On Coffee | The Truth About Kopi Luwak
Another recent mention by a customer has triggered this journal post – as the speciality coffee industry matures, there is one thing that still surprises me … the perpetuation of Kopi Luwak coffee.
Not only does civet cat poo coffee taste bad – it is a stupid idea, a waste of money, and most importantly, completely unethical. If you’ve ever been sucked into the notion that spending huge amounts of money on this coffee … then please, stop this madness and invest in coffee that is properly produced by a farmer and an agronomist, and roasted by ethical roasters who wouldn't touch the stuff. Although the civets’ digestive process does make the coffee smoother, it also removes the good acids and flavor that characterize a specialty cup of coffee - so why bother?
Need more reasons? Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap! was a social media campaign designed to create sufficient weight of public opinion to lead to the ban on the sale of kopi luwak throughout the world. The campaign was largely successful and is pretty much inactive now, which is a shame ... as you'll still find the coffee on the market. The campaign targeted everyone involved with the coffee trade, from those who buy a cappuccino on the way to work all the way back to the coffee estate or plantation.
Above all, Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap! was promoting awareness: if consumers know the truth about the trade, they would probably never buy kopi luwak / boast about it / joke about it or drink it… And certainly no-one would pay the super-premium prices that are demanded for it. Prices that reflect the supposed ‘scarcity’ of the coffee and the ‘difficulty’ collecting it … But some people still buy the stuff! And as mentioned, we've met a few people recently who still believe it's the world's most exclusive brew.
Why was this campaign being run from the Facebook page of the coffee expert who accidentally first ‘invented’ the kopi luwak trade? And why did he feel responsible for what subsequently happened? This is what he said …
“I first read a description of kopi luwak buried in a short paragraph in a 1981 copy of National Geographic Magazine. Ten years later, in 1991, as Coffee Director of Taylors of Harrogate, I was the first person to import kopi luwak into the West – a measly kilo. I didn’t sell it through the company, but thought, perhaps naively, that its quirky, faintly off-putting origins from a wild animal roaming Indonesian coffee estates might be of interest to the local newspaper and radio in Yorkshire where the company was based. It proved to be so much bigger than that – national news, TV and radio fell over themselves to cover it.
Over the years, the story has gone from strength to strength: kopi luwak has gone global. As well as being stocked by every aspiring speciality retailer, it has appeared on CNN News, Oprah, and The Bucket List (a Hollywood film with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, no less). But although it’s still reported exactly as if it was the same quirky story involving a wild animal’s digestive habits, it’s now in fact a multi-million dollar operation involving caged luwaks in cramped and often distressing ‘battery’ farm conditions being force-fed coffee cherries to produce the ‘precious’ poop.
I feel very troubled at the thought of the animal suffering that I created with this craze, and also indignant that the public are being fooled into thinking they are buying genuine wild kopi luwak. I inadvertently created this sordid and unscrupulous industry: now I want to curb it.”
The coffee industry has come on leaps and bounds in the past 15 years in terms of rising quality and more direct trade between farmer and roaster and a vast improvement in the industry's ethics, so it is important to avoid any coffee seller that stocks Kopi Luwak because it is important that your coffee isn’t tainted with the stench of animal cruelty.
The victories of the Cut the Crap campaigns speak for themselves. In 2014, an alert representative from the WAP (formerly WSPA) spotted a proposed alteration to the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) code that would have allowed the capturing and caging of wild luwaks, something then prohibited under the existing code, allowing the Rainforest Alliance and others working under the SAN code to certify coffee estates profiting from this cruel practice. In 2014 SAN, under pressure from petitions, finally prohibited caged civets on SAN certified farms - meaning that the influential SAN, which sets the standards used by Rainforest Alliance and partners all over the world, prohibited the practice on its Indonesian farms.
The decision followed a move by UTZ Certified, the world’s leading label for sustainable coffee production, to no longer certify producers that use caged civets and other animals to produce coffee, following talks with the charity. Campaigning by World Animal Protection and other bodies has seen retailers around the world, including Harrods and Selfridges in the UK, commit either to only sell civet coffee from guaranteed cage-free sources or to stop selling the product completely.
Sadly ... whilst farming civets for coffee is widely banned, wild civet coffee is out there. Vietnam, drawn by the amount of money it can make, started to farm civets unregulated. As Alex Morgan at the Rainforest Alliance, which uses SAN standards, says - "it’s too risky to certify kopi luwak. It’s just too hard to establish whether the beans are 100 percent wild-sourced or not."
Trust us, it's not worth it!