The Central Java branch of the Association of Indonesian Coffee Exporters (AEKI) said that demand for luwak coffee (Indonesian: kopi luwak), an Indonesia specialty coffee and known as the world’s most expensive coffee, has been in decline since 2013. Luwak coffee is an extraordinary type of coffee as it is brewed from beans that have passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet cat. This labour-intensive production process and its scarcity on the global market cause luwak coffee’s expensive price.
The civet cat is able to select the juiciest coffee beans. These beans experience a special fermentation process inside the civet cat but are too hard to be digested by its stomach. Coffee growers then collect the coffee beans inside the faeces of the cat, wash these and roast them. This tradition started decades ago when civet cats (nocturnal animals) would visit coffee plantations at night and eat coffee beans. The following day farmers would collect the droppings of the animals in the coffee plantation or surrounding neighbourhood.
However, ‘wild’ luwak coffee has become rare now. After this specialty coffee proved popular on the international market starting from the 1990s, farmers have ‘industrialized’ luwak coffee: coffee growers keep the cats in cages and feed them coffee beans. Over the past couple of years more and more media (both domestic and international) have reported negatively about the luwak coffee claiming that civet cats are abused, kept in small cages and not properly fed. By keeping the cats away from their natural habitat, they suffer from stress inside the cages. Moreover, while coffee beans should merely be a snack for the animals, when captivated they often get a coffee bean diet only in order to optimize coffee bean collection inside the droppings. However, this causes health problems due to the lack of proteins (in the wild the civet cat eats fruit such as chiku, mango, rambutan but also small mammals and insects).
Mulyono Susilo, Chairman of AEKI’s Central Java branch, said that above-mentioned ‘bad press’ has caused a sharply falling luwak coffee price. Whereas previously one kilogram of luwak coffee was sold for IDR 1 million (USD $77), now prices have plunged to about IDR 250,000 per kilogram (about USD $19). In order to reverse this trend, the AEKI requests that the Indonesian government will become more involved in this industry and monitors that farmers treat the animals well.