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Civet coffee: why it's time to cut the crap (theguardian.com)
575 points by ValentineC on Sept 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 194 comments

This is one of those moments where I learn something I had no idea about, and am very glad someone wrote the Guardian story, and that someone posted it here.

I bought the civet coffee off ThinkGeek for a coffee snob friend of mine years ago. She said it tasted watery and bland, but thanked me for the thoughtful novelty anyway. Now I realize I not only gave her crappy coffee, it was crappy coffee created through abusing animals for a stupid gimmick. I feel like an asshole.

Don't beat yourself up too badly. How were you supposed to know? It's hard for an individual consumer to understand the full impact of his purchase decision in the aggregate and over long periods of time. As a rule, consume what you want more of in the world. (The exception are naturally rate-limited goods, like fish or wild animal droppings, or absolutely limited goods, like fossil fuels.)

Consider this: if civet coffee had not ever become popular, then your purchase would have been fine - if anything, you could feel good about yourself since you just injected a tiny bit of cash into a poor area of the world.

>How were you supposed to know?

Not to get all philosophical over a story on poo coffee, but this is one of the downsides to free markets. They hide information on the conditions of production unless compelled to by regulation or consumer demand, neither of which typically happen without an awareness campaign (such as this exposé). All you see is marketing and a price.

And not to reciprocate, but free markets are much more likely to be transparent than any other.

When a free market realizes consumers demand transparency, transparency becomes an option in the market. Not the only option, but one of the many.

How would that transparency work in a market that is absolutely controlled by regulation and government? Fine, until that government itself ceased to be transparent.

ASIDE: There are no absolutely controlled markets or absolutely free markets and never will be. Capitalism will always seep out around the edges and regulation will always be necessary.

> free markets are much more likely to be transparent than any other.

That's wishful thinking contradicted by oodles of historical experience. Random example: the unregulated market for medicine in the U.S. prior to the 20th century.

The problem is consumers are not organized by default. Markets typically reflect individual preferences just fine, but individuals don't have the resources to fact-check propaganda, research and verify conditions of production, etc. This aspect of "consumer demand" requires collective organization to express effectively.

A buying group is one example. But these things take investments of their own to start up, which is why you mostly find them among business customers. One of the reasons the corporate group health insurance market is so much better than the individual one.

For the everyman, the government is a mechanism by which they can express collective demand. And it's why food and medicine safety, to pick one fundamental, has never been effectively secured for the general public absent government regulation.

you don't suppose the danger of the market for medicine in the US prior to the 20th century had anything to do with the fact that chemistry didn't exist as a discipline? Just what do you expect them to have regulated?

The free market is quite good at providing consumers information, but often only if the consumers demand it. For a few decades now, consumers have gradually become more ethical in their consumption choices, and the markets are reflecting that. It's a long road and there are certainly many, many places where things can be improved. By contrast, consider that there is a lot of demand for certain values, like transparency, honesty, not sexually harassing your underlings, in government, and exactly how responsive do you suppose it's been?

The faulty assumption is that government will somehow be 'the betters' of the general public. But every indication of the narcissistic type that gets elected, and the petty bureaucratic authoritarian that is unelected, suggests that those advancement in government may not necessarily select for those traits you want. Neither does capitalism (as it's structured today), but at least consumers have a direct option to opt-out of unethical things done with their money, which they do not for government.

To pick another "fundamental", why do you suppose lightbulbs don't explode, and various and sundry electrical equipment doesn't electrocute you in the US? It's because regulation is being done by a private, nonprofit entity (the underwriter's laboratories) which goes through and certifies equipment for consumption. A good example of the free market working quite well to ensure safety, beyond even what the consumer might expect, with far less government interference.

> For a few decades now, consumers have gradually become more ethical in their consumption choices

Look at the history behind that. It came out of the 60s. Massive popular organization against the system. A gigantic non-market force that effected greater awareness of environmental destruction, the conditions of production and so forth.

