The World’s Most Expensive Coffee Is a Cruel Cynical Scam

For the most part, civet coffee is not harvested in the wild in limited quantities but mass produced by animals kept in appalling conditions — it's high time we stopped drinking it

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Nicky Loh / Getty Images for WSPA

A civet cat kept in a cage that belongs to a kopi luwak or civet-coffee farm and café in the Indonesian town of Tampaksiring, on Bali Island, on May 27, 2013

The costliest coffee on earth has a humble proletarian beginning. As folklore has it, civet coffee, or kopi luwak in Indonesian, was discovered by plantation workers in colonized Indonesia. Forbidden from consuming coffee beans picked from the plants, they picked up, cleaned and then roasted the beans excreted by wild Asian palm civets that entered the plantations to eat the ripest coffee cherries. The civets’ digestive systems gave kopi luwak a uniquely rich aroma and smooth, rounded flavor — so much so that the Dutch plantation owners soon became die-hard fans.

In the past 10 years, kopi luwak has won the hearts — and wallets — of global consumers. A cup sells for $30 to $100 in New York City and London, while 1 kg of roasted beans can fetch as much as $130 in Indonesia and five times more overseas. The ultimate in caffeine bling is civet coffee packed in a Britannia-silver and 24-carat gold-plated bag, sold at the British department store Harrods for over $10,000. The justification for these exorbitant prices? A claim that kopi luwak is sourced from wild animals and that only 500 kg of it is collected annually. The claim is largely nonsense.

While there are some ethical suppliers of hand-gathered civet coffee, recent investigations, both by journalists and animal-rights activists, have revealed a cruel and avaricious industry. To satisfy global demand, many suppliers keep captured civets in cages and feed them almost exclusively on coffee cherries. Enduring appalling living conditions and an unhealthy diet, these nocturnal omnivores suffer mental distress — incessantly pacing and gnawing on their limbs — and succumb to illness and death. These grim farms are not confined to Indonesia. Farmers elsewhere in Asia have jumped on the bandwagon. By one estimate, 50 tons of mass-produced civet coffee from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China flood the market every year.

(MORE: In Laos, a Campaign to Resurrect Great Coffee)

One of the most outspoken critics is former coffee trader Tony Wild, who imported a single kilogram of kopi luwak to the U.K. in 1991 and took pride in introducing it to the Western world. (The coffee gained wider notoriety after being featured in The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2003 and the myth of its all-natural origins was propagated in a Jack Nicholson–Morgan Freeman scene in the 2007 film The Bucket List.) Wild, who witnessed horrific animal abuse while helping a BBC team investigate civet-coffee farms in Sumatra, has launched a petition and social-media campaign, “Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap,” urging customers and companies to shun the product.

“The coffee trade has conspired to turn a blind eye to the wildlife suffering in order to get this business going,” says Wild, who is also the author of Coffee: A Dark History. “It is a bit of a racket.”

Teguh Pribadi, founder of the Indonesian Civet Coffee Association, admits animal cruelty is rampant in the industry. “The luwaks aren’t treated well,” he tells TIME. “Many farmers don’t understand how to keep the animals properly.” The association recommends the civets be kept in cages that are at least 2 m by 1½ m wide and 2½ m high, and for no longer than six months.

“We tell farmers to focus on the quality, not the quantity of the product,” Teguh says. “It’s better if they produce little but superior coffee, and don’t have dying civets.”

Yet animal experts say Asian palm civets — solitary and territorial by nature — shouldn’t be kept in cages, nor in enclosures, because a single civet needs an average of 17 sq km of territory. “I have seen 100 luwaks kept in a half-hectare coffee farm,” Wild says. “It’s kind of a prison camp where they fight each other.”

Besides, the harvesting of genuine kopi luwak, gathered in the wild, seems either more trouble than its worth — or hazardous to health. “We don’t know how long a dropping has been out in the wild,” Teguh says, “and civet-coffee beans that have been on the ground for more than 24 hours can be infected with fungi.” Wild has been told by a local expert that “following a luwak around all night yourself” is the only way to guarantee real kopi luwak — and, now it seems, a fungi-free drink too. Maybe we’re better off sticking to a cup of regular arabica.

124 comments
Beersheva
Beersheva

Not only does my cat eat coffee cherries, they come out already ground up and ready for brewing. Any takers?

daedalus
daedalus

I am going to take the "Red Foreman" stance on this. Even the best tasting cup of this coffee is made from the crap of another animal.

KellySignorovitch
KellySignorovitch

Well folks, for all who don't think they would drink this, what about real sausages?

pikappa77
pikappa77

As the "world's most expensive coffee", who is the "we" that must stop drinking it?  At the prices cited in the story, there is likely not too many "we" reading this article.  (I might get a half a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain once a year, but that's the extent of my spurge.)  The author needs to send this article to a publication where the civet coffee drinkers might read it.  Or is she just trying to "raise awareness" to create another "us vs them" stink.

truthtellerblahblahblah
truthtellerblahblahblah

anyone wants my coffee poop? i consume 12cups of coffee each day so it's aroma is fresh and hot!

PatrishDehler
PatrishDehler

it so sad when we constantly mistreat animals for our own profit and pleasure.  I don't drink coffee period, so at least I know I'm not one supporting this.  Yes, I know we eat animals, have slaughter houses, etc. and we need more humane farmers.  Change is always slow, but these poor civets don't deserve this.

NinJa
NinJa

I've literally never heard of this coffee before.

Kenshiro
Kenshiro

Humans can suck so bad sometimes.


UleNotknow
UleNotknow

"The civets’ digestive systems gave kopi luwak a uniquely rich aroma... " Indeed.

