Since it’s inception, Kopi Luwak coffee, known for its smoother and less acidic taste, has become just another item in the elite consumer’s cache, causing production to grow from maybe a few hundred kilos to 50 tons or more per year, with the region extending from Indonesia to China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The most alarming aspect of this niche coffee production is that wild civets are caught, put into small cages and forced to eat an almost exclusive diet of coffee cherries, the excrement of which contain the highly prized beans. According to PETA, which conducted a three month investigation, including interviews and analysis of civet coffee farms in the Philippines and Indonesia. They found “caged civets exhibiting severely distressed behavior, such as incessant pacing, spinning around, chewing on bars and head-wobbling.” PETA also discovered that civets were typically held in enclosures for three years tops before being released. Some of them failed to adapt to their natural environment again and perished. If you consider that civets live about 15-20 years, 3 years is the equivalent of 15 years for a human. It would be hard for a human as well to readapt to his or her environment after forceful containment in a very small area with none of the usual stimuli they were accustomed to.
Due to the high cost of civet coffee $200 per kilo for unroasted, and up to $600 for .5 kilo of roasted beans, translating to a retail value of about $100 per cup, it has become an extremely lucrative business. Animal welfare groups are understandably worried that as the coffee trade expands, trapping large quantities of civets could harm them individually and disrupt their population. However, this isn’t the first time civets have been abused. Until as recent at the late 1990’s civets were being caged in order to invasively extract musk from their glands for the perfume industry. Prior to this they were being killed for their musk, so companies switched to caging and harvesting product from them as a more “humane” alternative. Thankfully many upmarket perfume houses are making the switch to synthetic musk.
As “wild” civet coffee sounds exotic and presents a friendlier image to the environmentally conscious affluent crowd already consuming only organic and free range, producers are claiming to sell wild civet coffee, but can’t prove it. One of the companies PETA inspected that distorted the source of its product was Che Nung Kopi Luwak, located in Lampung, Sumatra.
PETA purported that the company had put a label on its packaging, claiming it was sourced in the wild instead of from caged civets. At the same time, Indonesian Coffee Exporters and Industry Association (AEKI) deputy chairman, Pranoto Sunarto was quoted as saying, “Almost none of the civet specialty coffee was collected in the wild. We couldn’t collect the beans in the wild and process them. We couldn’t guarantee the quality, and it definitely wouldn’t taste as good as what came from the caged civets”.