Civet coffee, aka Kopi luwak, sounds like an interesting concept at first glance. Coffee made from beans that have been partially digested by the Asian palm civet, a weasel-like member of the Viverridae family (they aren't cats, but they look a bit similar, hence the coffee's weird name). Civet coffee amateurs argue that this coffee is better because special enzymes and fermentation processes inside the civet's digestive tract apparently improve the "flavor profile" of the coffee.
It all sounds good as long as you imagine the animals running around the Indonesian jungle, eating coffee beans as they please, with workers walking around trying to locate civet droppings that contain that rare coffee beans. It sounds like an Indiana Jones quest.
But sadly, the reality is otherwise. The high popularity of this coffee, combined with its high price, has created an industry that shouldn't exist. Civets are being captured in the wild and kept in cages on coffee farms, mainly in Indonesia and Thailand, which causes several serious health problems for the animals. A recent study published in the journal Animal Welfare described civet coffee production as “an enslavement industry.” Quartz reports:
While wild civets snack on coffee beans as part of their balanced diet, those in captivity are overfed unripe beans. The typically nocturnal animals can also suffer from being caged in claustrophobic sunlit spaces. When agitated, they fight amongst themselves, gnaw on their own legs, and have been found passing blood in their stool. Many grow sick and die due to stress.
See for yourself in the video from People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) below:
“A PETA Asia investigator visited several civet coffee farms and villages in Indonesia and the Philippines, two of the world’s top producers of kopi luwak. Undercover footage from these farms, some of which advertise their coffee as ‘wild-sourced,’ shows sick civets suffering from skin infections and exhibiting signs of zoochosis, a condition in which captive animals display neurotic behavior such as pacing, spinning and bobbing their heads — indications that the animals are going insane from boredom and depression.”
Wild-sourced. Yeah, right.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in November 2013.