Kopi Luwak: Costliest and Cruelest But Also Most Cherished and Conservational Coffee in the World

by DerdriuMarriner

Kopi luwak brings beans and civets together. The result is high-priced controversy. Some see civet coffee as animal cruelty, and others view it as socio-economic sustainability.

The phrase kopi luwak acknowledges origins in a Southeast Asian island country and sovereign state, the Republic of Indonesia.
• It brings together the words for “coffee” and “civet.”
• It describes a hot drink whose aroma and taste are altered in its making by the input of night-active, tree-dwelling Asian common palm civets.

Coffee-lovers enjoy the beverage which is brewed from the beans of evergreen shrubs native to Africa but naturalized in Asia.

Asian common palm civets contrastingly favor the oval, red berries whose flesh protects the seeds essential to coffee-making.
• But their 40 teeth and their gastro-intestinal system have uses only for the pulp.
• The pit therefore is expelled as civet waste but harvested for civet coffee.

Unprocessed coffee beans eliminated from digestive systems of Asian Common Palm Civets

Samseong-Dong neighborhood, Gangnam District, southeastern Seoul, northwestern South Korea
Samseong-Dong neighborhood, Gangnam District, southeastern Seoul, northwestern South Korea

 

Experts are less sure of the etymology of the word “coffee” than they are of the word “civet.” They confidently attribute linguistic origins in the Arabic noun zabad (“foam,” “froth”) to the cat-, ferret-, mongoose-, raccoon-, skunk-like mammal in question. They less assuredly consider the above-mentioned language’s role in the birth and the evolution of the name for one of the world’s most beloved and widespread drinks. They just do not know whether the designation ultimately owes its existence to:

  • The Arabic noun quwwa for “energy,” “power”;
  • The Arabic verb qahā for “to lack hunger”;
  • The Kaffa-speaking region -- in the southwestern part of modern-day Ethiopia -- from which coffee plants were introduced into Arabia;
  • Unidentified sources.

 

Of estimated 25 - 100 species of coffee plants, Coffea Arabica and Coffea canephora -- both introduced into Indonesia -- have greatest commercial importance.

Coffea Arabica (left) and Coffea canephora (center right)
Coffea Arabica (left) and Coffea canephora (center right)

 

But the bio-geographies and biologies are far better known and tracked for botanists interested in Africa’s flowering, fruiting, and seeding coffee plants than for zoologists intrigued by Africa’s and Asia’s musk-communicating, musk-producing, and musk-smelling civets. The homelands of the two evergreen coffee species which are most involved in the production of civet coffee can be traced back to sub-Saharan Africa. The continent’s lower highlands claim the robust variety of coffee, Coffea canephora ("basket-bearing coffee shrub"), cultivated between altitudes of 656.17 and 2,624.67 feet (200 and 800 meters) above sea level. The upper highlands favor the Arabian variety, Coffea arabica ("Arabian coffee shrub"), produced between altitudes of 2,624.67 and 6,561.68 feet (800 and 2,000 meters) above sea level.

 

Vereeningde Oost-Indische Company (Dutch East India Company), known as VOC, initiated policy of cultuurstelsel ("cultivation system") on coffee cultivated in Preanger (Parahyangan), mountainous region in West Java:

undated photo of coffee plantation in Preanger region, southwestern Java
Collection of Tropenmuseum ("Museum of the Tropics") of Royal Tropical Institute (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen)
Collection of Tropenmuseum ("Museum of the Tropics") of Royal Tropical Institute (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen)

 

Historians call the timespan from the 15th century to the 18th century the Age of Discovery and the Age of Exploration. The timeline emerges as critical for the expansion of coffee cultivation within sub-Saharan Africa and its naturalization between latitudes 23°North and 23°South -- between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn -- in:

  • Caribbean, Central, and South America;
  • Insular and peninsular South and Southeast Asia.

It is during those centuries that production of and trade in coffee slip away from the control of Africa’s Arabic-speaking entrepreneurs and into the hands of Europe’s Dutch-, French-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-speaking colonialists. Arabian and robust coffee plant varieties owe to 17th-century Dutchmen their naturalization in Indonesia and the Philippines.

 

Asian Common Palm Civet in introduced habitat in native homeland of Bali

coffee plantation, Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia
coffee plantation, Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia

 

Asian common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, “hermaphroditic paradox”) claim within their native distributional ranges Indonesia and the Philippines. They indeed cluster throughout East, South, and Southeast Asia. They consistently display high degrees of environmental adaptability and strong evidences of survival smarts. Conservationists in fact give Asian common palm civets ratings of least concern over threats to current and future population sustainability. But healthy, historic presences in Indonesia and Philippines have the potential to stress the life cycles and natural histories of the industrious, loyal, nimble, photogenic, savvy survivalist. It is within the borders of these two maritime nations that the impacts from coffee-growing, coffee-making, and coffee-trading enterprises echo and exacerbate those from musk-extracting, musk-processing, and musk-trading entrepreneurs.

