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- What is kopi luwak?
- What’s all the fuss over kopi luwak about?
- So it’s no longer rare? What does the demand for kopi luwak mean for the civets?
- How does kopi luwak taste like? Is it really as good as it’s made out to be?
- I get that caged-sourced kopi luwak involves cruel practices, but what about battery farming? Why are you not speaking up about that?
- If humane practices were enforced, would farming civets still be a problem?
Known by various names such as civet coffee, crap coffee, and 麝香猫咖啡 (shè xiāng māo kā fēi), kopi luwak refers to the coffee made from beans that have passed through the gut of the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Civets are believed to select and feed on prime coffee cherries. The stones (i.e. the coffee beans) pass through their system undigested. These prized coffee beans are then recovered in their droppings (i.e. poop) and are given a thorough cleaning before they reach consumers. Read more about kopi luwak at Cruel Coffee.
Yuck factor aside, its rarity (well, not so rare these days but industry players will have you believe otherwise) and novelty certainly make for a good story. That, and the attention from mass/social media create hordes of curious consumers – enough to buoy demand.
Kopi luwak was rare in the past, when it was sourced from the wild. Gathering genuine wild kopi luwak is challenging, requiring a significant investment of time. Firstly, it involves searching for civet poop and subsequently sorting through it for the beans. Civets are omnivorous and eat a variety of plant and animal matter – coffee cherries make up only a small part of their diet. Unless one follows a civet all night long (they are nocturnal animals), obtaining fresh poop is difficult. For these reasons, claims of there being only 500 kg of it produced every year are widespread. One pound (0.45 kg) of kopi luwak purportedly can fetch more than 200 USD (approximately 250 SGD).
These days, it is wild-sourced kopi luwak that is rare. The only commercially viable method to produce kopi luwak is to farm the civets, and this is exactly what is taking place. Caught from the wild and put into small cages alongside other civets, these naturally solitary animals eventually succumb to stress, if they don’t die from caffeine overdose first. The story pumped to the masses remains unchanged, however, and the vicious cycle continues.
We can’t actually tell you because we haven’t tried it. Kopi luwak supposedly has a unique taste: it is described as being smooth with chocolate notes sans the typical bitterness of regular coffee. This is due to the enzymatic action on the coffee beans in the civet’s digestive tract and its subsequent passage past the anal scent glands used for marking territory.
Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps. It is just good marketing riding on the coffee’s novelty, according to the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA). When ranked against several regular coffees using SCAA’s cupping scale, kopi luwak actually scored the lowest. Read the full scoop here.
Personally, we feel that the high price tag of kopi luwak will cause anyone to bow to the claims. It would be quite embarrassing to say that you blew a sum (costing anywhere from 18 to 65++ SGD) on an awful-tasting beverage! (Aye, give me a cafe latte/Americano/cappuccino from regular beans – fairtrade and shade-grown, of course – any day.)
Speciesism – the belief of human supremacy that views other animal species as inferior, permitting their cruel treatment and/or exploitation for human benefit – is rife as the documentary Earthlings (warning: graphic content) demonstrates. Putting a stop to kopi luwak in Singapore (at the very least) is the battle that we have chosen to fight in the advocacy for animal welfare rights.
Yes, it would. Civets are wild creatures unlike farm animals which have been domesticated. Domestication involves a change at the genetic level in populations of species as a result of selective breeding over generations. Traits which are of use to humans are selected for, resulting in organisms that possess these accentuated traits. Furthermore, in order for a given animal species to be successfully domesticated, it has to meet certain criteria such as being able to breed in captivity and having a mild temperament (Diamond, 2002). In addition, civets are poor candidates for domestication due to their solitary nature. They do not have a reliance on a dominant individual as found in animals which have a hierarchical social structure. Hence, they will not come to view man as ‘leaders of the pack’ which makes any human control difficult.
As an aside, doesn’t that sound like a feline creature we all know? The ‘domestic’ cat (note: cats are not as closely related to civets are made out to be) may live comfortably among humans, but it is said to not have been domesticated in the traditional sense as they remain largely solitary creatures. Those of us who have shared any form of living space with a cat would know this well!
If our experience with cats is anything to go by, trying to force this upon wild civets in order to raise them as pets much less farm them would definitely not end well. And it hasn’t.