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

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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.

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!

Rags to Riches: Origins of Kopi Luwak

By Henrietta Woo

In the market of specialty coffees (think Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona and what have you), there lies a niche in a league of its own. These are the ‘animal poop coffees’ and while hearing their source of processing may often make one pause, they have since become some of the most expensive coffees in the world.

Luxury coffee. Image from The Coffee Locator.

Luxury coffee. Image from The Coffee Locator.

Most famous of these coffees is kopi luwak, also known by its other names of 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 luwak or 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 hankering for something novel. But how did this all start?

Much like the humble beginnings of say, ratatouille from France and closer to home, bean sprouts with salted fish, kopi luwak was a poor man’s food. First brought into the west as a curiosity by Tony Wild in 1991 after he read a brief description of it in National Geographic some ten years earlier, kopi luwak was suddenly catapulted into international fame and there began its rag-to-riches story. It is necessary to delve a little into the history of coffee to understand the origins of kopi luwak. Though there are over a hundred species in the Coffea genus of which coffee belongs, only three species are commercially grown to produce the ubiquitous beverage. In order of market share, these are arabica (Coffea arabica), robusta (C. canephora) and liberica (C. liberica). Endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, southeastern Sudan and northern Kenya, C. arabica somehow found its way to Yemen and from there, the Dutch East India Company brought it to the Dutch colony of Java in the 1690s. Most, if not all, accounts point to the ‘discovery’ of kopi luwak during the mid-nineteenth century when the Cultivation System (or “cultuurstelsel” in Dutch) came into force. During this period, it became mandatory for a portion of agricultural production to be set aside for export crops. Ironically, by prohibiting any picking of coffee cherries for personal consumption, the Dutch inadvertently piqued the curiosity of native farmers and plantations workers who wanted a taste of this much sought-after cash crop.

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Wild civet eating coffee cherries. Image from Hungry House.

Enter the luwak: locals soon learned civets were slipping into plantations and eating coffee cherries. Instead of perceiving it as a problem, however, they realised that their desire to drink coffee could be satisfied by harvesting the beans that lay undigested in civets’ droppings. Kopi luwak was born, and word of this soon got out to the Dutch plantation owners. Hard to come by and only available in small quantities, wild-sourced kopi luwak already fetch a premium then. These days, however, kopi luwak is no longer rare, depending on caged civets to provide a ready supply. Farming civets is a quick and dirty method to boost supply and the high price tag – supposedly reflecting its rarity – continues to profit traders who want to cash in. 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.

Civet caged for poop coffee

Civet caged to make poop coffee. Image from Fat Nancy’s New Diet.

Though it is wild-sourced kopi luwak that is rare nowadays, the story pumped to the masses remains unchanged, allowing the vicious cycle to continue. Yuck factor aside, if made the old-fashioned way, I’d say let kopi luwak live on. Otherwise, in the words of Tony Wild, who now runs a campaign against kopi luwak, it’s time to cut the crap.

Find out how you can help at https://projectluwaksg.wordpress.com/support.