It’s one of the world’s strangest success stories – a cup of coffee that, not to put too fine a point on it is made from poo. The first person who decided that coffee beans that had first passed through the digestive tract of a small jungle cat would be just the think to take the coffee drinking world by storm must have been a marketing genius – or else completely mad.
However, the fact of the matter is that kopi luwak has become big business – and a marketing success story as the general coffee drinking public still seems to have the idea of Sumatran natives scouring rain forest floors in the hope of finding coffee bean shaped treasure amidst the droppings of the wild civet cat.
Of course, in 2016 nothing could be further from the truth. As with any product that finds a profitable niche or reaches the mainstream the inevitable consequence is that all pretensions of altruism are thrown under the bus, and cash quickly becomes king.
Today the images of unspoiled nature providing the bounty that coffee lovers across the globe have learned to love is just about as dead as the dodo. Consumers need to stop thinking about wild animals in their natural environment and start thinking about battery farms and force feeding.
Today the majority of the kopi luwak that is commercially available in hipster and aficionado friendly coffee shops is produced in Indonesia – and the way that it is produced is not very pretty at all. Intense battery farming methods, extremely cramped conditions and cages with filthy bare cement floors are common as authorities and producers clamber to get into the lucrative trade in kopi luwak.
And consumers can’t trust that ‘wild’ label either. There simply isn’t any regulatory authority in Indonesia – or for that matter internationally that polices or regulates exactly what is sold and what exactly the label ‘wild’ actually means. In fact it largely left to the retailers themselves to judge whether they can use the label ‘Wild Luwak’ with a clear conscience – and where profit comes in a clear conscience can get shown the door very quickly. A cup of kopi luwak can sell for between $35 and $80, so this is a tremendously profitable business, and some retailers are tempted to look the other way when it comes to issues such as animal cruelty and sustainability.
So – is it possible to produce kopi luwak beans in a sustainable way – and who is working to make this a reality?
The answer appears to be yes – there are ways to make sure that the cup of civet coffee that is served at retail establishments or sold by the pound to consumers is produced in a way that is both sustainable and in line with global standards for the care of animals. One such site that sells it is www.coffeemakerworld.net – French Presses.
There are producers in Sumatra; Indonesia whop is going tout of their way to ensure that the coffee beans that they are producing are from sustainable sources. They have not only eliminated caged civets but have also enlisted the services of local villagers to help gather beans that have been deposited by a wild civet. This is proving successful for both the villagers regarding the opportunity to earn an income, but also for the producers who can charge a premium for properly certified kopi luwak that has been produced with sustainability in mind. It’s also great for the civet cats for obvious reasons.
Producers like Matt Ross who follows the sustainable path are now at the forefront of making kopi luwak more retail and environmentally friendly. His operation in Sumatra called ‘Rarefied’ partners with about 40 farmers and offered training to them and their staff in how to collect fresh wild scat. It’s during the wet, cold weather that the civets seem to go out in search of a caffeine ‘pick-me-up’ and this is when the collection of wild kopi luwak takes place. Rarified also strictly monitors the operations that it deals with to ensure that the process is transparent and that they don’t end up with kopi luwak from caged civets. Rarified’s coffee brand ‘Sijahtra’ is now achieving considerable success.
This approach to production is great news for organizations such as the Sustainable Agriculture Network and World Animal Protection (WAP) which have been pushing for third party certification of the production process for some time.
Meanwhile many larger retailers, such as Harrods in the United Kingdom have now joined with activists to lobby for a certification program – and even the Indonesian government is coming on board.
It seems that very soon coffee enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the pleasure and privilege of a cup of kopi luwak with a clean conscience – let’s raise a hot cup to that day.