Caged civets on Indonesian coffee plantations. Photos from the Guardian.
Coffee companies around the world still market kopi luwak along the lines of that original quirky story involving a wild animal’s digestive habits, many claiming that only 500 kilogrammes are collected a year, a scarcity that justifies its huge retail pricetag (usually between $200-400 a kilo, sometimes more). In fact, although it’s impossible to get precise figures, I estimate that the global production – farmers in India, Vietnam, China and the Philippines have all jumped on the bandwagon, too – is at least 50 tonnes, possibly much more. One single Indonesian farm claims to produce 7,000kg a year from 240 caged civets.
So kopi luwak is now rarely wild: it’s industrialised. Sounds disgusting? It is. The naturally shy and solitary nocturnal creatures suffer greatly from the stress of being caged in proximity to other luwaks, and the unnatural emphasis on coffee cherries in their diet causes other health problems too; they fight among themselves, gnaw off their own legs, start passing blood in their scats, and frequently die.
Wild luwaks – the trapping of which is supposed to be strictly controlled in Indonesia – are caught by poachers, caged and force-fed coffee cherries in order to crap out the beans for the pleasure of the thousands who have been conned into buying this “incredibly rare” and very expensive “luxury” coffee.
Read Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap, in the Guardian. Thanks to Jackie for this depressing alert. What’s next: celebrity crap coffee?