Why we will never sell Kopi Luwak coffee at Quest

Have you heard of the popular Kopi Luwak coffee, also known as Civet coffee? I had never heard of it until a trip to Bali last year. Even then, I only discovered how it was made which, in itself, is quite interesting. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the production of Kopi Luwak and the main objective of this blog is to help raise awareness.

What is Kopi Luwak coffee?

Originally, farmers on Indonesian coffee plantations were the first to consume Kopi Luwak coffee. As they were forbidden to pick coffee beans, they would rely on the wild civet cat to sneak into the plantations at night. The civet cat would eat the ripe coffee cherries and, as it can’t digest the stones (coffee beans) of the cherry, the bean passes through with the rest of its droppings. The farmers would then clean their droppings to get to the beans, rather than ‘picking’ the cherries themselves. The plantation owners went public in or around 1991, describing the beans as having unique qualities, such as a ‘rich aroma’ and ‘smoother flavour’.

Wild civet cat in its natural habitat

Wild civet cat in its natural habitat

According to Wikipedia, the Kopi Luwak’s popularity skyrocketed after it was mentioned in The Bucket List (2008) as Carter (Morgan Freeman) reveals with great amusement of how the Kopi Luwak — enjoyed by Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) — was produced; eaten and defecated by a jungle cat. Cole reacted in surprise “You’re shitting me!” and Carter replied in jest “No, the cats beat me to it!”.

The dark side of the Kopi Luwak production

Kopi Luwak production is now industrialised. In the wild, the civet cat is a shy and solitary nocturnal jungle cat. Unfortunately, as the demand is so high, they now suffer immensely from the stress of being caged in close proximity to other civets. Their health issues are extremely high given the unnatural consumption of the cherries in their diet, they have been known to gnaw off their own legs, fight amongst themselves, pass blood in their droppings and death is far from uncommon.

The BBC went undercover in 2013, posing as buyers in Sumatra, so as to delve deeper into the dark side of this industry: their findings were nothing short of astonishing. They discovered that the farmers harvest up to 135kg a month, using captive methods. The civet cages only measured a couple of feet across, are completely barron and filthy and there is nowhere for the cats to climb. Their reporters witnessed battery-style conditions, stress-induced behavioural problems, animals being ‘cramped’ in cages and a severely injured civet cat. This is certainly contradictory to the marketing claims that the bean is ‘wild’.

Civet cats in captivity living in appalling conditions and being force-fed ripe red coffee cherries

Civet cats in captivity living in appalling conditions and being force-fed ripe red coffee cherries

Our friends at The Guardian also notes that coffee companies worldwide still market the Kopi Luwak coffee with the quirky story of the animal’s digestive habits. They claim that only 500kgs are collected yearly, thereby allowing them to put a hefty retail pricetag on the beans – somewhere in the vicinity of $200-400 per kg, sometimes more! Although it is impossible to get accurate figures, the global production each year is estimated to be AT LEAST 50 tonnes (possibly much more) – farmers in Vietnam, Phillipines, China and India are producing the bean also. One single Indonesian farm claims that their yearly production is around 7,000kg, from 240 caged civets.

The trapping of wild luwaks is supposed to be strictly controlled by Indonesia but poachers reportedly capture them, cage them and force-feed them cherries in order to keep up the demand. This then pleases thousands of people who have been fooled into buying this ‘rare’ and costly ‘luxury’ coffee.

On the flip side, you have many families in these countries who live well below the poverty line, while trying to support their family and put food on the table. If you were put in their shoes and offered more money to work in these conditions, you probably wouldn’t even have to think about it, right?

The only way to reduce the demand for the bean is simply not to buy it. Knowledge is power, so let’s all pitch in and help others be more aware so these adorable little creatures have a half a chance to live how they were supposed to.

Baby Luwak tempted by red coffee cherries

Baby Luwak, 4 months old, being tempted by some red coffee beans at the BAS Coffee plantation in Tapaksiring, Bali, Indonesia.


Written by Therese Glowaski.

Kiva; July update

Here is our monthly Kiva update for you! We are super proud to share with you that this month, with your help, we have raised $144.65 for Kiva. This has enabled us to help fund micro loans to another 6 people, helping a total of 9 so far. Please read below for more info on the profiles of the people we support.

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva; Liem's Group in Vietnam

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva; Liem’s Group in Vietnam

Liem was born in 1977 and joined M7-MFI’s forerunner program in January 1998. Her family consists of her husband, two sons and herself. They live in Mai Son district, Son La province.Her family cultivates 1.2 hectare of corn and 2000 square meters of rice. The income is just enough to cover the family’s living expenses and save a small amount of money. She has to spend money on her children’s education and her savings is not enough to buy corn for the next crop. She will work hard to get money to repay the loan  on time, and hopes that the loan will help her to buy good corn and then it will bring her family an abundant crop.
Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Jose Andres from Honduras

