WHAT IS WILD ANIMAL COFFEE?
Kopi Luwak, the most famous example of a foraged wild animal coffee, has been part of the cultural heritage of Sumatran coffee farmers for centuries. This naturally occurring gastronomic phenomenon sees a synergy of man, animal and ecosystem that elevates what are already very good coffee beans into something exceptional.
The wild Luwak, often called a civet cat, sniffs out only the very ripest coffee cherries, which it eats as part of its natural mixed diet. After chewing the fruity exterior of the coffee cherry, the civet swallows the bean whole.
Enzymes within the animal’s stomach massage the beans, changing their overall protein structure, enhancing the sweetness and brightness. The beans are passed undigested by the Luwaks and left for the keen eyed collector to find. These transformed beans, noticeably more brittle, are then carefully dried, washed and sorted.
In other parts of the world, Jacu birds, bats and other wild creatures produce similar examples of wild animal coffee.
Most of the people who collect and clean these ‘dropped’ beans are landless rural workers, who exist in harmony with the animals and the ecosystem, and for whom these foraged beans represent a significant part of their livelihood.
CAGED ANIMAL COFFEE: AN UNNECESSARY CRUELTY THAT MUST BE STOPPED
Driven by a fascination with this unusual story, media attention has seen demand for Kopi Luwak soar in recent years. Wild animal coffee collection is a labour intensive process and the price commanded by the beans reflects that. However, given the high price that Kopi Luwak commands, unscrupulous individuals and companies have sought to capitalise on it by unethical means.
These unethical producers capture and cage the civets and feed them coffee cherries that are often unripe or spoiled - the antithesis of the high quality beans selected by the animals in the wild. As the coffee cherries are the caged civets' only nutrition, the animal’s digestive system soon becomes unbalanced and unable to cause the metamorphosis required for Kopi Luwak beans.
This practice is not only cruel, but it is also a counterproductive gastronomic fraud. The caged animals cannot produce coffee that in anyway replicates the highly quality complex flavour profile associated with wild animal coffee.
Sea Island Coffee never has and never will endorse or support the capture and caging of animals for coffee production. We are pleased that last year's BBC documentary ‘Coffee's Cruel Secret’ has raised public awareness of the issue of caging. We were proud to contribute to the research for this programme.
We source only animal coffee where the independent evidence that we collect, the documentation and stated commitments of the collectors and farmers themselves, give us assurance that the provenance is 100% wild.
We believe that the practice of capturing and caging civets, or any other animal, for coffee production must stop. We understand the call, of some organisations, for a blanket ban by consumers on all Kopi Luwak. However, we have always hoped another way could be found, given our longstanding relationships with ethical farmers and collectors of wild-animal coffees.
A PATHWAY TO INDEPENDENT ACCREDITED CERTIFICATION
In 2013, Sea Island Coffee began work on the process to develop an independent accredited certification standard for Kopi Luwak in consultation with leading proponents of animal welfare,
World Animal Protection, accredited food and farming certification bodies and those with experience on the ground in the world’s foremost wild-animal-coffee producing micro-regions.
We are pleased that, after substantial discussion with us, some leading campaigners have agreed to end their call for an indiscriminate blanket ban on everything sold as ‘Kopi Luwak’ and focus instead on supporting the development of independent accredited worldwide certification programme for wild animal coffee.
The new standard will support farmers and collectors by encouraging the spread of information and best practice. An increased understanding at origin, of how the caging of civets is destroying the reputation of wild Kopi Luwak worldwide, we hope will become a powerful tool as we work to build a cage free future.
The establishment of a standard will enable wild animal coffee collectors to continue to work in the knowledge that their livelihood and the welfare of the animals on whom they depend, is protected, and thereby ensuring the survival of this extraordinary coffee tradition.