The name Kopi Luwak ignites some intrigue in the minds of those who are not familiar with it. Well, it is the rarest and most expensive coffee available in the world; may be popularly known in a not-so attractive name ‘cat-poop coffee’! However, it is not without ample reason that Kopi Luwak is frequently called the rarest and most-expensive gourmet coffee in the world, with a single pound of it selling for hundreds of US dollars.
But what is Kopi Luwak? Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, is coffee made from undigested or partially digested beans of coffee cherries, eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. Fermentation occurs as the cherries pass through a civet’s intestines, and after being defecated with other faecal matter, they are collected for processing.
The droppings after collection is washed and the beans separated from them, cleaned and dried. The beans are then roasted and powered before brewing. While the coffee can be prepared in a regular manner, it is advised to avoid milk and sugar to experience the real legendary taste.
The coffee bean in this form was first discovered and collected by native farmers in Indonesia during the colonial period of the 19th century, when the Dutch forbade local workers from harvesting coffee for their own use.
The lovers of the coffee claim that it has a smooth nutty and earthy flavour devoid of bitterness usually associated with the brew. The enzymes in the digestive tract of the animal render the beans softer giving it a unique taste, aroma and body. But not all coffee lovers agree; some describe this as the worst coffee ever dismissing the hype as overrated.
However, one cannot stop wondering if the ridiculousness of consuming something defecated can alter the preconceived notions of what tastes good!
Authentic or fake
The beans obtained from civets in natural habitats are undoubtedly authentic which in no way harm the animal but it is debatable if caged civets can produce the same quality. Also, the high demand has led to several similar looking items cropping up in the market which has never ever been near a civet cat! The price is exorbitant ranging anywhere from $35 to $600 for a cup served at regular coffee shops. The fact that there is a market for anything highlighted as the best, garners many takers for the product irrespective of the price.
In the words of Tony Wild of ‘The Guardian’, “The naturally shy and solitary nocturnal creatures suffer greatly from the stress of being caged in proximity to other luwaks, and the unnatural emphasis on coffee cherries in their diet causes other health problems too; they fight among themselves,
gnaw off their own legs, start passing blood in their scats, and frequently die.”
Ever since the demand has risen enormously, selfish farmers stopped worrying about the natural cultivation of the product and rather looked for ways to yield maximum profit. They began caging large number of civets and started to exclusively feed them coffee beans. The animals are battery-caged and force-fed coffee cherries all day, regularly to enhance their business.
High-end pricing turned them to heartlessly enslaving civet cats for kopi luwak. Hundreds of these animals can be caged together where they fight or gnaw at their own limbs due to mental distress. Many farmers are uneducated on how to care for their animals and ignore when many succumb to illness and death. In a video released by PETA, filmed secretly in civet cages, the hapless animals are seen to bob and sway frantically, scratching or hurting themselves and run around in circles as a result of stress induced neurotic conditions.
Farmed civets are kept many a time in small wooden cells way different from their natural habitat. The animals are thrown to severe trauma of isolation, not even having enough space to live even leading to the beans being literally tainted by stress. Due to overfeeding of unripe coffee cherries while captive, the civets become ill. It is evidenced by bloody feces; however, once bleeding occurs, it is often too late to save the creatures. Those among us who have not lost the last trace of humanity would naturally raise the question — is it really worth the cruelty?
(The author is Director, TGL Foundation)
Photos: Google Images