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Demand for Kopi Luwak May Be Threatening Wildlife 112

Posted by timothy
from the perils-of-espresso dept.
Damien1972 writes "Popularization of the world's strangest coffee may be imperiling a a suite of small mammals in Indonesia, according to a new study in Small Carnivore Conservation. The coffee, known as kopi luwak (kopi for coffee and luwak for the civet), is made from whole coffee beans that have passed through the gut of the animal. The coffee is apparently noted for its distinct taste, though some have argued it is little more than novelty. Now, this burgeoning kopi luwak industry is creating 'civet farms,' whereby civets are captured from the wild and kept in cages to eat and crap out coffee beans."
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Demand for Kopi Luwak May Be Threatening Wildlife

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

  • No text.

    Oh. Wait.

  • Humans are weird.
    "Let's destroy our planet by trapping and force-feeding coffee beens to a small mammal, take it's shit, grind it, put it in boiling water and drink it as a high end novelty drink."

    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:25AM (#43482407)

      It's just another stupid food fad for people with too much money on their hands, like "truffles": horribly-expensive mushrooms that just taste like dirt.
       

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:47AM (#43482631) Homepage

        It's just another stupid food fad for people with too much money on their hands, like "truffles": horribly-expensive mushrooms that just taste like dirt.

        Truffles have been prized for hundreds of years, and so has coffee.

        Truffles taste earthy, that's true, but that doesn't mean that it is going to stop being a prized culinary item because you don't see the point. You may not like them, but many people do.

        Fugu [wikipedia.org] is horribly expensive and you need a special license to prepare it, but that hasn't slowed demand for it.

        If it's food, and it's tasty, people will always want it. And, there's always going to be a certain cache to having something which is so rare and expensive.

        I've never had occasion to try kopi luac, but I know that Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is also ridiculously expensive because of the micro climate and soil it grows in -- because you can't just grow the same coffee elsewhere and get the same results. It's entirely dependent on the soil and the climate.

        But lobster used to be considered poor people's food until people discovered how tasty it was. So were oysters, so was sushi. Then people discovered how yummy they were.

        • by jythie (914043)
          Truffles, like Shark Fin, is popular because it is popular. It is 'rich guy stuff', so rich people eat it because they can and middle class people buy it because it is a 'taste of luxury'. Even when people can distinguish truffle from other mushrooms, it still pretty much comes down to 'I can detect the socially right one'
          • by retchdog (1319261)

            Truffle is trivially distinguishable from other mushrooms. Is it worth paying hundreds or thousands per pound to try it (more than once, at least)? Probably not. Is the taste going to agree with everyone? No. Is a large part of the price the prestige factor? Yes.

            But to assert that it is indistinguishable is just stupid. Either you've never tried them, or you've had your taste buds cauterized.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Well, it depends really.

            Truffles are full of umami [wikipedia.org] compounds like all fungus is.

            I know lots of people who are absolutely crazy about the taste of mushrooms and will eat anything with them in it and seek it out. I also know people who don't like the taste of them at all and won't touch them.

            I won't dispute your point, because let's face it, celebrities aren't drinking Cristal because they're wine connoiseurs, they order it because it's expensive and cool to do so. But even I can certainly tell the differe

            • by DarkOx (621550)

              That $40 bottle of wine really is better than that $5 bottle.

              Maybe on that. There have been lots of blind test; even one done by the Freakonics guys that determined many people could not reliably distinguish and those who could expressed a preference for the in expensive bottle almost as frequently as the expensive one.

              So there is lot of subjectivity is what a "good wine" actually is and it may come down to personal preference, in absence of social pressure to prefer the higher priced bottle. There may be authentic quality issues as you go downward into the very b

              • by gstoddart (321705)

                There have been lots of blind test; even one done by the Freakonics guys that determined many people could not reliably distinguish and those who could expressed a preference for the in expensive bottle almost as frequently as the expensive one.

                Well, not knowing anything about the tests, I don't know what they were made up of. Were they people who were drinkers of cheap wine, or actual oneophiles? Because the people who drink the cheap plonk might not be a good sample. But even across 'better' wines, the

                • Well, not knowing anything about the tests, I don't know what they were made up of. Were they people who were drinkers of cheap wine, or actual oneophiles

                  That actually doesn't matter. If only self-selected "wine tasters" can taste the best wines, it still only matters to them, and the rest of us can do just fine with a bottle of Ripple or whatever.