Consumers didn't just wake up one day with new preferences. They rioted against the market system.

P.S. You forgot about OSHA federal electrical safety regulations.

OSHA is only for the workplace and dates to 1970. UL goes back to the turn of the previous century. I don't know for sure, but I'd bet most electrical standards for OSHA defer to the UL standard.

OSHA just federalized it. Electrical safety has been regulated at the state and local level since practically the dawn of electricity.

Even the trade organization of electrical manufacturers disagrees with you. Quoting the National Electric Code, "the NEC takes on real significance when it is adopted into law by states and local jurisdictions."

Source: http://www.nema.org/Technical/FieldReps/Pages/National-Elect...

You're conflating things. You can have ab200% regulated market with total transparency either by regulators or the participating companies ...

I mean actual the implication that you get a transparent market from a free market because of "consumer demands" is sort of laughable when you consider that the free market on planet Earth does not contain perfect agents.

>...when you consider that the free market on planet Earth does not contain perfect agents.

But the same imperfect agents, human beings, also constitute governments and bureaucracies. Markets are not a perfect institution, and it is very easy to point out flaws, but they have an observed tendency towards improvement, self ordering, and discovery of better resources that is lacking from government. Flaws in the market tend towards being corrected while flaws in government tend to become entrenched, obfuscated, and aggressively defended against any attempt to reveal and correct them.

>And not to reciprocate, but free markets are much more likely to be transparent than any other. When a free market realizes consumers demand transparency, transparency becomes an option in the market. Not the only option, but one of the many.

One that rarely, if ever, happens. Because, for one customers are powerless against a whole industry, second the industry can lobby to buy regulations and fix the conditions so it won't have to be transparent and third the people are told and manipulated by the very corporations (and the media they control either directly or through advertising money) to not ask for transparency. Plus, the industry can sell "fake transparency" and none will be the wiser.

That kind of reaction for transparency can only work for a small time, against some niche or singled-out company -- and that's only until the media moves on, the public forgets, and the company makes some vague promises and alters arragements enough to confuse people that it made "changes". Like Nike sweatshops, Foxconn, etc.

The markets most likely to be transparent are those that are heavily regulated, with a vigilant population and where profit is not respected as the number one motivation behind business.

And those are not those commonly touted as "free markets", but markets in places like New Zealand, Sweden, etc.

I think the common ground in these "govt regulations" versus "free market" arguments is that both sides want to see transparency, encourage consumer choice and avoid monopolies; it's the means that's disagreed upon.

> second the industry can lobby to buy regulations and fix the conditions so it won't have to be transparent

This seems to be most of a problem in the US, where money has such a direct influence on government. This doesn't mean that all govt is bad; it means that corrupt govt is bad.

To use your New Zealand example, they have arguably the most advanced and representative democratic system in existence. I think this helps limit antisocial corporate pressure (aka corruption) on their government regulations.

There is no true free market in the world. One of the defining characteristics of a free market is perfect information. This is one of the downsides of market imperfections.

Ergo, it is a downside of all unregulated markets.

I would avoid the term "imperfection" for something that is fundamental to markets. The information on conditions of production usually has to come from the seller and there is usually little incentive for them to provide it unless compelled to.

It is fundamental to all markets in the real world. It is also a defining trait of the platonic ideal of a free market, and one of the reasons why the platonic ideal absolute free market is unrealisable. Markets can be more or less free, but never entirely so. Regulation by non-market forces is one way that markets are made less free. Such regulation is often intended to counteract or offset other things that make the market in question less free.

Ergo, it is a downside of all unregulated markets.

Unregulated? Do regulated markets have perfect information?

Didn't say that. Poor information on the conditions and effects of production is fundamental to unregulated markets. Much like externalities, they are not mere "imperfections" or footnotes which is usually how they are presented in pro-free-market Econ 101 texts. They are fundamental; e.g. much of the environmental threat the planet faces can be contributed to externalities and poor info. Nevermind the poor animal-poop slaves.

