Kopi luwak coffee, also known as civet coffee, or civet poop coffee has developed a near-fetish like following over the past two decades. Be it curiosity, passion for all things coffee, or love of exotic, caffeine consumers have happily dolled out $50+ for a cup of this “naturally” processed bean. We get it, it’s different and rare. It’s also, unfortunately, often the result of animal cruelty. While there are reputable dealers of kopi luwak, most kopi luwak coffees come from caged, farmed civets — even when the label says “wild” or “certified”. At present, there is no cruelty-free kopi luwak certification available, as certification centers such as Rainforest Alliance and SAN believe it is too difficult to monitor and enforce.
The night-stalking civet and wild kopi luwak
A civet is a mammal indigenous to Asia and Africa with the look of an elongated, long-muzzled cat. Civets are typically 17 to 21 inches long and weigh between 3 and 10 pounds. Nocturnal and solitary by nature, civets are herbivores that prowl the forests at night, munching up nectar and fruits, including the coffee cherry. The civet cannot fully digest the stone (seed / been) of the cherry and passes it through the intestine. While journeying through the intestine, the seed ferments and undergoes a change in protein structure due to digestive enzymes. This protein change and fermentation results in a mild, sweet, lower acidity bean. Once partially digested, the seeds are expelled and later harvested by bean gathers. Given the solitary nature of the civet and its life roaming the rainforest, collecting enough seeds to make one pound of coffee is a laborious, timely task — one that explains the $500+ price per pound of green kopi luwak beans. Unfortunately, most of the luwak currently available does not come from wild, free-roaming civets, most comes from wild civets now caged on civet farms.
Over the past decade, increased demand for kopi luwak drove an explosion in civet farming. These farms are cruel. Captured wild civets are forced to live in small cages either adjacent to or with other civets. The walls of these cages are often soaked with urine, the metal wire floor hurt the civet’s feet, and the open wire fails to shield these nocturnal creatures from sunlight. Often, caged civets are only given coffee cherries, leading to malnutrition, and some are force-fed the cherries. Researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit assessed civet living conditions at sixteen Balinese plantations and reported that all sixteen failed to meet basic animal welfare requirements1. Other studies conducted by the BBC2 and the PETA3 found similar results. All studies found that caged civets displayed abnormal behavior, decreased lifespan, malnutrition, and increased likeliness to self-harm, including gnawing off their own legs.
The SCA’s take on animal-processed coffee
Pass on kopi luwak, kape motit (the name for luwak in the Philippines), and Peruvian uchunari (the latest high-priced coffee poop trend) coffees. Unless you have a highly-trusted broker or local source, those expensive “wild” seeds are likely from wild civets that have been trapped and caged. Additionally, the coffee isn’t even that good. The Specialty Coffee Association has written it off as great marketing for bad coffee (it consistently scores very low on tasting tests)4. If you are looking for an exotic brew to fill your cup, we highly encourage you to forget about animal-fermented coffees and look towards phenomenal microlots and pure heritage varieties. These human processed beans are most often eco-friendly, animal-friendly, and people-pleasing. For more information on kopi luwak, including studies and sources mentioned, please below.