GregBringle
GregBringle

How is this surprising?  Did people really think there were thousands of workers out collecting civet poop in the hopes that it contained some coffee suitable for making the most expensive blend  in the world?  C'mon man.

JosephHarris1
JosephHarris1

Am I the only person who finds it both humorous and ironic that the wealthy would pay so much for what amounts to coffee brewed from roasted weasel dung?

OscarPitchfork
OscarPitchfork

So, basically, the third and possibly fourth-world denizens of the jungles of Indonesia have discovered that, what is as common to them as chicken raising is to us, is apparently a wonderful source of the kind of revenue needed to live in something other than a grass hut, and to , maybe, someday, enter the 20th century, if not the 21st. Do you REALLY think they're going to care what the rest of the world thinks?

BobPA
BobPA

Poop coffee? Who buys this stuff?

BrianSmith
BrianSmith

What do you mean "we"?  For someone who doesn't drink coffee, your article is a waste of time.

pullUpYourDamnPants
pullUpYourDamnPants

stupid rich people, I for one take great joy in their consumption of animal waste. McDonalds coffee is looking pretty good. Happy Holidays!

dwildmangreen
dwildmangreen

like everything else about the rich in this country (and i guess elsewhere), their endless pursuit of self gratification no matter how it hurts the rest of the world, this behavior is both believable and unbelievable at the same time...i don't believe in God so i don't take any solace in the idea that a just omnipotence will make these people pay after they are dead...we will pay, the animal world will pay...the earth will pay...not until this type of thinking has been banished from the human psyche will there be peace on this earth...i do believe that an uprising will come and many of the people who practice thusly will be taken out and figuratively shot or hung...it just won't be enough and it won't been soon enough to prevent the utter destruction of life...these people are spiraling into as real, earthly hell and we are being dragged along in the slipstream...and before anyone jumps on a high horse: I grow my own food, butcher my own beef, heat with wood ( and wear a sweater) etc. etc....

gmenfan54
gmenfan54

So people are drinking poop. Can we send this coffee to Congress?

zardoz911
zardoz911

"Enduring appalling living conditions and an unhealthy diet, these nocturnal omnivores suffer mental distress  — incessantly pacing and gnawing on their limbs — and succumb to illness and death."    sounds like they have a lot in common with humans.
A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.

ShamusShafer
ShamusShafer

This is just as disgusting to me as a couple of years ago when they came up with coffee that contained cat feces...wth!!! disgusting to say the least and i hope those civets pass disease to those inhumane creeps!

DreamingofJustice
DreamingofJustice

Disgusting, cruel, and ridiculous. 

Just like pate de foie gras. 

Roz
Roz

I am sooooooo NOT surprised. Driven by GREED. May taste great, but let a wealthy, and typically Caucasian, person go OCD with it and the suffering/abuse starts.

AhmedKhalil
AhmedKhalil

Anyone who chooses to drink cat-sh*t coffee deserves to be scammed.

yeehaw!
yeehaw!

Gives a whole new meaning to ass to mouth.

BruceBruce
BruceBruce

now i know why my coffee tastes like sh*t

YudiSrisawasde
YudiSrisawasde

I prefer to drink coffee mix with Ganoderma Lucidum mushrooms than those come out from animal. Try Organo Gold healthy coffee.

BabyWebmaster
BabyWebmaster

coffee trader Tony Wild, who imported a single kilogram of kopi luwak to the U.K. in 1991... Seems like a non American was introducing this to drink.... Just like people to assume anti American things, because it's popular... Get a culture and you wont feel so angry.

FreeRadicals
FreeRadicals

@PatrishDehler As long as people continue to eat meat, animals will abused.   The obvious part is how they haven't chosen to die in their prime.  Let's also mention young calves (mild fed) stripped from their mothers and slaughtered while still alive (Veal).

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@OscarPitchfork Since, ranking number 117 on the world's literacy chart, many can't (or don't) read, probably not.

OscarPitchfork
OscarPitchfork

@dwildmangreen Well, good for you! Plus ten points for living off the land, but minus several hundred for not realizing that if EVERYONE lived off the land, there would be no serious national infrastructure, and SOMEONE, The Mexicans, the Commies, etc. would have overrun and conquered us long ago...

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

@ShamusShafer You'd be surprised at what you eat in the products bought off the shelf at the supermarket. It's not a pretty story.

gjones10787
gjones10787

@Roz Really? Playing the race game again are we? Typical.

"...50 tons of mass-produced civet coffee from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China..." 

Not exactly countries full of "wealthy, and typically Caucasian" people. But I suppose you're referring to the trickle down effect, eh? Since the end consumer must be wealthy, they must be white, so they must be greedy... and therefore they're the ones who are "making" the poor non-whites commit atrocities. Of course. The good 'ol "whitey made me do it" excuse. Original. Go back into your little bubble of hate, where you see only what you think you want to.



PatrishDehler
PatrishDehler

@FreeRadicals @PatrishDehler Animals we don't eat are abused too.  I wish I could fix it all, but I can't.  So I and others do the best we can.  I fight for the animals, and the environment with petitions, letters, and donations when I can.  I believe it is important to care. Now we even have companies that want to slaughter horses for food.  More horrors to confront and work against.

BrianSmith
BrianSmith

@PatrishDehler @BrianSmith And any decent person should care about every person on the planet, but you know, some just don't have time.  What arer you going to do about these suffering animals?  I bet absolutely nothing, so why even mention it?

dwildmangreen
dwildmangreen

@gjones10787 @Roz for you to deny that the asiatic has a different view of life, animal welfare and earthly rights from "ours" is pure dissembling. 

PatrishDehler
PatrishDehler

@BrianSmith @PatrishDehler because I sign petitions, write letters and donate money to animals and environment causes.  Any more questions?