Coffee culture & appreciation – Where does Kopi Luwak fit in?

By Fahmi Samsuri

No other beverage has a broader worldwide appeal, but coffee.  Coffee is in fact the second most traded commodity in the world, so it is succinct to say that this is a big, big industry.  Having been in the coffee industry for about 4 years, as a barista, trainer and roaster.  From my milk stained glasses, I can see that interest in this wonderful, crazy world of coffee is ever increasing.

Standing from a privileged point of view; being able to interact and educate (both ways) coffee fiends regarding the myriad of coffees available and how to best brew them.  Every so often, questions about kopi luwak pops up.

“Have you tried kopi luwak?”

“What do you think of that cat poo coffee?”

“Is civet cat coffee really worth the money?”

Even before being part of Project Luwak SG, my answers generally lean towards asking them to stay away from the hype and to save their money for coffee that is more value for money (subjective I know, but let me explain in a bit).

“Oo.. yeah. Tried that, only cause someone got in a sample for us to try for FREE.  No way would I spend my money on that.  I am a bit of a cheapo, even $5 for a latte is expensive to me!  Why do you think I became a barista?  Jokes aside,  I am of the opinion that it is massively overpriced for a cup of coffee that does not provide me with the satisfaction a $6 specially brewed coffee sourced from a farm that strives to take care of its harvest, environment and people.”

I try not to go overboard, reckon they wont appreciate a lecture from a hipster barista (you guys view us in that light dont you! =p) for a seemingly innocuous question.  Having said all these, I can understand the lure of kopi luwak, it bodes well with the palates of Singaporeans generally as we mostly grew up drinking bold, strong coffee.  Thus, the taste from kopi luwak can be deemed desirable as it does not give off any of those “acidic traits” from specialty coffee and especially those served in most new cafes nowadays.  However, I am still firm on the view that kopi luwak is of an excessive indulgence, and for the same money, you can buy yourself 20 kopi pengs from our kopitiams (support local!!).

Countries like Indonesia truly produces amazing coffees from regions like Sumatra Mandheling, Sulawesi Toraja and how can one miss out Bali Kintamani.  These coffees my friend, are perfect for those who want an exquisite, mind bogglingly yummy taste without the much maligned acidity associated with coffees from countries such as Ethiopia or Kenya.  Do not get me wrong though, I love fruity, acidic coffee as I personally have a penchant for sour foods.  So here comes my point that yes, coffee taste and preference is subjective indeed, but the world is full of amazing coffees we have not tried yet.  Friends, I urge you to spend the money on discovering the wonderful variety of coffees out there, instead of splurging it on kopi luwak.  The civets (and your conscience) will love you for this.

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Video by Raffles Girls’ School on the cruelty behind kopi luwak

By Project A.W., Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary)

Hello! We are Project A.W. (Animal Welfare), a Community Problem Solving group consisting of eight Year 3 students from Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary). We aim to intensify the society’s pro-activeness towards animal cruelty so as to ensure the well-being of animals in Singapore.

Our belief is that everyone plays a crucial role in protecting animals. In this blog post, we hope to share insights on the horrors behind civet coffee production.

Some know civet coffee as the most expensive coffee, while others drink it for its exquisite taste or to appease their curiosity (arising from the high price tag). However, not many know about the suffering that goes behind it. Civets endure so much just for a handful of coffee beans and a cup of coffee. While we indulge in a cup of this beverage, these animals suffer long-term health issues. Our group truly feels for these civets. Do the reasons for civet coffee production really justify the means through which they are acquired? Can we really place our own superficial pleasure over their entire lives and well-being? We hope to spread awareness on the cruelty of civet coffee production, and to encourage the public to opt for alternatives.

We hope that our video and pamphlet will help you better understand the origins of civet coffee, and entreat you to leave with the following question:

Will I take part in civet coffee consumerism?

Pamphlet on wildlife products done by the students (page 1).

Pamphlet on wildlife products done by the students (page 1).

Pamphlet on wildlife products done by the students (page 2).

Pamphlet on wildlife products done by the students (page 2).

Link to pamphlet PDF – https://projectluwaksg.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/project-a-w-pamphlet-final.pdf

Sale of kopi luwak in Indonesia

By Joys Tan

While travelling in Indonesia late last year (Aug – Dec 2014), Henrietta and I chanced upon the sale of kopi luwak in various places separately. Here are some pictures taken by us:

1. Central Java

On flight to Indonesia, Henrietta noticed an advertisement of kopi luwak in the magazine. It wasn’t unexpected as Indonesia is its place of origin.

