kopi luwak history

The History of Kopi Luwak

We’re often asked, “who was the first person to discover kopi luwak?” It’s an interesting question since it seems odd that someone would consider removing coffee beans from an animal’s “leftovers” and using them to brew up their morning cup of joe.

The story of Kopi Luwak begins in the late 1600’s when the Dutch governor of India shipped the first seedling of Arabica coffee to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). By 1711 the first exports began shipping to Europe, and Indonesia became the first place outside of Arabia & Ethiopia where coffee was widely cultivated.

As a result of the Java and Padri wars, Dutch finances were in shambles, and in 1830, they established a system known as “cultuurstelsel” (The Cultivation System). The goal of this system was to increase exploitation of Indonesian resources. As part of those efforts, laws were established to forbid native coffee farmers from picking any fruits for personal consumption.

This was not happy news for the coffee farmers who had grown accustomed to enjoying the fruits of their labor. However, due to strict enforcement they complied. It wasn’t long before they began noticing coffee beans left over in the droppings of the Asian Palm Civet. In desperation, they began foraging for the treasured droppings, which were then cleaned and processed like any other coffee.

As time passed, dutch overlords began questioning the natives as to where they obtained their coffee, since its possession appeared to be an indictment of thievery. The natives explained the process of how the civet consumed the fruit of the coffee cherry, but passed the bean intact. The unique flavor and aromatics of civet coffee soon caught on with Dutch plantation owners, and soon became highly sought after. Due to its rarity, the cost of civet coffee quickly began to rise.

The popularity of this unique coffee continued to spread across the region, and soon it was being exported to Europe. Throughout the early 20th century, the coffee took on legendary status. However, with small and unpredictable output, prices continued to soar.

However, with higher prices and limited supply, temptation to pass off regular coffee as coffee originating from the animal proved too strong to resist for many. Rampant fraud led to a decreased trust and interest in what had become known as Kopi Luwak. Soon consumer demand began to dwindle, but not before it was established as the “holy-grail” of coffee in the minds of many around the world.

The Modern Obsession, Greed & Abuse

In 1991, a gentleman by the name of Tony Wild traveled to Indonesia and was introduced to Kopi Luwak, which he brought home with him to the UK. The fascinating story of how the coffee is processed quickly spread, and by 2003 it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show. Kopi Luwak was in the limelight once again, and by 2007 was made even more famous in Jack Nicolson & Morgan Freeman’s movie The Bucket List.

Demand for the rare coffee began to soar. So much demand, in fact, that the supply simply couldn’t keep up. Not wanting to disappoint (or let orders go unfulfilled), natives began trapping the Civet and force-feeding the animals a coffee exclusive diet to aid in production.

It wasn’t long before animal rights groups caught wind of the maltreatment of animals associated with Kopi Luwak production, and campaigns were launched to educate consumers on the cruelty associated with the trade.

As a result, Tony Wild, the individual responsible for re-introducing Kopi Luwak to the western world, went on record to condemn the coffee’s production and urged consumers to avoid kopi luwak altogether. Since then, groups like PETA have continued to expose the cruelty often associated with the coffee, and popularity once again began to decline.

How Ethical Sourcing Encourages Health Habitats & Communities

Although the negative aspects of the unethical sourcing of Kopi Luwak is still fresh in the mind of many, all is not lost. When sourced ethically from wild animals, the sale Kopi Luwak provides great benefit to the animal, the environment, and the communities that process the treasured beans. The civet benefits from the care natives take of their natural habitat to encourage healthy reproduction and continued residence on their land, and the communities benefit from the revenue source its collection & processing facilitates.

In recent years many have spoken out against what’s considered over-reaching attempts at stopping Kopi Luwak consumption altogether. Various governmental authorities and wildlife protection societies have worked together to establish certification programs to encourage and enforce coffee production from free roaming wild civets.

Unfortunately, the temptation to game the system has once again proven too strong for many to resist. During a recent PETA Investigation, farmers admitted to labeling kopi luwak as “wild-sourced”, when in fact, the coffee was being produced by caged animals.

Ineffectiveness of Current Certifications

Despite efforts to standardize the Kopi Luwak trade, current certification models are ripe with inefficiencies that can be easily exploited by dishonest farmers and marketers alike. In fact, prior to launching Gayo Kopi, I learned that many current vendors selling the coffee are unknowingly selling fake or cage-sourced Kopi Luwak.

Our Role in the Future of Kopi Luwak

After learning of all the holes that exist with current certification models, I almost gave up the idea of bringing this coffee to market. It was indeed a frustrating and disappointing experience. However, after untold hours of research, I stumbled upon 2 individuals that are well documented as only producing coffee sourced from wild animals. I began discussions with both and began a lengthy vetting process. After months of work, I was able to establish a formal partnership to bring this coffee to the American market with the establishment of Gayo Kopi. 

We’re excited for the future of this trade and are continuing to actively seek opportunities to campaign for more stringent certification processes that guarantee the ethical treatment of animals. We’re proud to say that our process for the collection of Kopi Luwak has been developed under the guidance and advice from Wild Animal Protection, and has set the standard in the industry.

In an effort to ensure the rich history of our treasured Kopi Luwak lives on, a portion of each sale is donated to Wild Animal Protection’s campaign for the ethical treatment of animals.

Kopi Luwak certainly has a rich, yet sorted history. We hope to do our part in establishing a positive outcome for the animal and those who appreciate the dedication and artisan obsession that goes into providing our clientele with the very best Kopi Luwak available. It’s a legacy we hope to continue long into the future. 

  • Alex L.
    Posted at 15:58h, 09 April Reply

    I heard a rumor that you guys are shooting a documentary on the history of kopi luwak and how the coffee is processed. Is that true?

    • Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 18:02h, 01 June Reply

      Hi Alex,

      The rumor is true! We filmed on location in the Gayo Highlands of Sumatra where our coffee is harvested in April/May, and are finishing up the trailer now. Stay tuned!

      • Tony WILD
        Posted at 23:39h, 23 September Reply

        Dear Jeff,

        i am the Tony Wild you mention. I’m doing a second edition of my 2003 book Coffee; A Dark History and kopi luwak and my role in its controversy is featured extensively. I’d love to talk to you about your coffee and what is taking place regarding certification. Do you have Skype address where i can reach you, and/or a landline. Best, Tony

        • Jeff Bickley
          Posted at 17:12h, 12 December Reply

          Hi Tony,

          Thanks for getting in touch! I sent you an email and would love to jump on a call to discuss. Hope to speak with you soon. – Jeff

  • Darrell Totten
    Posted at 02:39h, 13 April Reply

    Such a fascinating story! I always wondered who the first person was to think of drinking Kopi Luwak. Thanks for sharing! I’m always the most interesting person at the cafe when I tell of this coffee. 🙂

  • Randy
    Posted at 15:01h, 17 April Reply

    The history of this coffee is quite intriguing!

  • Kopi Luwak Process
    Posted at 04:37h, 07 July Reply

    Hello, I enjoy reading through your post. I wanted to write a little
    comment to support you.

  • Patrick N
    Posted at 08:10h, 02 December Reply

    Such an interesting history! Can’t wait to see the film!

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