Regulations and activism (such as this type of journalism) are some of the non-market forces that can compensate.

But regulations may lead to bribery and other workarounds.

Activism may be biased. It may also lead to long-winded debates, and ultimately, to polluted information. (Eg, global warming, GM crops, etc).

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if there is regulation or not, activism or not; there is no perfect information.

You have most regulations around kid's toys, and I'm thankful for that!

Why do you think that a free market requires perfect information? Do you think the situation is the same for a democracy? Does it also require perfect information?


The linked commentary argues for the abolition of medical licensing. I could probably rest my case right there.

We actually had a lengthy experiment with that earlier in America, pre-regulation. It's where the term "snake oil salesman" originated. The establishment of medical licensing led to a dramatic improvement in public health.

If there's one characteristic of deregulation advocates that you can count on, it's that they have a complete disregard for history.

As for democracy, many attempts have been utterly subverted by voter fraud -- e.g. myriad dictators that win >90% of the "vote" in their countries. It is only through strict regulation that we've come to trust the accuracy of our polls to the degree that we have in the U.S. Having said that, what passes for democracy here is still utterly dominated by money, in that the best-funded candidate usually wins. Again, regulation of money in politics would be one way to improve on that defect.

Elections in the US are very poorly regulated - political appointees are Election Officers, gerrymandering of political districts is wholesales and your election turnouts are very low by international standards. The best funded candidate wins because your political parties are very weak. One of the core reasons behind this is that in 1948 you nationalised your political parties. In no other country in the world is the internal 'elections' of a political party - the way you select your candidates/primaries - run by the state. In only 8 of the states (I think!) are candidates selected by members of the parties only. Membership has no meaning - which means parties have no meaning - no collective existence. This lets private money rule the day in all your parties. When I was selected as an SNP parliamentary candidate in Scotland I was forbidden to spend ANY MONEY on my selection campaign. Only paid members of the party can select a candidate - and the only way to get selected is to be known the members personally and to do the work.

I'm all for regulating money out of politics. But point of clarification (since we're being all parliamentary).. I was comparing the U.S. to countries with even weaker election controls.

Before resting your case regarding the licensing of individuals to practice medicine, would you please comment on whether individuals who write software used in medical devices should also be licensed?

Your response and the URL of your link refer to free markets, and they by definition require perfect information. The info at your link talks about something else.

In particular, perfect information is required in order for the free market to allocate resources efficiently; if obtaining information has a cost, there are all sorts of fun ways to abuse that in order to break competition and misallocate resources. You can see this in the US cellphone industry - by increasing the complexity of their plans, cellphone providers have made it more expensive to comparison shop, meaning that customers (rationally) go with the first option rather than the lowest-cost one.

You can also see this with some of the smaller-scale Ponzis and investment scams - so long as the amount of money each investor has invested is much smaller than the amount it'd cost to investigate the investment, it's not rational for them to do so. One of the recent US Ponzis, Perma-Pave, actually failed because they got greedy and took on a large investor with reason to investigate what had happened to their money.

In this definition from Wikipedia, in the section on Microeconomics, it is claimed that perfect information is a physical impossibility.

Can you help me understand why free markets "by definition" require that which cannot exist?


Oh, that's easy - free markets are an ideal that can't actually exist in the real world, in part because perfect information is impossible.

Much like democracy.

> Can you help me understand why free markets "by definition" require that which cannot exist?

Because, like "perfect information", "free markets" are an abstract conceptual ideal.

The same reason integrals require continuous functions, which also can't meaningfully exist: it's a mathematical model. Just because it can't possibly exist in the real world does not mean it's useless or even "wrong" per se.

By George I think he's got it!