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A kopi luwak ad in AirAsia magazine. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

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Sale of kopi luwak at a store in Borobudur, Magelang. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

2. Bali

Bali has numerous coffee plantations and agro-tourism centred around them are heavily marketed with a seemingly high take-up rate among tourists. Read about the Pearlynn’s recount at a kopi luwak farm in Bali early last year here.

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Entering a coffee plantation in Bali. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

What first struck me was the obvious lack of vegetation cover for the civet to hide and lack of branches for the civet to climb or sleep on.The floor was concrete, bare and covered with what appears to be algae. Nearby, a civet was spotted exposed and resting on sparse vegetation cover, with sunlight shining directly onto it. Civets are nocturnal animals and in a natural setting, they would seek out a sheltered place to rest.

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A typical cage for housing civets in the plantation. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

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A snoozing civet. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

Just one of the many sellers, the name ‘Smiling Coffee’ is pretty ironic.

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Poster in the store by Smiling Coffee. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

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Sale of kopi luwak by Smiling Coffee. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

Kopi luwak is (unfortunately) widely sold in the big supermarket at Ubud and at the airport.Bali18

Bali17  Bali21

3. Batam

Also in Batam, kopi luwak was spotted in a provision store near the ferry terminal. There are two brands on the shelf: Mandailing Estate Coffee and Gunawan Brother Indonesia.

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Kopi Luwak Liar. Photo by Joys Tan.

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Mandailing Estate Coffee. Photo by Joys Tan.

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The certificate of authenticity does not guarantee that the kopi luwak is wild. Photo by Joys Tan.

Mandailing Estate Coffee states that it produces “authentic wild kopi luwak“, “certified premium kopi luwak” and “processed naturally in the wild” on its packaging. It even had a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ attached. Regardless of how awesome it sounded, I was not convinced at all. After some research, I knew my intuition was right – it is not true at all.. In the campaign document published by Tony Wild, the founder of Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap, it stated that:

“There is currently no independent certification body for wild kopi luwak. Any such certificate is issued by the plantation, shipper or retailer itself, and, as such, is meaningless. Other certificates may contain an assurance that the kopi luwak does come from a certain plantation or district. This gives no guarantee that the kopi luwak is wild.” (Section 6, p13)
Until there is an independent certification body to identify ethically wild-sourced kopi luwak, not supporting its sale or trade anywhere can go a long way in reducing demand and thereby allowing civets to continue living in the wild. If this resonates with you, join us by pledging your support.

Vet students in Bali spread the word about unethical kopi luwak

By Chloe Tan

In February 2014, Jonna Lehtinen, a primate conservationist residing in Bali, Indonesia, contacted our team about distributing our “Life Behind Bars” infographic at major tourist destinations. She helps at a local rescue centre and works with veterinary students. She is also doing independent research and public education about kopi luwak, which is largely derived from caged civets, and is very popular in Bali.

Recently, we received news that she had engaged her vet students from Udayana University in Denpasar, Bali, to distribute posters in the southern part of the island.

Vet students with the "Life Behind Bars" posters that they distributed in Bali.

Vet students with the “Life Behind Bars” posters that they distributed in Bali.

Thank you Jonna and students for spreading the word!

Calling animal welfare supporters around the world! Is kopi luwak widely sold in your country? If you would like to collaborate and help raise awareness about this cruel trade, contact our team at projectluwaksg@gmail.com!

Nanyang girls inspired to save the civets!

By Koh Fang Yun, Tan Chor Leng, Claudine & Zhang Junyue

Hello there! We are a group of three secondary 3 students from Nanyang Girls’ High School. We are collaborating with Project LUWAK Singapore to create a new poster to help spread awareness of the cruelty behind the cage-sourced kopi luwak trade.

So what spurred us on? Well, it started on 2nd May this year, when civet researcher, Weiting, came to our school for a talk. We were very much surprised that there were civets in Singapore, but what caught our attention were the means and methods of harvesting coffee beans for a cup of kopi luwak. The civets are used as tools, and they are exploited because of the demand for kopi luwak. We wanted to do something for these creatures! In the end, we chose to design posters to raise awareness of this issue.

Our poster!

Our poster!

We think most people know about kopi luwak, but it is the cruelty behind every cup that needs to be made known. The eventual design for the poster was inspired by the pictographs of different types of coffee (with so many types of coffee available, it can really be confusing!). While most coffees are a combination of espresso and milk, kopi luwak is basically the life of a civet. We intend to use this contrast to bring across our message. We have learnt a lot about civets as well during this process.

Do play a part in helping to save these beautiful civets by not drinking kopi luwak. Tell your family and friends as well.

Certification: The next big thing for the kopi luwak industry?