                  It's the same in the world of expensive musical instruments. Blind testing by experts, virtuosos, and violin-makers all revealed that given the choice they'd ta

                  • by gstoddart (321705)

                    That actually doesn't matter. If only self-selected "wine tasters" can taste the best wines, it still only matters to them, and the rest of us can do just fine with a bottle of Ripple or whatever.

                    That doesn't mean the good wines aren't of a better quality, it might just mean that people don't have enough knowledge to know the difference. But I've certainly seen that you can educate someone a little about wine and actually see their perception of wines change. I'm not talking about going from $5 bottles to

                  • I'd be interested to read about this "violin test", as someone who plays multiple instruments there's certainly a quality difference in the sound a cheap 60 dollar acoustic guitar produces versus it's more expensive brother I bought last year. Even using the same strings it has a different sound to it. Same with the stereo equipment I have, it's not in the $10.000 category but at least I can pick out the difference between the cheap stuff and the bit more expensive stuff.

                    Isn't this really just about d
                  • by retchdog (1319261)

                    if the "self-selected" wine tasters can taste the difference, then it is real.

                    it might not matter to you, but it is real.

                    you're mostly right, though. high prices are based on prestige as well as quality. i'm not an oenophile myself but as i've had it explained to me, you can get wines in the 90th percentile of quality for $20-30/btl if you research diligently and have a well-stocked friendly neighborhood wine store.

                    of course, if you don't have the time, or if you shop exclusively at whole foods, yeah, they'

    • by plover (150551)

      It may not be destroying the planet, but if you look deeper, the Internet is responsible for the domestication of the civet. I certainly never would have heard of civet shit coffee if it hadn't been for the Internet, and the same is true for about 5 billion other people. Yet now thanks to the interwebs, we have all heard of it.

      And let's say that 10% of people who hear about it want to try it, and 10% of those can afford to. That's 50 million new customers trying to consume a product that's produced slowly

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's fucking idiot hipsters in America. They don't care that it tastes awful. It's all about how they think the world perceives them for having the distinguished class and "taste" to drink coffe from beans out of an animal's asshole.

    • Also, we take those same small animals and scrape their anal glands and spray the resulting oil on ourselves to smell better.
    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      "Let's destroy our planet by trapping and force-feeding coffee beens [sic] to a small mammal, take it's [sic] shit, grind it, put it in boiling water and drink it as a high end novelty drink."

      To be picky, it's only the beans that they grind.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:16AM (#43482305) Homepage
    This is most likely to create an inferior product. Not that I think semi-digested pooped out coffee beans is particularly desirable product, but when you try to take some biological process and move it up to an industrial scale, something in the product is lost. It's like the fact that industrial scale cheese never has the same flavour of a cheese made in small batches on a small farm. The kind of grass that the sheep/cows eat, the water they drink, and a lot of other factors play into how the cheese tastes.
    • by FilmedInNoir (1392323) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:22AM (#43482377)
      Agree completely, and the problem with a civet battery-farm is that an element of why the coffee tastes good is lost.
      It's not just that they eat and poop out the beans. It's also the fact they are picky about which beans they eat in the wild.
      • by S.O.B. (136083)

        I buy my coffee direct from a Canadian company that has partnered with a coffee grower in Thailand to provide a high quality, shade grown, organic coffee. Although I've never tried it (due to the price and the obvious ick factor), they offer Kopi Lewak but it is from wild civets not caged, domesticated civets for this exact reason.

        It's not only the digestive process that is important but that the civets are particular and only eat the ripest, sweetest berries and theoretically the best berries contain the

    • by sFurbo (1361249) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @11:11AM (#43482917)
      One explanation that has been proposed for why Kopi Luwak is different is that the civets choose the most ripe berries. This effect could easily be lost with captivity.
  • phew (Score:4, Funny)

    by ssam (2723487) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:22AM (#43482383)

    now i have a good reason not to drink it without seeming squeamish.

    • 1/2 pound Kopi Luwak coffee: $60 [kopiluwakonline.com]

      1/2 pound Caribou coffee: $7.40 [cariboucoffee.com]


      Getting coffee which is not literally shitty: priceless
      • by JDevers (83155)

        Even better, buy high quality green coffee beans from around the world and roast your own coffee. Mediocre beans roasted and consumed after a short wait of a few days taste better than the best beans that are months post roast, now high quality beans consumed fresh are tremendously better than any large scale commercial venture...home roasting or local fresh roasting is the only way to go if you actually crave good coffee. It is also pretty economical and fun.

        • by serbanp (139486)

          Amen to that. The only downside to that is that you either get a powerful hood to remove all the smoke or you remove the batteries from the smoke alarms...