The link you posted is on shaky ground and is quite unrigorous. The whole "democracy" example is poorly thought out. and then oddly enough we have a "regulated" democracy in the form of representatives and checks and balances ... to just add insult to injury to your argument.

... and medical licensing ... really?

>One of the defining characteristics of a free market is perfect information.

'Perfect information' is an unrealistic assumption used in neoclassical models which treat knowledge as just another input, on a par with raw ore, pork bellies or gasoline. In the real world it just doesn't work like that.

The defining characteristic of the free market is that it is a creative process of discovery. It creates knowledge where none existed before. There can be no such thing in principle as 'perfect information'. Information tends to exist in the state of being inherently dispersed among the actors, often tacit to the point of being inexpressible. The market facilitates the use of such knowledge, and the the discovery of new knowledge.

> this is one of the downsides to free markets. They hide information on the conditions of production

This is such a meaningless mantra. The election process--which is supposed to "fix" the free market--also hides information, except there are many fewer opportunities for correction. A vote happens once every N years, whereas market corrections are (relatively) continuous.

If one potential solution to free market problems doesn't work, that doesn't mean that the problems don't exist, aren't free market problems, or don't matter.

I'm eager to hear an alternative to market forces that doesn't involve elections.

I don't think a regulation forced Tony Wild to post this story, or for it to be voted to the top spot on HN.

The alternative is a regulated market, where I trust a government entity, full of humans who are vulnerable to the same forces of corruption, incompetence and greed, to give me accurate information and not be bought and paid for by private entities and thus used by private entities to give them even more influence and power.

Also, in what context are we dealing with a free market here and how is it relevant?

And yet even with flaws, there is evidence to suggest regulations by those funny "humans" have made products significantly safer.

I agree, barring the unnecessary adjectives.

My point was that all 'systems' are corrupted by humans, not just a free market. I was criticizing an absolutist, irrelevant statement about the nature of the "free market" on the story, and mostly, asking the person how it was relevant at all, since nothing we have today remotely resembles a free market.

A market in which the consumer cannot get access to all information about the market is not a free market at all.

Information availability is a key part of the definition of a free market.

Not sure. How does this interact with the ideas of Trade Secrets and the patent system? The latter is to encourage dissemination of the former in exchange for temporary monopoly.

One would usually argue that the ability to keep trade secrets is the more "free" market, yet we have decided that there are long-term societal benefits to dissemination so we provide government protection of ideas. Since Libertarians would say that this protection represents some form of government intervention, I would say that the idea of secrets is fairly fundamental to the idealists' free market.

Of course, whether or not patents are a good idea is debatable, but that's another question. My point is that I don't agree that transparency is a fundamental aspect of the free market, I haven't heard that argument before and don't see how the free market even encourages it. Sure, people might request a certain amount of transparency, but no more transparency will be provided than that which is demanded by consumers -- and we have seen quite frequently that consumers are quite willing to be kept in the dark to a certain extent.

I'm not trying to debate the merits of trade secrets and the patent system. I was simply making the point that if you have a market where consumers don't have access to perfect information, it is not a free market.

The term "Free Market" has a very specific definition. Information accessibility is a very important part of that definition.

It is very difficult for all the criteria to be met, so you will never find a perfectly free market outside textbooks.

People talk about "free markets" all the time, especially business lobbyists/PR. Usually they use the term "free market" to mean the government should get the hell out of their way, but they often don't really want a free market (especially if they are the incumbents).

They have effectively co-opted the term to help their narratives, confusing people in the process.

I think that's why animal testing is such a huge industry, killing 19.5 million animals in the US alone every year[1]. It's even claiming the lives of house pets[2]. We don't see all the animal suffering that goes on to make consumer products. It's kept hidden from view.

[1] http://www.statisticbrain.com/animal-testing-statistics/ [2] http://www.stolenpets.com/about.htm

>How were you supposed to know?

It's safe to assume all animal products are unethical.

