Cut the crappuccino

Civet cat photo by Paul Williams

In what appears to be a never-ending search for the best or most unique cup of coffee…consumers will go to crappy lengths.

Monkeys, elephants, Brazilian jacu birds and civets are amongst the animals that have been employed to eat coffee beans, with their digestive enzymes denaturing the beans and altering the final taste.

Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak as it’s known in Indonesia, is one of the world’s most expensive drinks, selling for up to $100 per cup. It’s made from coffee beans, which have been partially digested and then excreted by small cat-like mammals known as civets. According to coffee connoisseurs, this unusual production method is what gives the coffee its uniquely smooth taste. But is it cruel or unethical?

The BBC have carried out a special investigation into the animal welfare concerns associated with civet coffee, featuring World Society for the Protection of Animal (WSPA) wildlife expert Neil D’Cruze.

The investigation reveals that, in parts of South East Asia, civets are cruelly captured from the wild, using methods that include box traps and snares. Many are sold directly to commercial civet farm owners, whilst others await their fate in noisy, bustling, wildlife markets.

Despite a long history of cage-free civet coffee – a method believed to produce the most superior tasting civet coffee – evidence suggests that the number of civet farms has increased to meet the growing global demand.

Conservation concerns
A variety of different civet species are used to produce civet coffee, including the Binturong, which is classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list (IUCN) and other species such as the Asian palm civet, which are more widespread. It’s likely that farmed civet coffee production is contributing to the extinction of local populations.

What is WSPA doing?
- Urging retailers to source cage-free civet coffee and remove inhumane products from their shelves.
- Calling for the introduction of an accredited certification scheme as a standard for humane cage-free coffee.
- Calling on governments of civet-coffee-producing countries to take steps towards ending caged production.

What can you do?
- Find out more about the issue in The true cost of the world’s most expensive coffee.
- Read the BBC report.
- Don’t buy civet coffee unless you can guarantee it is from a 100% cage-free source.
- Learn more about civets by reading One minute to get up to speed on civets.
- Learn more about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Find out how to be an animal-friendly traveller.
- Support terrific animal welfare organisations like WSPA through The Intrepid Foundation.

Photo © Paul Williams

About the author

Jane Crouch - Jane is currently Intrepid Travel's Responsible Business Communications Specialist and writes about all aspects of how travel can bring positive environmental, social and economic benefits. Informed through travel on 7 continents, leading Intrepid trips through SE Asia, work in outdoor education, energy conservation, international development, travellers philanthropy and climate change action, plus a big love of walking, mountains and world music.

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9 comments

As one guy mentioned just enlighten them to the fact that they are drinking animal poo

This should be animal cruelty !!! I feel absolutely sick to my stomach after reading this . .

All for a cup of coffee . . Selfish disgusting humans :/

Hi Jane

Was in Vietnam end of last year and visited a Coffee shop owned by the family who produce this Coffee. Tried it but not impressed … like all persons in countries where English is not native tongue they choose not to understand when I asked about the cruelty of the practice to the animals of processing coffee beans in this manner .
Smacks of all the fuzzy arguments when one questions the French about the methods used to produce Fois Gras …. the cruelty etc. The French were also in Vietnam. it would make one wonder !

Jim

Hi Jim,

I think when it comes to animal cruelty – when in doubt, opt out – is a good adage to go by.

Now speaking of fois gras…you might like to check out this fabulous short video from Intrepid’s friends, Daniel and Mira at Perennial Plate “A Time for Foie” – demonstrating a more ethical way: http://www.theperennialplate.com/episodes/2013/06/episode-121-a-time-for-foie/

Kind regards
Jane

Maybe someone should just tell them they are drinking poo!

Hi. Thanks for the article. Recently, I found the same thing in Vietnam. “Weasel” coffee comes 100% from caged animals being force-fed coffee. A weird thing is that there are so many civet farms that the coffee isn’t nearly as expensive as it was. A small bag (250 g?) costs $10, so those crazy people paying $50 for a single cup are deluding themselves that it’s a rare and expensive delicacy.
I wonder if you would consider another one on the relationship between growing coffee for westerners and clearing rainforests. I’ve seen thousands of acres of cleared hillsides where people are attempting to grow coffee, often with poor results. The soil erodes due to lack of cover and the farmers use all sorts of pesticides.
Thanks again for the excellent story.

Hi Brett,
Thanks for your insightful comments, and your story suggestion. Its said that coffee is the second most tradeable commodity after oil, so its no wonder that in the pursuit of $$s there is degradation of fragile land and exploitation of workers along the way.

I understand that WWF have recently done work on the linkages between coffee growing and deforestation – and point out that 37 of the 50 countries with the highest deforestation are also coffee producers. OXFAM have also done excellent work on delving into how fair is Fair Trade coffee …and bringing pressure to bear on the buyers and retailers who hold the strings that determine the producers conditions. It’s a complex web…and we will take up your suggestion for a future story.

Best wishes, Jane

Grazyna Witkowska / Reply

Dear Jane,
I fully support the concerns you have expressed in this article. I would like to add one more area for consideration. Is coffee the food of choice for these animals and, if it is, do they consume it (in normal wild life) in the quantities human entrepreneurs make them consume it.
As for me I have no desire to even try this coffee because of all these considerations.
Cheers,
Grazyna

Hi Grazyna,
These are good questions. I agree that an animal foraging in the wild would have a more varied diet than what is presumably imposed on them in captivity.
Best wishes, Jane

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