        • by reboot246 (623534)
          Since I started roasting my own coffee, I'll never go back to buying coffee roasted by somebody else. The difference is like daylight and dark.

          It doesn't take long (about 15 minutes in my case) and you always have the freshest coffee imaginable.

          Sweet Maria's is usually my go-to source.
  • by fredrated (639554) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:27AM (#43482431) Journal

    that humans can't suck the complete life out of?

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:29AM (#43482451)
    Years ago I went to a lecture given by a food chemist. His research had produced excellent "synthetic coffee" in the 80s and 90s. He said that they had tested the coffee with groups of drinkers who generally found it delicious. So why don't we have synthetic coffee today? Government regulations required that they not use the term "coffee". Essentially, they were forced to call it "coffee substitute" or "synthetic coffee drink" or other such drivel. The result? People thought they were drinking "chemicals", and not coffee. In reality, it was made from organic sources (chickory root, spices, etc.)

    The minute people realize that the "chemicals" in kopi luwak are just that - chemicals - the sooner we could just synthesize these in the lab and allow people to have the shit-coffee and leave the civets to romp in their truffula trees.
    • by lxs (131946)

      If it's not coffee it shouldn't be labeled as such, and roasted chicory root has been used as a coffee surrogate for centuries. A quick Google search shows that it's being sold today as a healthy organic alternative to coffee.

      Your food chemist should blame his marketing department for the cock up, not the government.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      So he should have called it something else entirely.
      He had no right to label it coffee, that would be misleading. He should have called it "Doc Brown's Organic Breakfast Beverage". It sounds like it lacked caffeine, which means it was probably doomed to failure anyway.

      The ignorance of the public is a separate problem that should not be handled by making them even more ignorant about their breakfast drinks. Everything is chemicals, some of them are delicious some not, some dangerous some not. This is like th

    • by TripleE78 (883800)

      And they still won't want it. I think part of the appeal is that this is a novelty that's really hard to produce, and therefore expensive. It's another way to show how much better you are then everyone else because you have money. And it tastes better because it's expensive (or so your mind tells you).

      Conspicuous consumption sucks.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      Checklist:
      is it coffee? No
      is it meant to replace coffee? Yes

      Then coffee substitute is the proper terminology. If it didnt come from coffee beans, then its not coffee. that shouldnt be a difficult concept for you to grasp. You just failed to apply the proper marketing technique to open up a market for it.

    • If you read the list of ingredients in many herbal/green tea blends, there's usually a "Nature identical flavour" listed. That's the marketing spun name for synthetic flavours that are chemically identical to the natural extract version of a flavour.

      People still have the same aversion to synthetic versions of natural things, even if they are chemically identical. I take great pleasure in pointing out the nature identical flavour component to ignorant unaware tea drinkers who think natural is better.

  • this coffee (Score:4, Funny)

    by cynop (2023642) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:32AM (#43482497)

    ...tastes like crap

  • Never mind that this is gross.

    Trapping and force-feeding something that the animal would not normally eat is just wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      Trapping and force-feeding something that the animal would not normally eat is just wrong.

      They didn't discover this coffee by feeding something to the civets they wouldn't eat normally.

      The civets already eat the fruit and crap out the seed. The civets clearly already liked eating it.

      Now, as to how someone made the leap of taking the seeds which have passed through the civet and decided to make coffee out of it ... I couldn't even begin to guess at.

      But they are NOT force feeding them something they wouldn't

      • Now, as to how someone made the leap of taking the seeds which have passed through the civet and decided to make coffee out of it ... I couldn't even begin to guess at.

        Wikipedia is your friend...

        History:

        The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected with the history of coffee production in Indonesia. In the early 18th century the Dutch established the cash-crop coffee plantations in their colony in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra, including Arabica coffee introduced from Yemen. During the era of Cultuurstelsel (1830—1870), the Dutch prohibited the native farmers and plantation workers from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Still, the nati

        • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @11:52AM (#43483379)
          Animal welfare:

          Initially civet coffee beans were picked from from wild civet excrement that was to be found around coffee plantations. This unusual process contributed to its rarity and subsequently, its high price. More recently, growing numbers of intensive civet "farms" have been established and operated across Southeast Asia, confining tens of thousands of animals to live in tiny cages and be force-fed.

          '"The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens", said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of the conservation NGO Traffic south-east Asia. "The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages. There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiralling out of control. But there's not much public awareness of how it's actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew"'.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak [wikipedia.org]

          • by Artifex (18308)

            Well, I'm convinced: it's our civet doodie not to support this animal cruelty.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      you ignorant twit. it was discovered precisely because it IS something the civets eat, and eat regularly.