Also eating plants is unethical. For them to be developed we needed to destroy habitats, displace species and cause suffering too.

We are invasive species. What we should aim is low impact farming. To extract the most food with the least possible amount of suffering caused and resources expended.

I never understood the "humans are an invasive species". If a beaver builds a dam and floods a habitat forcing out the native species thats "natural".

Humans do the same thing and it's "invasive".

I take the view that humans are as natural as any other animal on the planet. We obviously have a goal to sustain the ecosystems we value, but we're just as much a part of the ecosystem as any other animal.

It isn't that we're 'invasive' in relation to nature, it's that we're 'invasive' by our own definitions of the word.

For what it's worth, the beaver that forces out native species by flooding a habitat is both natural and invasive. Beavers are considered, by humans, to be a fairly invasive species, especially when introduced to areas they are not native to.

It isn't a double-standard that we're applying, it's just a little uncomfortable when the same standard is applied to us.

There isn't an animal out there that doesn't have some impact on it's environment. Humans are no different.

I don't disagree, but there are species that invariably have more impact on their environment than others, and those species with inordinate amounts of impact on their environments, or nominal impacts in their native environment with non-nominal impacts in non-native environments are defined as 'invasive'.

We fit our definition for the term. Like I said before though, I don't see anything unnatural about it myself.

I don't have a problem being invasive per se, but if we eventually change the environment such that we have a very difficult time surviving (which seems a realistic possibility the long term) then I'd say we're a pretty poor species.

No, eating plants is not unethical. This might interest you:


The short story is that it takes up more land to feed and house livestock than it does to farm plants. "More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption."

Not to mention the amount of water livestock and its feed consumes.

From what I recall there's some debate over whether meat production does necessarly have to consume more land than farming an equivalent amount of plants, eg: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-pr...

Technically speaking my point was "it's more unethical to consume animal products than it is to consume plant-based products".

That is interesting question. Is it more unethical to torture a species and ensure its survival because it is tasty, or to push a species to extinction to farm on its former habitat? And why?

This is one of those questions that drink a lot of beer and lead to violence among friends late in the evenings. With no good answer.

Do you think a species as a unit has preferences?

It seems like your friends are conflating genetics and utilitarian ethics. There's a way of explaining genetics in terms of preferences, but genes don't really have preferences. Species, by extension, don't have preferences. Cows as a species want nothing. Individual cows do.

So personally, as a vegan, I wouldn't see the death of the last cow on earth as a huge loss, as long as the cow was safe, happy, and comfortable.

Or we should just stop hating our species ... Just a thought. Sorry, I just have uncontrollable disdain for this attitude. :)

> It's statistically reasonable to assume any particular animal product, that was bought in a store, in the US, and doesn't advertise any particular affiliation with ethical-treatment or other specialty causes, is unethical.

I think this is roughly what you meant, right? There are lots of exceptions to the totally blanket assertion, although I think the underlying sentiment (as carefully caveatted above) is basically correct.

...so it's safe to assume all animal products are unethical.

According to that statement, the ethical value of any animal product is a function of some huge number of variables, and the upper bound on that value is the minimum of that set.

So, it's safe to assume that all animal products you encounter as a human are unethical. Regardless of where you buy them, or what their advertising is, you should assume they are unethical and be very, very difficult to persuade. Anything else is just unsafe.

I agree, and I understood the careful phrasing ("safe", "assume") in the original remark---but given the number of people who apparently didn't understand, I wanted to give a clarified version.

I think the problem with your phrasing is that most humans will interpret it to mean "oh, I can just find something that looks good on any one of these metrics, and then it'll be ethical."

This is why animal welfare-ists exist, and why people think that there is such a thing as "happy meat."

I don't think there's lots of exceptions. In fact, the exceptions are exceedingly rare.

One exception that comes to mind: A cow approaches you and graciously hands you a gallon of milk it excreted from its own udder, expressly as a gift to you.

