The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee

But as civet coffee has gained popularity, and with Indonesia growing as a tourist destination where visitors want to see and interact with wildlife, more wild civets are being confined to cages on coffee plantations. In part, this is for coffee production, but it’s also so money can be made from civet-ogling tourists.

civet dung during production of kopi luwak coffee.

Civet dung, studded with partially digested coffee beans, used to be collected from the wild. Increasingly, civets are instead kept in cramped, unsanitary cages on coffee plantations.

Photograph by Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images

Researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and the London-based nonprofit World Animal Protection assessed the living conditions of nearly 50 wild civets held in cages at 16 plantations on Bali. The results, published Thursday in the journal Animal Welfare, paint a grim picture.

From the size and sanitation of the cages to the ability of their occupants to act like normal civets, every plantation the researchers visited failed basic animal welfare requirements. “Some of these cages were literally the tiniest—we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place,” said Neil D’Cruze, one of the researchers.

Some of the civets were very thin, from being fed a restricted diet of only coffee cherries—the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Some were obese, from never being able to move around freely. And some were jacked up on caffeine, D’Cruze said.

But what he found most disturbing was the wire floor many of the animals were forced to stand, sit, and sleep on around the clock. “If you’re standing on that kind of wire mesh all the time, it’s going to cause sores and abrasions. They have nowhere to go to get off that flooring,” D’Cruze said. “It’s a constant, intense source of pain and discomfort.”