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Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) first came to international attention when actor Jack Nicholson put drinking this rarest of coffees on his “Bucket List”, a list of things to do before you die.
Its outrageous cost of hundreds of bucks for a short black was, Nicholson’s character tells us, a sign of its absolute per-fection. He forgot to tell us the coffee comes out of the back end of a civet.
Since the film The Bucket List, Kopi Luwak has grown in popularity and come down a tad in price as well. On New York streets you can now order your Kopi Luwak at just US 50 a pot.
The coffee’s popularity has not been overlooked by Bali’s coffee growers and the province’s government agricultural scientists.
In the cool hills of Bangli one family is farming civets and produces 450 kilograms of the organic black gold annually, while Balai Pengkajian Tehnologi Pertanian (BPTP — the government institute for technology and agriculture) zoologist, Suprio Guntoro, has isolated the particular micro bacteria in the civet’s gut that takes an ordinary Arabica or Robusta coffee berry and ferments it into the smooth, slightly chocolaty flavors of Kopi Luwak.
Other Kopi Luwak producers like Komang from Jimbaran have returned to the ancient Sumatran method of tracking civets in the wild, collecting their scats and from this extracting the precious, naturally fermented coffee beans.
At the Bangli home of organic Kopi Luwak producers, I Kadek Ardhi Negara and his wife Raka Santhi Harmini, there are 54 civets in cages across a back wall of their garden.
All the civets are fat and glossy, however several suffer from stress, evidenced by self mutilations of their tails and constant swaying.
“Our son is a vet so we are very careful of their health. They are all rabies vaccinated and have vitamins daily in their diet. We are trying to make sure they are comfortable in captivity,” says Santhi, who got her first civet named Terroris in 2006. He is now five years old and very relaxed.
“He used to sit on my knee and watch television. But he liked to eat the neighbor’s chickens. He killed all our little birds, that’s why we named him the Terrorist. We used to let all the civets out for a run, but the neighbors complained too much,” says Santhi.
She and her husband are now planning to build larger cages with toys for activities for the civets in the hope this will reduce stress and lead to breeding in captivity.
Currently civets are caught in the wild and without the need for licenses; no one knows just how many are being trapped for sale to the Kopi Luwak producers.
“We have complete licensing for our Kopi Luwak business Harmoni Bali Organic — we are certified organic and have a clean bill of health from all departments, but to date there is not the requirement to have a license to keep civets. They are not a protected animal species. Perhaps the government does need to re-examine this in light of the growing popularity of Kopi Luwak,” says Kadek.
Several of the civets caged at their home were given to the coffee producers by Komang from Jimbaran. She was last week visiting to see how the animals were getting on.
“They have put on a lot of weight since coming here to Bangli. When I had them in Jimbaran they were losing weight and I felt terrible. I think Jimbaran was far too hot for the civets.
“I had thought of releasing them back into the wild, but that also can cause territorial problems, so when I heard of Santhi and Kadek, I decided to bring them here where they would be properly cared for,” says Komang who adds she now only deals in Kopi Luwak sourced from wild civet populations in Sumatra.
Kadek and Santhi currently have an “informal” arrangement with Udayana University and are keen to see studies done on civets in captivity to ensure their specialist coffee business can achieve best practice, however despite the growing popularity of Kopi Luwak and its potential as a value added export for the country, zoology students are yet to step up.
“Civets do have a problem with an unknown disease. One minute they are eating well with clear eyes and then they just drop dead. All our civets are vaccinated and wormed, yet we have seen this happen. So we would like very much to welcome students here to do research on the civets to try and understand these unexplained deaths. The problem for students is that to date there are no texts written on the civets, so they have no reference books. Perhaps that may inspire someone to do the research and write these needed texts,” says Kadek.
One organization that is doing research on civets and the potential for Kopi Luwak is the BPTP in Denpasar.
Zoologist Suprio Guntoro has, after three years of research, identified the bacteria within the civets smooth intestine and bowel that turns an ordinary coffee bean into what is considered the world’s finest coffee.
“My research came about because out behind the house we had a small forest and that was the home of some civets. The forest was torn down to make way for a building and one night we had all theses civets on the roof. That got me thinking about them and I caught one and three years on we had discovered the particular micro bacteria that ferments the coffee beans into this specialist coffee,” says Suprio of what he calls his Probiotic Kopi Luwak.
Using Suprio’s patented bacteria, he says Indonesia could produce as much Kopi Luwak as the international market could handle without having to disturb civets in the wild.
“I have seen civets in cages in several locations. A lot of civets die in captivity or are wounded when being taken from the wild. These animals are not protected under law and we are seeing reports from animal welfare agencies on how they are being treated in captivity.
“They are also kept singly in pens, so they are not breeding, and there is the issue of rabies. I am not aware of any captive breeding programs, so I asked myself, how we make a product that is designed to sell.
“It would be possible to make a business only harvesting Kopi Luwak in the wild, but no one has wanted to do this. My concern was that as more people look to Kopi Luwak, more and more animals would be taken from the wild, and as an unprotected species, civets could become extinct,” explains Suprio of his ingenious response that ensures a plentiful supply of black gold for coffee connoisseurs and leaves civets safe in the wild.
TheJakartaPost, Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Denpasar/Bangli | Thu, 03/17/2011 9:50 PM