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Jose Andres from Honduras

José Andrés, age 39, grows organic coffee that he sells through COCAFCAL [a coffee cooperative]. José Andrés is married to Sandra, and they have four children who are completely dependent upon him. José Andrés dreams of giving his children the best that he can, and he wants all of them to have an education. José Andrés has been growing coffee for ten years, and it has become the foundation of his finances. “Coffee is the best that we can have in this area,” he says. Last year José Andrés lost one hectare of his coffee farm due to an attack of the ‘roya’ fungus. He wants to replant that land to begin the production again as soon as possible because it is his only source of income. José Andrés is now requesting a loan in order to be able to cover the expenses of replanting the land that was affected by the roya. He will use the loan to buy plants, organic fertilizer, organic supplies, and to pay the workers.
Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Pochol 1 D Group in Guatemala

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Pochol 1 D Group in Guatemala

Magdalena is a 46-year-old woman, is married and lives together with her two children, aged 19 and 24 years, in a community of Nahuala. Magdalena (the first on the left side of the photograph), with the desire to earn income and provide for her children, has made a living selling coffee for the last 12 years in a place called Pochol. In order to maintain several coffee plots that she has cultivated for some time, Magdalena needs a good quantity of money in order to be able to acquire her fertilizers and pay for labor. However, one of the difficulties that she has is that she does not have sufficient capital. For this reason, she organized a group of women so that together they can request a loan and invest the money according to their needs. Magdalena’s great dream is to set up a store selling groceries in her house in order to improve her income.
Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Judith in Kenya

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Judith in Kenya

Judith has a strong conviction in her mind that in order to succeed, she must work extra hard and always stay strong and positive in the face of any adversities that may arise. Judith is a 43-year-old farmer from Kibiricha village where she practices dairy farming. Judith and her husband are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year! The couple is blessed with 3 children.

Judith’s main source of income is milk. She co-owns a four acre land that they use to keep three dairy cows. Recently, one of her cows delivered a calf. Judith is afraid that the upcoming rainy season will be harsh on her calf who does not have a shelter. She is appealing to Kiva lenders to lend her a loan to construct shelter for her animals. Your investment will help Judith build a pen that will provide a comfortable and conducive environment for the proper development of her calf and that of future calves.

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Las Cumplidas Group from Bolivia

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Las Cumplidas Group from Bolivia

Yesica is a 19-year-old young woman, single, with no children, and her business is selling traditional drinks.

She is enterprising, happy, optimistic, cheerful, has a positive attitude, is responsible, and very hard-working. Her business is located in a sales stall outside her house, located in the southern area of the city, where the beaches of the Piraí River are located. There, are the huts that offer traditional food to eat such as majadito (dried meat), patasca (baked pig’s head), and locro (a mix of meats with corn), among others. The flavorful “horneaos” are also sold, ideal to accompany coffee in the afternoon. It has a warm sub-tropical climate with a constant temperature of approximately 30 degrees centigrade during the whole year.

Yesica’s native language is Quechua which she speaks in her family and she speaks Spanish due to the general culture and for the work she does (she is third from the left). She has her life in her parents’ house, who work in a business in the market. They live in a house they own, built of wood with a dirt floor which has drinking water, electricity and sewer service. Her desires to improve herself brought her to lead a bank of people with business such as tomato sales, sewing shop, second-hand clothing sales, woven products, fish sales, construction service, and making mattresses, to ask for a loan and improve their businesses. Her business is the sale of traditional drinks from the area such as mocochinchi (made with boiled dried peaches), chicha (prepared with a corn base), somó (similar to chicha but includes boiled corn), and more. “My business continues improving, the previous loan allowed me to start, now I need to improve…” she says. The advantage of her business is that it has regular customers. The disadvantage is the lack of money to improve the business. Her dream is to have a large food stand where she can offer a variety of traditional food and drinks. She wants to invest in the purchase of tables and chairs to be able to serve more customers. This is her 3rd loan cycle with the institution in the 6 years she has been doing this work.

For these reasons, Yesica asks for a loan to purchase tables and chairs to be able to serve a larger number of customers and improve her sales.

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Violetas Group from Bolivia

Sponsored by Quest through Kiva: Violetas Group from Bolivia

The communal bank “Violetas” will be starting its sixth term in Pro Mujer, part of the business center of Los Andes. It is comprised of nine members and run by a directors board where Flora is the Secretary. The members of the communal bank run a wide variety of businesses, selling everything from wool sweaters or shoes or jackets to fried snacks and other foods.

This loan will benefit all of the small business owners in Flora’s group. She herself has been a member of Pro Mujer for two years and joined at the invitation of a friend who was a client of the institution. She currently runs a business selling salchipapa, a typical snack of sausage and fried potatoes. She began this business on her own initiative.

She plans to use this loan to expand her capital through the wholesale purchase of potato and sausage, which she will get from the wholesale vendors in the city of El Alto. She will then use this material to make and sell salchipapa in her sales space. This work allows her to generate enough money to support her family economically, as she is single and has eight children.

When asked what she likes best about Pro Mujer, she said that she likes the health clinic and the training that the institution provides. (In the photo, Katty and Paola appear behind the woman in the hat.)

Thank you from us and Kiva!

If you feel inspired to help Kiva yourself or want to see more of the work they do, make sure you check out our blogpost here to find out why we LOVE helping them or go straight to their website to get lending.  Every little contribution goes a long way.