3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Drink Luwak Coffee in Indonesia

At first glance, you might think a luwak (loo-wak) is just an unusually long cat. Maybe even a raccoon? Maybe even an Australian possum. Someone who somehow snuck aboard a tampa to Indonesia and accidentally found himself far from home. But Indonesian luwak is completely different from any of these creatures.

You see, this lithe, curious creature produces some of the rarest coffee in the world thanks to its love of eating coffee cherries. The beans pass through its digestive tract and a lump of coffee comes out. An average cup of ‘kopi luwak’ i Bali can set you back US$35 to US$80. The belief is that digestive enzymes remove the acidity from the coffee beans, resulting in a smoother cup of joe.

The time and expense of growing these coffee beans, plus demand fed by the millions of curious tourists who visit Indonesia each year, have helped drive up prices and support an unregulated industry centered on animal cruelty. The reality is that if travelers saw how luwaks were treated, they wouldn’t buy a cup, no matter how cute the packaging.

Whether you enjoy a latte, long black or old-fashioned espresso, here’s why you should give luwak coffee a miss.

Luwak excrement with coffee beans before processing. Photo by hedgehog111 (Shutterstock).

1. It is an abusive animal practice

In the wild, the luwak enjoys a rich and varied diet of insects, seeds and fruits – including papaya, pineapple and coffee. But coffee farming practices have created commercial luwak farms where the animals are forced on a diet of coffee beans to maximize production. Limiting the luwak’s diet to coffee fruit also results in nutritional deficiencies that can cause health problems.

Luwaks are also confined to cages for better use of space so camera-loving tourists can visit and watch them in action. The problem is that luwaks are naturally solitary creatures and nocturnal. Keeping them at a close distance from each other and keeping them awake during daytime hours for visitors can cause them anxiety.

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If the problem was isolated to a few wayward producers, then it could be a case of a few bad apples spoiling the barrel. But in 2016, researchers from Oxford University and the London-based World Animal Protection assessed the living conditions of nearly 50 wild luwaks kept in cages on 16 plantations in Bali. The report highlighted the inadequate living conditions and negative impacts on Luwaks as a result of commercial cage production.

The popularity of luwak coffee has also given rise to a number of spin-off products that use other animals. such as coffee beans made from the feces of elephants, monkeys, and even a variety of birds. By buying a cup of luwak coffee, you also confirm the mistreatment of other animals in the industry.

Luwak eats coffee cherries.

Luwak like to eat the best coffee cherries they can find. Photo by Akkharat Jarusilawong (Shutterstock)

2. You are not getting the right item

What’s easier than buying a farm and force-feeding a luwak coffee cherry? Buying regular coffee beans and passing them off as a “premium” product! According to Nordic Coffee Culture, more than 80% of all coffee sold as Kopi Luwak today is fake. So that expensive coffee you’re drinking is probably just a hot cup of placebo.

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Even if you did manage to track down some 100% authentic luwak poo, experts say the commercial farming process creates an inferior product. Wild luwaks are able to pick and choose the best coffee cherries to eat, resulting in only the best coffee beans being produced. It’s hard to replicate that process on a large scale when you feed luwax any old coffee cherry.

Luwak in a cage.

The Luwak coffee industry also legitimizes other animal products, such as elephant dung coffee. Photo by My Good Images (Shutterstock)

3. Certified ethical coffee is hard to find

So really, all you have to do to enjoy an authentic cup of luwak coffee is find a bag of ethically produced, free-range luwak coffee, right? The truth is that finding certified products is a challenge. Odds are that the coffee you do Purchases are more likely to come from a caged plantation rather than a wild luwak operation. It is not only in Indonesia but also around the world. In 2013, a BBC undercover investigation revealed how coffee from caged luwak kept in inhumane conditions ends up being labeled as wild luwak coffee in Europe.

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Fortunately, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), which the Rainforest Alliance and other well-known coffee certification companies use to issue their seals of approval, banned coffee production from caged luwaks on their Indonesian farms in 2014. Similarly, UTZ Certified, the world’s leading brand for sustainable coffee production, announced that it does not will no longer certify producers who use caged luwaks and other animals to produce coffee. This will hopefully put pressure on the luwak coffee industry to end abuse.

In the meantime, it allows customers to buy luwak coffee from brands that carry Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certification with confidence, knowing that these companies do not profit from capturing, caging and mistreating wild animals.

The hard part is just finding a certified bag of coffee. So the next time you’re looking for a morning pickup Seminyak or UbudSave yourself the trouble and buy a cup of plain, locally sourced coffee instead.

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Feature image by Bhakpong (Shutterstock).

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