By Xu Weiting

Six months ago, the release of the documentary “Our World Coffee’s Cruel Secret – Kopi Luwak” by BBC and Tony Wild, a coffee consultant (and also coincidentally, the first person who brought kopi luwak to the West), highlighted the plight of civets in the kopi luwak trade. Following its wide reach and success, animal welfare groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) started their own campaigns to raise awareness of as well as call for action against the cruelty in the kopi luwak trade.

On the other hand, there are reports explaining the flip side of the story – that not all kopi luwak is cage-sourced. One example is from the Jakarta Post, entitled “Luwak coffee: From animal welfare to national heritage” published end Oct 2013. This article emphasized that “authentic luwak coffee is not produced in that manner. Greed has turned some businesspeople to engage in farming civet cats to produce luwak coffee”. It also highlighted that kopi luwak “is not only giving us national source of pride through a delicacy but also independent economic solutions for the people.”

The article concluded that as kopi luwak is part of Indonesia’s cultural heritage, solutions are necessary to preserve this heritage in order to help small scale farmers and ensure the protection of the natural environment.

In April 2014, Tony Wild announced on his Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap Facebook page that there will be discussions between the Government of Indonesia and The Specialty Coffee Association of Europe which may potentially result in the certification system of genuine wild-sourced kopi luwak.

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Taken from Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap Facebook page

We are definitely looking forward to the day where consumers can enjoy kopi luwak with the assurance that their cuppa is 100% wild-sourced without fears of mislabeling. In the meantime, Project LUWAK SG will continue with our efforts in education and outreach to raise awareness of the cruelty behind kopi luwak from caged civets. Do join us!

Behind the scenes at a kopi luwak farm in Bali

By Pearlynn Sim

When I found out that my family and I were going to visit a coffee plantation in Bali, Indonesia, my first thought was that it was a ripe opportunity for some detective work. Bali, like Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, is well known for kopi luwak. I was curious to see what the tour would be like.

On the day of the tour, when we expressed interest in visiting a coffee plantation, our driver began telling us about kopi luwak excitedly – how exquisite it tastes, how unique it is and all. One of the staff at the coffee plantation then brought us around and explained the origins of kopi luwak. We were also shown civet poop with coffee beans, and how the coffee beans are processed.

Coffee beans being processed.

Coffee beans excreted by the luwaks being processed.

Following that, it was a tour of the coffee plantation. Coffee plants among other crops were pointed out and finally I saw what caused my heart to drop despite all the mental preparation.

Luwaks kept in small cages, side-by-side.

Caged civets.

Oblivious to my look of shock, we were enthusiastically introduced to the civet (or luwak) in the cage in front of us. The cage was about 6 by 8 feet. Aside from a metal bowl with water in the corner, there was nothing else. Civets are solitary and territorial animals, normally found on trees, so being in close proximity to other individuals – such as in farms – would be stressful.

In total I saw some six caged civets on the premises that visitors had access to. Two were kept separately but within sight of each other (the cages above). The other four were kept together – two in a fairly large cage and two in poor conditions (rusty and small cage). It was a cage of about 2 feet by 1.5 feet, even more cramped than what I had seen initially.

caged luwak

caged luwak

caged luwak

To find out more, I asked if the caged civets were farmed for kopi luwak. She insisted that the kopi luwak they sell are all wild-sourced. Upon asking what the civets were fed, she replied, “Fruits such as bananas and apples”.

We were then herded to a pavilion where we were allowed to taste the various coffees before purchasing the ones we liked. This excluded kopi luwak which was ‘pay-before-you-try’. We gave that a miss.

"Collected from the forest floor"?

“Collected from the forest floor”?

At the gift shop, a wide array of coffees were for sale, including kopi luwak. The sales representative was visibly disappointed at our lack of enthusiasm but tried to promote the boxes of kopi luwak which she said make good gifts.

"Collected from the forest floor"?

One brand of kopi luwak on sale (260 000 Indonesian Rupiah = approximately 30 Singapore Dollars).

While my experience suggests that this coffee plantation may be farming civets for kopi luwak, I must emphasize that I do not have any concrete evidence (and am thus not pointing fingers). This write-up was purely intended to share my experience in Bali, highlight how rampant kopi luwak is over there, and hopefully give readers some food for thought.

Wild-sourced kopi luwak is roasted from the coffee beans pooped out by wild civets which pick only the best coffee beans to supplement their diet. Farmed civets are fed a diet of only coffee beans, so without any choice in the coffee beans, would the quality not drop? Many buy this coffee on the assumption that it tastes better, but with farmed kopi luwak these days, how true is that?

Animal welfare aside, perhaps think about that if the thought of purchasing that very expensive cup of kopi luwak ever crossed your mind.