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Bali Cons: Kopi Luwak

What not to do in Bali: Buy and Drink Kopi Luwak

During colonial times, coffee plantations workers were prohibited from using the very coffee that they farmed on behalf of their Dutch masters. The workers used to instead gather beans from the ground to make into coffee. The ripe cherries are eaten by the luwak, or Asian palm civet - a sort of mongoose. The cherry stones go through the civet's digestive tract and are pooped out to be collected by the farmers.

About twenty or so years ago civet coffee was introduced worldwide as a novelty. The internal fermentation process gives the beans a unique flavour and also makes them viciously expensive.

There are always problems when natural processes are commercialised. Civets are not domestic; they are wild, shy and nocturnal mammals who used to roam freely through the plantations. Ordinarily coffee beans only make up about 5-8% of their usual diet. Now they are trapped by poachers, kept in cages and force fed coffee. The whole situation is grotesque and, frankly, the resultant coffee isn't that great. I find it weak and watery.

There are dozens of kopi luwak farms on the way up to Kintamani. All produce normal and very good coffee, but many also have luwaks on display for tourists in their cages (in the middle fo the day when they're meant to be asleep) and you can buy the resultant coffee for much less than you'd pay in a posh department store at home (although still way more than the local arabica). Please don't.

There are apparently commercial plantations that ONLY take beans naturally from wild civets. As you can imagine the process is a lot more expensive and there is supposedly a certification process. However it would be impossible to know if a plantation is doing the right thing by the poor luwak.

Yes, people need to earn a living but this is not a sustainable business and it is, in fact, quite cruel. The plantations are well set up to make money from their arabica. Your driver will want you to stop at one of these places, usually because he will get a kickback if you buy something. They are often very pretty spots and you'll be able to try different flavoured ordinary coffee and tea which is quite lovely. If you do want to stop go ahead, but please don't drink or buy the kopi luwak. The process will become unviable if no-one buys the coffee.


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