I have always found “kopi luwak” delicious. As audiences of a 2007 Hollywood film “The Bucket List” may recall, kopi luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee, is roasted from coffee beans that pass through the guts of civets (luwak) who select, eat and digest the tastiest coffee berries they can find before defecating the hard beans useless to them.
But the enzymatic action that takes place before the beans re-enter the world makes the resulting brew special. Very special.
In the US it costs $160 per pound for this wonderfully crappy coffee. Here in Indonesia, a center for coffee farming and roasting, kopi luwak is much more affordable, and I have loved drinking it for two decades. But not until last month, when I drove from my home in Jakarta to the island of Sumatra, did I purchase kopi luwak anywhere but in a supermarket or at a mall cafe. In the Sumatran town of Liwa, there are many small kopi luwak shops and I was eager to try, as funny as it sounds, kopi luwak from as close to its source as possible.
The proprietor of one such shop offered me a sample cup of his brew. It was syrupy, rich, and amazingly aromatic – well worth, I thought, the 150,000 rupiah he wanted for a half-kilo.
I was ready to buy when my host offered to show me his civets. But civets are nocturnal; how could we see them mid-day? Easy. This kopi luwak is produced from caged civets. Each animal is kept in a small wooden cell where its job is to eat and defecate and pose on the shoulders of tourists like me. The animals select their berries from bowls instead of bushes. No more roaming of the forests for any of these graceful cat-like creatures.
They all looked miserable and mangy; more than one had gnawed its own forepaws out of boredom. The detritus I saw at the bottoms of their coops wasn’t funny at all. Feeling somewhat woozy, I excused myself and made my escape from the dungeons and from the shop.
I wish the civets could do the same. Since returning from Sumatra I have discovered that almost all kopi luwak is now farmed in this cruel manner. Demand for the product has motivated producers to forego the traditional collection of wild civet detritus from the jungle floor.
I, however, have lost my taste for kopi luwak. The memory of those imprisoned animals keeps me up at night.