How much are you willing to pay for your coffee?
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How much are you willing to pay for your coffee?

Would you continue to drink coffee knowing that it contributes to harming the environment? What about if you found out that coffee growing exploits poor farmers? Finally, would you still want to try “exotic” blends if you knew that their production was linked to animal cruelty?

Full disclosure: I love coffee and drink a large cup every morning. However, no matter how much I love the stuff, I – and everyone else – need to know what goes into our cups of java. We might not be so gung-ho about the joe.

First of all it uses a lot of water – 140 litres to grow the beans for just one cup, according to a piece in the New Scientist. Typical, mass coffee growing (sun cultivation) also uses lots of fertilizer and pesticides, contributing to deforestation, habitat destruction and pollution. Better to buy organic and shade grown coffees.

There is also the issue of fair trade coffee. Some beans are even grown using child and slave labor.

And what about the famous Kopi Luwak coffee from Indonesia? Often called the “world’s most expensive” coffee, Kopi Luwak is made from beans consumed and excreted whole by Asian palm civets, small cat-like creatures native to South and Southeast Asia. Proponents say the digestive enzymes in the civet’s gut give the beans a special, smooth character by removing the bitterness from the coffee. Some civet coffee has fetched as much as $700 US per kilo.

It’s recently come out that some Kopi Luwak farms are force feeding caged civets nothing but coffee berries in order to mass produce the gourmet beans.

From the Guardian:

Animal welfare groups contend that growing numbers of such civet “farms” are emerging across south-east Asia, confining tens of thousands of animals to live in tiny cages and force-fed a debilitating diet. The Asian palm civet is common, but conservationists claim that related species are sometimes used which are under threat of extinction. The binturong, another cat-like species that is sometimes used to produce Kopi Luwak, is classed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list as “vulnerable”.

Personally, I wouldn’t pay more than a couple of dollars for a cup of coffee, so there’s not much danger in me drinking Kopi Luwak in this lifetime. However, knowing about the cruel way in which it can be produced, I wouldn’t even accept a gift-wrapped bag of the stuff from the Sultan of Brunei.


Asian palm civet, Bali, Indonesia, pic: Steel Wool (Flickr CC)

Besides, now civet coffee’s got some competition, and it’s jumbo-sized. Same idea, though: elephants eat coffee berries along with their normal fare and defecate the beans, which are picked out, cleaned, roasted, etc. until eventually some sap with too much money to know what to do with decides they need some elephant coffee to go with their diamond birthday cake.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Living at the Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for elephants in the Golden Triangle, the elephant-processed coffee is an experiment in how far aficionados will go in pursuit of the perfect cup. Sold by the Chiang Rai-based Black Ivory Coffee Co., the coffee is some of the world’s most expensive, retailing at around US$35 for a four-cup serving.

So now you know. Wish you didn’t?