What is wild civet coffee?
Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak as it is known in Indonesia, is made from coffee cherries that have passed through the digestive system of Indonesian palm civet cats. It’s considered a rare delicacy, and demand for Kopi Luwak has gone viral since being featured on the Oprah Winfrey show years ago. A single cup can go for upwards of $100!
The one shop I know of in Calgary that carries Civet Coffee is The Bean Stop, a small coffee shop located in Calgary’s Eau Claire Market, it. I had a little conversation with the barista this Sunday and he was kind enough to show me the container. It purports to be “Wild Civet Coffee” from Thailand. If that’s not enough to pique the interest of the gourmand within, it is further touted as “Beyond Fair Trade”. Beyond Fair Trade is an advertising tactic used by Doi Chaang – a Canadian distributor that pledges to return 50% of their profits to the coffee growers. There’s no word as to how much the civet cats get.
The coffee, which can be obtained for $55 for 50 g from the Doi Chaang website, is said to be gathered from the excrement of wild civet cats that roam the grounds of the coffee farms. Check out their website, and you’ll be treated with bucolic images of happy coffee growers foraging for the fresh droppings of wild civets. Color me suspicious, but it seems like civet coffee would be ripe for food fraud. I mean, honestly, when so much money is at stake, aren’t farmers going to be tempted to either 1)imprison the civet cats so that they have a more reliable source of valuable droppings, and/or 2)fake the coffee.
The “Wild Palm Civet” Coffee Industry is Rife with Fraud and Animal Cruelty
Turns out my suspicions were correct – apparently 5,000% more wild civet coffee is sold each year than is actually produced, meaning that there’s almost no chance that the coffee you buy in most stores actually comes from palm civets (although that sounds like a bit of a blessing to me). Coffee obtained from caged civet cats fed a diet solely of coffee cherries (not a balanced diet, even for civets), is another serious issue.
The BBC did an undercover documentary about Kopi Luwak in 2013. During their investigation, they discovered that even the “wild civet coffee” suppliers for Harrod’s luxury department store were keeping their civets in cramped battery cages.
While disappointing, this shouldn’t be too surprising for most consumers. When an item can be this easily faked and profits are so high, fraud is inevitable.
What’s a good alternative to civet coffee?
There are many fantastic, luxurious coffees in the world that don’t require animal exploitation. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is believed to be one of the best coffees in the world, and although it’s often fake (this is also true of Kona coffee), going through a reputable supplier should help ensure you have your hands on the real deal.
I also have to recommend pretty much every 100% Arabica coffee. There are beautiful, fair trade coffees from Colombia that taste divine and can be found in specialty shops across North America. Also, coffee from Cuba’s Sierra Maestre mountain range is legendary, but difficult to get at the moment. With the lifting of the trade embargo, watch for this to become a one of the world’s most highly prized coffees!
For the third part in this series, I’ll be discussing caviar and the consequences of its popularity.
What do you think about civet coffee? Would you try it? Have you tried it? Do you feel that the alternatives are just as good?
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