That's just silly, they don't even have opposable thumbs. It would have to squirt the milk into your mouth.

What is so unethical about eggs or cow's milk?

edit: The point I am trying to make is that not all of our food comes from unethical industrial factory farms. There are a lot of farmers who use ethical and sustainable methods. It is not too difficult to do research and find out how your food is produced.

Is there anything wrong with force feeding a cow corn which makes them sick, injecting them with antibiotics so that doesn't kill them, impregnating them so that they produce milk, separating them from their calf at birth (who most likely will be used for veal) causing them distress, and making them livid a horrid life wading in cow shit their whole life until their hoofs are painfully literally rotting?

Yes, what is happening to the civets is appalling. But it's really no worse than what is standard CAFO treatment. It's not entirely your fault that you don't know this because the food industry tries very hard to keep this from you, including pushing for laws that make exposing these facts acts of terrorism.

I know all of it. What you don't seem to be aware of is that there are a lot of farmers who don't follow these practices. I make an effort to do research about the food I buy and to make sure it comes only from sustainable, non-industrial farming methods.

What I was trying to get at in my question is that there is nothing "safe" about the assumption that ALL animal products are unethical. It's just a blanket generalization that discourages learning more about the subject.

Although most US farms are small farms, they are in decline and also far less productive, so the vast majority (85%) of output comes from large-scale farms.

Furthermore, because the agricultural system and all of the regulations support large-scale farming, small-scale family farms have to work within the system. (eg, http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2009-02-05/more-on-the-s...).

The trend is toward more factory farming, not less, since small scale farms are less profitable, often not covering costs. The difficulty of making small farms sustainable is generally attributed to the regulations, infrastructure, and economic realities increasingly favoring large scale factory farming.

If you doubt any of what I've said here, the USDA and others have plenty of reports available: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-r...

I'm glad you are familiar with industrial farming as many people are not aware of how food gets to our supermarkets. However, even in the kindest of farm environments (which, incidentally I have visited first hand) I personally find milk production unethical. Force impregnating a cow and separating - and getting rid of - the calf at birth are not "practices" famers can opt out of, they are the biological and financial reality of producing milk.

I don't know if you can empathize with an animals plight at the discomfort of repeated pregnancies, births, and forced separations from their offspring - or the even grimmer likely outcome of the calf itself, but for me this is not justified by own fleeting enjoyment of a slice of cheese that is completely not necessary for my physical well being.

It's a near perfect generalization depending on where you food shop. Good luck finding eggs from ethical sources at Walmart or Publix.

Yeah, the PETA crowd argument, which gleans over the fact that the cow wouldn't exist to begin with if not for those evil farmers and human carnivores.

These anthropomorphic arguments tend to be the result of emotional immaturity, something you find in small children.

"These anthropomorphic arguments tend to be the result of emotional immaturity, something you find in small children."

Oh, the irony in this sentence!

It's anthropomorphic to think that dairy cows would choose to bear their immense suffering for the sake of the perpetuation of their species (EDIT: because they're not aware of such a concept; survival instinct is all about the individual being pain-averse in an immediate sense), and it's immature to resort to name-calling in an argument.

Cows would probably rather not ever existed than lead the lives they lead.

Depends on your ethics. 9 chickens per square meter for free-range, it's a bit tight for me personally.


Huh, wow. It never even crossed my mind that "free-range" and "cage-free" might not mean what it sounds like it means. That was naive of me. 9 hens/meter does not sound very "free" to me either.

Man, do not worry about naivete. It's actually very difficult to learn the truth about the products we consume. That you are openly expressing your enlightenment is remarkable, and worth celebrating.

In addition to these requirements, free-range systems must also provide the following:

One hectare of outdoor range for every 2500 hens (equivalent to 4m^2 per hen; at least 2.5 m^2 per hen must be available at any one time if rotation of the outdoor range is practiced)

From the wikipedia page you linked. That's not too bad, is it?

