What NOT TO DO in Bali – PT.1 : Tasting the famous Kopi Lowak

You may have heard of the well-known Kopi Luwak or Luwak Coffee. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, that comes from… an animal’s poop !
The luwak or civet cat is a nocturnal animal that tends to go in coffee plantations, to eat coffee berries. As it’s digestive system doesn’t digest the actual coffee seed, but only what surrounds it, in this animal’s excrements, you can find the seed in itself, which can then be used to produce the famous Kopi Luwak.
For the moment, all this process seems pretty innocent, right ? Funny, even ? No harm done.. Except when you dig in a bit on this industry and learn more about it..

How did this the industry begin ?

It all began in the 18th century, when slaves in Java and Sumatra worked on the first Indonesian coffee plantations. As they were not allowed to have some of the coffee that they were harvesting, they found another way to get their own coffee : they took the Luwak’s excrements, cleaned the seed and torrified it to create their own coffee.
It even gave a unique taste to their coffee, sometimes described as a sort of “carameled” taste. This rare and unique tasting coffee quickly became popular, first among the Netherland colons and after a while, it became famous all around the world !

This is when it becomes a bit more complicated.. If the demand rises, so must the supply.

This is not our picture. Credit : Flickr – Sarah_Ackerman

What once was a natural process became a true business. Nowadays, Kopi Luwak is a huge industry that exploits and mistreats animals. Very few people still pick up the wild luwak’s excrements in the coffee plantation as it is a lot of hard work for not a lot of coffee seeds.

Today, there is a whole new way of producing Lowak coffee : captive luwak farms.
In these farms, civets are locked in cages on a forced diet of coffee berries. Apart from the horrible conditions they live in, they are aso given food that isn’t good for them : In their natural habitat, luwak’s come and eat coffee berries from time to time, as a sort of candy, but it is far from being their main food.
So the luwak’s live their life in an environment completely different than where they should normally evolve : In their small cages, they don’t have enough space to exercise, to run around or to climb up something. These animals are also very solitary animals. Being close to each other, in all these small cages with nothing to do but to turn around all day makes them live constantly in a very stressful environment.

A lot of producers will tell you that their luwak coffee comes from wild luwak’s and that everything is picked up by hand. However, you can never guarantee that this is the case and most of the time, it is not the case, anyway.

Not only do the producers and sellers force diet captive luwaks, but some of them are also drugged to be able to be shown to tourists. Indeed, in Bali, you will sometimes pass by a small luwak coffee booth or even a restaurant, where there is a luwak attached, usually half-sleeping, on a shelf or a table. These luwaks are here to attract tourists to the booth, and it can usually be petted by tourists or people can take a picture with it for a small amount of money.
Imagine a wild nocturnal animal, under the Indonesian sun in the middle of the day, with a whole crowd of tourists all around it. I think everyone can notice that this is not the place of a wild animal. And, you can see that these animals are drugged and not in a good shape just by observing them. We saw luwaks like this sleeping most of the time and hardly noticing when a tourist pets them, hardly moving.

We once arrived in front of a restaurant that seemed very good and really peaceful inside, while we were in the center of Ubud. We started looking at the menu, which seemed a bit expensive but good as well. We then both turned our head to the left and noticed that there was actually a luwak, just next to us ! We didn’t even notice him as he was very still and did not even move an inch when we came by to look at the menu, chatting together excitedly. He just had a small rope attached to one of his leg and was lying on a sort of shelf. Even though we had decided to eat in the restaurant, when we saw the luwak, we just went away to find another restaurant, not wanting to participate in any way in this industry. Even though, I am sure that we have eaten in other restaurants where they must have had luwak coffee on the menu, without us really noticing it..
We did our best to avoid any activity that was linked one way or the other to the Kopi Luwak because, thankfully, we had been warned previously about the exploitation of these animals.

This is not our picture. Credit : Flickr – Surtr

Of course, if you have already had a Kopi Luwak without knowing what the industry was really like, it’s not very useful to start blaming yourself. However, now that you know what the industry is like and how the animals are treated, you can visit Bali with awareness and you can be careful not to participate in this activity ! 🙂

There are plenty of other things to discover in Bali, we promise you that even though you don’t taste the famous Kopi Luwak, your stay in Bali will still end up being marvelous ! 😉

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