You might be shocked to learn that the world’s most expensive coffee is actually made of animal excrement.
Even more shocking, though, is the inhumane and cruel practices used to produce it.
Civet coffee (or kopi luwak in Indonesian) is made from a special kind of coffee bean with a storied past. In the mid-1800s, workers on Indonesia’s coffee plantations were forbidden from consuming the coffee beans from the plants. However, Asian palm civets, small cat-like nocturnal mammals, would sneak onto the plantations and eat the ripest coffee berries. The resourceful workers would pick out the beans from the animal’s excrement, clean, and then roast them.
It might seem like an odd way to roast coffee, but people adored the taste. The civet’s digestive system apparently gave the beans a smooth, full taste with a rich aroma. The high quality is also attributed to how the animals only ate the ripest berries, meaning the coffee was made from the best beans of the crop.
Centuries later, the coffee is still adored by coffee-drinkers worldwide, but the production method has changed drastically. Civets are locked in small cages and fed almost exclusively coffee beans, an unhealthy diet for the carnivorous creatures. Solitary by nature, civets become agitated when cooped up in close quarters with other animals. It’s not uncommon to find civets suffering from mental distress.
Tony Wild, a former coffee trader, witnessed some of these awful conditions while investigating the industry during a BBC investigation. In one case, he found 100 civets living in a half-hectare farm. He described the farms as a “prisoncamp where they fight each other.” And yet, civet coffee remains a delicacy and novelty around the world. In New York, a cup will cost you $30. In London, it goes for $100. A mere 1-kilogram of roasted beans can cost as much as $130 in Indonesia and quadruple that internationally. Many retailers claim that the high prices are because the beans are sourcedfrom only wild animals, thus a limited supply is harvested each year.
Wild says this is simply not true, and he encourages drinkers to boycott the coffee.
Image courtesy of Surtr.