 

A spacious cage

Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia
Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia

 

The most common back-story for kopi luwak connects the emergence of the drink with Dutch-speaking coffee plantation owners on the Indonesian islands of:

  • Bali;
  • Java;
  • Sumatra.

Colonialists experienced considerable pressure from colleagues and counterparts in the respective European home countries to make economic endeavors super-profitable. Coffee-growers therefore followed policies of allowing native laborers rampant contact with all parts of the coffee shrubs. But at the same time, they let no local workers remove anything for individual or non-plantation uses. The obedient but observant locals probably noticed simultaneous changes in the habits of Asian common palm civets, already appreciated and useful for flesh, fragrance, and fur. The native civets switched from favoring palm pulp to relishing coffee berries.

 

Asian Common Palm Civet feeding on coffee berries

Kepahiang, Bengkulu Province, southern Sumatra, Maritime Southeast Asia, western Indonesia
Kepahiang, Bengkulu Province, southern Sumatra, Maritime Southeast Asia, western Indonesia

 

The back-story continues with:

  • Dutch plantation owners being displaced in the 1940s by Japanese military forces likewise discovering and valuing kopi luwak;
  • Gourmet coffee entrepreneurs jump-starting kopi luwak interest during the 1990s.  

As a result, kopi luwak nowadays generates super-profits through 2-digit prices per cup and 3-digit prices per kilogram/pound. Kopi luwak entrepreneurs indicate that processing detects contamination and ensures sanitation. But they may be not be equally forthcoming about Asian common palm civet living and working conditions. Competition prompts praiseworthy enterprises to establish reserves where civets rescued from feces-, flesh-, fragrance-, and fur-hunters enjoy favorite foods and locals process coffee-intended droppings. But it stimulates others to establish assembly-line farms and force-feed caged civets only coffee cherries.

 

Luwak: Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia
Luwak: Bali, Maritime Southeast Asia, Indonesia

Conclusion: Kopi Luwak's parallel universes of harrowing conditions in coffee prisons but also of supportive conditions on organic farms or in free-range settings

 

Admirers associate the coffee-drinking with chocolate-, spice-filled experiences. They call the coffee-making protective of homeless, starving civets braving:

  • Habitat-fragmenting agro-industrialists;
  • Meat-, pelt-, pet-gathering over-hunters;
  • Musk-harvesting perfume-makers;
  • Pharmaceuticals-inventing medicine-men.

They emphasize income-generating, job-creating, sustainable socio-economies respecting:

  • Local traditions;
  • Natural resources;
  • Organic farming.

 

Detractors find the coffee’s aromatic taste boring and priciness fraud-based greed. They label the entrepreneurs civet abusers and killers. They pinpoint:

  • Cage-confined pacing;
  • Coffee cherry-only diets;
  • Manginess;
  • Torture from beatings, filth, non-exercise, over-crowding.

 

Like the super-bad, super-good little girl with the mid-forehead curl, two diametric opposites proliferate. The predominance of worthy enterprises such as the Julia Campbell (January 25, 1967 – April 8, 2007) Agroforest Memorial Park rely upon:

  • Environmental education;
  • Government-enforced standards;
  • Scientific research;
  • Wildlife-loving activism.

 

Kopi Luwak, Jakarta Selatan ("South Jakarta"), northwestern Java, Indonesia
Kopi Luwak, Jakarta Selatan ("South Jakarta"), northwestern Java, Indonesia

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

"The Bucket List" - Kopi Luwak

Uploaded to YouTube on February 19, 2008 by samadeus ~ URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVJqwCdzZnw

Dedication

 

This article is dedicated to the well-being of Asian Common Palm Civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).

 

free-range Kopi Luwak

"Kopi Luwak anyone?"
"Kopi Luwak anyone?"

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"Behind bars: Caged viverrid (Katzenartige) kept for producing Kopi Luwak, a Balinesian coffee speciality"

Tampaksiring, central Bali, Indonesia
Tampaksiring, central Bali, Indonesia
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

100% Pure, Wild & Organic Civet Coffee, 4 ounces (113 grams) by Bantai Civet Coffee ~ Collected by hand from Wild Asian Palm Civets in the rainforests of Ifugao Province in the Philippines

Bantai Civet Coffee, founded by Dustin Butler, is sited on The Julia Campbell Agro-Forest Memorial Park, memorial to Dustin's fellow Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines ~ http://www.bantaicivetcoffee.com/gourmet-coffee-most.html
organic Kopi Luwak from free-ranging civets: hand-collected from ra...

Life Starts After Coffee: black t-shirt

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/13/2014

dawnrichard, Fortunately most coffee is processed differently from Kopi Luwak!

dawnrichard on 08/07/2014

I will not take coffee again now.

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