Depends where you live. "In the EU each hen must have at least 4 square metres of space."

I may have already missed the window where people will read this reply, but let me tell you the basic error in your thinking. Yes it's true that Old MacDonald actually does exist. He may be your neighbor. He's certainly my father's neighbor, out in the country, in Michigan. And you can buy eggs. And a few other people, too.

But guess what. Well into the 90s percent of people don't do that. Probably high 90s percent. And they never could either, because as soon as they tried, you'd see it can't scale up. The only thing that can scale up is the rotten situation we currently have--the one that produces that 90s percentage of the eggs and milk (and meat, which you didn't mention, but it's likewise a parallel here for people who believe in "humane" meat).

I had a discussion with someone who feels strongly about this recently, and he pointed out that even the few chickens and cows that get decent treatment during their lives are brought to the slaughter house when they're not productive anymore (except for a negligible minority of cases). Even if we assume the best slaughtering conditions (wrongly, most likely) it's not hard to see how that can be perceived as unethical.

He did mention that people who take good care of their chickens and cows during their whole life are a different story.

Apparently, you're not very familiar with modern factory farming. One word: "debeaking".

I eat eggs and my kids drink milk but some people find unethical the environmental impact of using animals to convert relatively efficient vegetable production to relatively inefficient animal production.

Some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_pr...

Another thing people find unethical about it are adding literally tons of needless antibiotics to the environment which can have human medical impact.

Do you use a fabric softener? (or a detergent with one in it?) ... sometimes is can be surprising where you find animal products.

It gets unethical pretty quickly as it is produced at industrial scale.

Cows only give milk after they give birth. Ask yourself where those calves go.

I imagine the female are probably used for Milk. The male calves probably end up being slaughter.


There are a lot of farmers who use ethical and sustainable methods.

Depends on how you define "a lot". The vast majority of eggs and milk produced in the United States are not in any way ethically produced.

One such means of reseach is browsing through this site and finding what top rated brands are available where you shop. http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/ They also have a less detailed milk scorecard. Note, they only look at organic eggs and they weigh some things other than how the animals are treated based on their political beliefs. Still, they list every category and you can choose which ones you care about.

The issue of what happens to the males is often overlooked. In dairy cattle, the bulls are relatively useless (low meat yield, etc), so they're killed. Same with roosters - laying breeds are far different from meat breeds, so the males are ground up as chicks.

You all are making some bold claims about what is and is not ethical ... Does everyone not realize that ethics and the derivation of ethics is a fairly complex issue?

Exactly. Most people's arguments are "you say that X is unethical for these reasons, and you therefore avoid X, but Y has similarities with X and you don't avoid Y - that makes you wrong to avoid X" which is plainly ridiculous. This shouldn't be about absolutes.

Intrinsically nothing is wrong.

Obviously you appreciate the value of research. It's amazing that people will research the purchase of a new phone more than what they eat?

That's not exactly an obvious conclusion.


What do you think happens to the useless males. The little infant bulls and roosters?

The original way this was marketed was (paraphrasing): "civets roam the forest, eat cherries, poop, and we collect the poop." In other words, not farmed at all. Sounded ethical to me at the time.

What about some kind of artisanal steak, locally-curated by genuine Brooklyn hipsters? Or Kobe beef - those cattle get massages!

Don't beat yourself up, but also try to be aware. There are places where people are abused to produce coffee too ... you wouldn't buy blood diamonds, so try to buy fair-trade coffees.

Before the whole civet-poo coffee thing blew up, a friend got me a pound of the stuff. It was beyond amazing. It had a really creamy quality, without the bitter or acidic qualities. And while it was clearly coffee, it didn't taste like any coffee I'd had before. Like coffee from a not-quite parallel universe, perhaps.

