New reports surrounding one of the world’s most expensive beverages are beginning to reveal the true cost of the coffee’s production (and we’re not talking about monetary value). Kopi luwak, better known as civet coffee, is harvested from the waste of Asian palm civets, which are small, catlike mammals primarily found in Southeast Asia. (It's not the same as the similarly pricey "elephant dung" coffee.) The process, however, is less surprising than the steep price attributed to the coffee, which sells for around $230 per pound and has been sold in London for more than $100 per cup. And it’s the price tag that has prompted many to go to questionable lengths to procure the digested coffee beans, raising questions of the civets’ safety.
While initial civet coffee bi-products were taken only from civets in the wild, many animal welfare groups, like Traffic of Southeast Asia, are questioning whether these civet farms have treated the animals ethically. These claims include practices of confining and isolating the civets into cramped, undersized cages and feeding them on a diet of coffee berries, which do not provide the animals with proper nutrients. The species is not endangered, but animal conservations groups are worried at the growing rate of civet mortality due to the increase of civet farms. The practice that is rapidly expanding in Asia has been compared to conditions of battery chicken farms, and many are greatly concerned for the safety of the animals. “It would put people off their coffee if they knew,” said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of Traffic.