Some people drink kopi luwak even after learning it’s been pooped out of a catlike creature, so prominent conservation group Wildlife Alliance is trying another tactic: reminding them of the moral reasons to avoid one of the world’s costliest drinks. The coffee wrecks pocketbooks because a pound can sell for hundreds of dollars (humorist Dave Barry once called it “a clever hoax designed to ridicule the coffee craze”), but the drink is even worse for the civet, a member of the weasel family in Southeast Asia that’s partial to coffee cherries. Somebody years ago discovered that a “natural fermentation” occurs when beans pass through the civet’s digestive tract, purportedly improving their flavor. The weird coffee enjoyed a brief trendy spell in the West, but the Wildlife Alliance says lately it’s started getting wildly popular in Asia’s malls.
This, of course, means more civets, and even less humane farming practices. PETA and other groups have protested their mistreatment before, but the Wildlife Alliance suggests Asia’s new consumers aren’t that concerned and in fact happily pay a premium because they think the drink carries special powers (much like ginseng, rhino horn, or shark fin supposedly do). Beans can be foraged from civets in the wild — a process that sounds impossibly painstaking — but producers who are desperate just capture them with metal traps that Wildlife Alliance founder Suwanna Gauntlett calls “walls of death” because they sever limbs. Captured civets are force-fed beans using a technique similar to the one used for foie gras. The big difference, though, is that civets are getting caffeine, and once they’re hopped up, they tend to pace their cages and gnaw at stuff, including their own limbs. As a result, they can have pretty short lifespans.
Civets aren’t endangered just yet, but Wildlife Alliance says they’re being poached so fast that “they’ll soon become vulnerable … demand will soon outrun the natural supply.” Gauntlett now straight-up tells people, “Please do not buy ‘weasel coffee’ or kopi luwak,” but that’s also the general consensus among people who have — everyone from Jay Leno to Washington Post food critic Tim Carman has practically spat the stuff out.