A Caged Animal & the Musky Roots
of the World’s Most Expensive Coffee
As lifetime caffeine lovers, there’s been hardly a day we haven’t had a cup of the stuff. And the world seems to follow our lead: more of it is consumed now than ever. So when out of the clear blue sky, stinky bad news hit us hard, our head hurt like we’re having withdrawn symptoms.
It’s one thing to enjoy the fine beverage made of roasted seeds of a plant. It’s another entirely when we pass those seeds through an animal digestive track, and once the remains come out, use that to prepare our drink. Disgusted yet? That’s not even the depressing part.
The beverage is made by force-feeding the seeds to Asian palm civets, a small animal that’s experiencing a second martyrdom in the hands of farmers. That’s because not long ago, it already used to be killed in mass for being the main source of musk, a highly sought after perfume scent that’s now produced synthetically.
Activists have been calling for a ban in the rudimentary technique of caging the animals for life, in an ever expanding farming process, which is not unlike the practices used in the U.S. for farming chickens and pigs. Growing world demand also means skyrocketing prices, and a pound of Kopi Luwak, its name, costs over $230.
TWICE-HUNTED FOR ITS BODY
By now, you’ve probably already realized that this won’t be about refreshing, hangover-curing types of fashionable coffee. In fact, drinking tea is starting to make more sense to us these days. As a trade-off, we promise to go till the end of this post without once uttering a certain brand of coffee, preferred by stars, and costing a lot of bucks.
As there are many varieties of coffee beans, the musky scent is also produced by other animals, and since celebrated parfumeurs such as Chanel discontinued its use of natural civet, their hunt experienced a brief reprieve. But not for long, as jet setters and wealthy consumers insist in importing it from Indonesia.
Higher prices and the still small farmings producing it haven’t exactly discouraged the tenacity of such high-end drinkers. As the popularity of the beverage grows, there’s fear that the inhumane conditions to which the brew is made may have a devastating effect on the species, a naturally docile animal adopted as a pet by a few communities.
FROM BOTTOMS TO THE UPPER CLASS
The cat-like mammal is neither feline nor canine, having its own distinct genus, and it’s typical in parts of Africa, Madagascar and the Southeast Asian jungles. Such limited-range habitat may be critical to the species’ survival, if nothing is done about the way they’ve been used to cater to the vapid tastes of a minority.
Wikipedia put it bluntly: known as caphe cut chon (fox-dung coffee) in Vietnam, Kopi Luwak ‘is prepared using coffee cherries that have been eaten and partially digested by the Asian palm civet, then harvested from its fecal matter.’ Supposedly, stomach enzymes contribute to the ‘coffee’s prized aroma and flavor.’
Musk, incidentally, the strong-smelling secretion that civets produce, is made by glands in the animal’s perineum, and farmers would either kill it to remove them, or scrape the secretion in an obviously painful process still used today. But neither compares with the lifetime restrain required to control and regulate the animal’s digestive cycle.
Despite all the glamour with which Hollywood has portrayed the beverage in the Bucket List movie, and praise from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, its strong taste and texture is not for the faint of heart, even though you wouldn’t know how it’s made just by drinking it. And at $80 a cup, as a London shop was selling it last year, we wouldn’t be caught dead drinking it.
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