  • Rectum? Damn near killed them.

  • Are civets endangered? Are they being force fed as in "forced to eat more than they want" or force fed as in "they would never eat coffee beans on their own free will?"

    Sounds like a good business opportunity, get your ethically-made civet shit coffee here!

    • Once the demand causes prices to reach the level of moral depravity, there will be a class of "entrepreneurs" who will realize that the market is worth any moral failure to provide. Torture, murder, environmental destruction - all a small price to pay to become rich (for someone's personal value of rich). The drug trade is similar.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:54AM (#43482717)
    I do not know if this is true, but I could see it. I came across a story some time back that claimed to explain the origins of Kopi Luwak coffee. The story was that during colonial times the natives were not allowed to have any of the coffee beans for their own use. They wanted to drink coffee. When they discovered the undigested beans in civet feces, they collected them and made coffee from them. At some later point, Europeans saw the natives drinking this coffee and decided it must be something special, since the natives drank it (never considering that it was the only coffee the natives had access to).
    All reports I have seen about blind taste tests suggest that the flavor is thin and inferior to other quality coffees.
  • ...is a trip through some animal's gut? I think we've discovered a new industry for the labor forces in "emerging nations". Not suprisingly, it's the raw material "production" positions that will be highly prized, whereas the refining and packaging jobs, not so much.
    • This is the course almost all manufacturing and industry seems to be taking. Turn their product into SHIT, charge a ridiculous amount of money for it, and then scream at us the public that we don't appreciate them properly.

  • At the star supermarket on austin street in Newton, MA, there is a sign - enter our Earth Day contest and win a trip for two to costa rica
    Is there anything more emblamatic of anti-environmentalism then flying to another country to help destroy the jungle iwth your tourism ?

    A few months ago at star maker, there were for sale bundles of firewood, wrapped in plastic, from Lithuania (!) advertised as "green"
    so you have you open pit or woodstove, in-efficient combustion, wood that was transported across the ocea

    • by femtobyte (710429)

      "Green" + "Capitalist" = "Capitalist"

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      there were for sale bundles of firewood, wrapped in plastic, from Lithuania (!) advertised as "green"
      so you have you open pit or woodstove, in-efficient combustion, wood that was transported across the ocean....

      Well wood burning could be considered green in that its at least a renewable resource. It could arguably be considered carbon neutral as well; if we got to the point were we re-planted as much acreage of forest as we harvest.

      The transporting it across the ocean part though is pretty messed up.

  • It's a little know fact that Starbucks allows you to bring your Civet in for that fresh-brewed taste. Best way to do it is feed Civet and entire box of prunes about 30 minutes before heading out.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @12:30PM (#43483749)

    before they destroy us all!

    Anybody that wants to drink coffee that was crapped out of an animal has jumped the shark as a human being.

  • by jythie (914043)
    I thought this novelty peaked years ago.
    • I thought this novelty peaked years ago.

      Addicting drug + scat fetish + Internet + high-profit margins - don't get caught selling it short.

  • I'll be more than happy to eat a bunch of coffee cherries and shit them out for you. Heck, I'll even ship them to you for no additional charge.
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      This may not be quite as pleasantly easy money as you think, if you want to reach high enough production levels to retain paying customers. Each pound of roasted beans starts from 15-20lbs of coffee cherries, which you will need to force feed yourself and hold down for a couple days of fermentation. So, I'm guessing it would take you at minimum two weeks of "processing time" (seven 2-day batches), in which you force-feed yourself ~2lb of coffee cherries and constipation-inducing medication, wait 2 days with

      • Who's to say the fermentation would take 2 weeks? I have developed a patent-pending process whereby I'm able to drop the fermentation time down to 1.5 days without affecting the taste of the final product. It is true, though, that the volume of ingestion might be a small issue, but it's worth a shit, err.. shot.
        • by femtobyte (710429)

          Good luck with your patent. However, I have the suspicion that a business plan based on "use my own body in direct competition against the digestive and excretory systems of maltreated caged animals" may not work out so well as you hope --- that's a race to the bottom I wouldn't want to contest.

  • When I was a kid, I lived in Jakarta, and my parents bought me a civet as a pet. BAD idea. It was a captured wild civet. We only had it about 3 months before it having bitten and scratched me so much, we ended up taking it out to the jungle where there were a bunch of wild civets and releasing it. I hope it did ok, and never blamed it for being wild and attacking me occasionally. I think it's terrible to "farm" animals in this fashion for something that we don't actually need really. It's one thing to

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