mass produce kopi luwak.
The 500kg ethical sourcing limit is a lie. By one estimate, 50 tonnes of civet coffee flood the market every year.
To get this amount civets are kept in battery-farms, stuffed in cages for their entire lives and fed only civet cherries. They’re tortured and suffer malnutrition, and many of them die this way. It’s sick.
And unfortunately the only way to end this practice is for the free market to put an end to it. Local authorities will not willingly stop the flow of money into the area, so it’s up to us to do what we can to prevent the flow of money.
Harrods and other retailers have already banned the sale of caged civet coffee but in my opinion, it’s not enough.
There are no guarantees that wild civet coffee is actually wild. I can’t see a representative from Harrods flying to Indonesia for a surprise spot-check, can you? It’s more than likely that whatever is sold by retailers is cruelly sourced.
And if that isn’t enough to put you off, how about the fact that you’re being ripped off?
What makes it taste so good is the fact that the wild civets select the cherries for ripeness. In cages, they’ll eat whatever they’re given. There’s no selection going on. And a distressed, diseased and dying civet will not produce well fermented seeds anyway.
Kopi luwak is dead. Don’t get ripped off, and don’t support cruelty. Say no, and send a loud message that you will not be a part of it.