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.

Advertisements

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.

Tony wild

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.

 

OWL Cafe and 10 Scotts@Grand Hyatt stop selling kopi luwak

By Mary-Ruth Low

Disclaimer: We would like to emphasize that credit for the cessation of sales of kopi luwak at the aforementioned coffee establishments are due to the excellent work of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA Asia), and brought to attention by the Shin Min Daily News reporter.

Starting a campaign is no easy task and many a time, news surrounding the cause in question tends to be on the less-than-cheerful side. Once in a while, however, we hear stories that inspire and encourage one to press on and spread the word. In our case, it was the news that two prominent coffee retailers—OWL Café and 10 Scotts @Grand Hyatt—had decided to pull kopi luwak off their menu.

On the 25th of October 2013, Shin Min Daily News新明日报》reported that both OWL Café and 10 Scotts @Grand Hyatt had stopped sales of kopi luwak. This piece of news was received with many cheers! Good job, OWL Café and 10 Scotts! Prior to this, OWL Café had sold ‘100% Authentic Kopi Luwak’ ($18.90) as its signature coffee. At 10 Scotts, their listing of kopi luwak ($68) was accompanied by a detailed description of its history and origins.

According to the article, all restaurants and cafés in Grand Hyatt no longer serve kopi luwak as they value sustainability and food responsibility. OWL Café had decided to stop serving it altogether after discussion at the managerial level. We hope this will send a message to other coffee retailers in rethinking their values and sustainability practices in serving this particular beverage.

A member of our team recently popped in to OWL Café for a bite and was greeted by the following sticker upon opening the menu:

OWL Cafe_menu sticker

Over at 10 Scotts, Mr. Guillaume Delemarle, Director of Food & Beverage, Grand Hyatt Singapore had this to say:

“We stopped serving Kopi Luwak in the hotel after we learned about the cruelty associated with using civets for the production of this specialty coffee.

Our food philosophy within Hyatt focuses on responsible and sustainable food options for guests which are good for the communities, environment and people. Therefore we discussed the background of civet coffee internally and decided commonly to remove this from the menu.”

We are in the midst of writing to local cafés and suppliers to raise awareness of the cruelty behind kopi luwak as well as encourage them to pass on the message to their patrons. One way you can help would be let us know (projectluwaksg@gmail.com) if you chance upon a café or an advertisement promoting kopi luwak. Even better yet, talk to the managers of the café and ask if they know how kopi luwak is produced. If they are willing to find out more, refer them to this website! With the continued engagement with stakeholders and increasing awareness of the treatment of luwaks, we hope for more good news soon. Indeed, it is not too idealistic to hope that we can eventually quell kopi luwak demand and ultimately end local kopi luwak sales.

Let’s make this work! Find out how you can help at https://projectluwaksg.wordpress.com/support/.