Why avoid Kopi Luwak?

By Germaine Leng

Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world and sells for roughly $420 per pound. Some claim that the coffee beans that have gone through the civet’s digestive system have a nice and smooth after-taste but others claim that it is likely to be just a marketing gimmick.

Before you purchase a cup, do you know what exactly goes on behind the production scene of kopi luwak?

Coffee beans from wild civet droppings. Image by Jaz Aznar (The New York Times).

Many companies state that their kopi luwak are “genuine and wild”. Genuine wild-sourced kopi luwak beans are harvested from the droppings of wild civets after they pass out undigested coffee beans. This can only be done by tracing the steps of a civet. However, as the demand and value of kopi luwak increases, more people have taken to keeping captive civets to ensure a high and reliable supply of civet coffee.

What’s wrong with keeping captive civets to produce kopi luwak?

Firstly, civets have to be caught from the wild. As the demand for kopi luwak increases, poachers are trapping large number of civets and are thus, threatening the wild population of civets. Previously, only the common palm civet was trapped and used in the production of kopi luwak, but this has now extended to all kinds of civets.

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Captive civet kept in a poor condition cage. Image by surtr (Wikimedia Commons).

Secondly, civets that are caught are then confined to small battery cages. To minimize the space required, cages are stacked on top of each other. This is problematic on several levels. Civets are shy and solitary animals that spend their days sleeping in dense vegetation and foraging at night.

Having so many civets in such a small area causes stress and may result in stereotypical behaviour such as pacing, fights and even paw gnawing. The cages that they are kept in are also bare and they do not have a suitable place to rest in the day.

Caged civet and the yield of kopi luwak beans produced. Image by Kemal Jufri (The New York Times).

Thirdly, to increase the yield of kopi luwak, captive civets are often fed nothing but coffee beans. In the wild, coffee beans makes up only a small percentage of its diet; they feed mainly on fruits and occasionally, on small animals such as birds, reptiles and insects. This result in captive civets being malnourished; many suffer from fur loss, pass blood out in their faeces and will eventually die.

Besides the lack of essential nutrients, the amount of caffeine that a captive civet is forced to eat amounts up to 125 espresso shots. That is 25 times more daily intake of caffeine that a healthy human adult is advised to take.

Because of the un-natural condition civets are kept under to produce kopi luwak, civets have a lifespan of about over a year, when in the wild, they can live up to an average of 20 years.

The truth behind the expensive gourmet coffee is indeed ugly and there is no way of telling whether the kopi luwak that you are going to buy comes from wild or captive civets. Demand for any kind of kopi luwak will only spur people to capture more civets to produce the coffee beans that people crave for. You can do your part for the civets by boycotting kopi luwak and spreading awareness!