I truly loved the stuff, but I can't imagine getting it again. Due to the insane prices, it's likely to be heavily cut with regular beans. Worse, the limited number of beans that are real are likely to come from abused animals, which, no way. Locking them in cages and force feeding them beans not of their own choosing has clearly ruined both the creatures and the product.

Fucking humans.

Have you tried cold-brewing coffee? It extracts flavors without much acid and no bitterness. Good beans become excellent; mediocre beans become nice.

At one point, yes, but the caffeine content was off the charts, presumably because of the extended soak that the method required.

One large cup of that and I needed an even bigger spatula, just to scrape myself off the ceiling.

You can adjust things like using a more coarse grind, lower temperature and shorter brewing times to affect bitterness. Chlorine in your water can also make for more bitter coffee. If all else fails, add a tiny, tiny amount of salt or saline solution.

> At one point, yes, but the caffeine content was off the charts, presumably because of the extended soak that the method required.

I've heard this anecdotally, went ahead and searched [1], but I haven't found conclusive proof that cold brewing extracts more caffeine than normal brewing. I'd love to see someone measure the levels and write about it somewhere.

[1] http://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/1859/caffeine-con...

I tried it directly from Edible[1] (which, I think, was the ThinkGeek supplier for Civet Coffee and Monkey-picked tea--though ThinkGeek seems to no longer carry either). I thought it tasted only slightly better than Folgers. Several of my coworkers also independently arrived at the Folgers conclusion. Except for the novelty, there doesn't seem to be any reason to buy this stuff. Even more so given the animal cruelty angle.

I suppose if you must try it, Animal Coffee[2] claims that they do not farm civets. They also offer a stick of the "raw" coffee encased in Lucite[3], which I find a better novelty than mediocre coffee.

[1] http://www.edible-shop.com [2] http://animalcoffee.com [3] http://animalcoffee.com/proddetail.php?prod=Souvpw

Why would you feel like an asshole for giving your friend a thoughtful gift? You didn't know any better, you were only trying to bring joy to someone's life.

Don't be so hard on yourself.

At least you learned about the treatment and now won't buy any more. Seems like better conditions than animals get in most US factory farms and there's plenty of awareness campaigns but they're still in business.

One hypothesis: what if (genuine) civet coffee is so good, because the civets' nose smells out the very best coffee cherries, and only eats the best? Therefore, if it's crapped out the arse of a civet, it was a very good bean.

Given that many animals have a superior sense of smell to humans, this hypothesis seems reasonable - civets could smell out the best coffee, and given the choice, who wouldn't want to eat the best?

If this is the case, then the whole mass-production/feeding-civits-in-cages is absolutely pointless, because it does away with the civets' selection process. Which might explain why some people describe their purchase as watery and bland.

That's definitely one of the arguments used in the marketing material. If the coffee being sold is not in fact from wild civets that can choose the berries, that sounds like it should be considered false advertising.

> "Which might explain why some people describe their purchase as watery and bland."

This is true.

The other part of the explanation is that many people just don't appreciate the coffee that is anything different than what they are used too. Just watch someone from the US in Europe drinking an espresso, or the other way around. People have different opinions based on their personal habits, and saying it is "watered down" should mean nothing without context and references.

I don't think that's it. I drank a cup of civet coffee in bali which was watery and bland. I also bought beans from a producer in medan who went on a lot about the scam that is most wild civet coffee. That one was rich and chocolatey.

Hah, that makes sense. Of course it tastes bland, when you normally drink coffee with six cubes of sugar.

As with truffles, could we not just train a dog to find these choice cherries and place them in a bin?

A viable alternative may be in-vitro fermentation: http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/20...

There was a marketing campaign earlier this year in Taiwan around the animal-cruelty-free process.

No need. People need to just stop drinking this mediocre and overpriced product and learn how to make perfectly serviceable high grade arabicas taste good. I doubt most people that purchase the coffee even know what Gold Cup standards are.


Kopi Luwak is - outside of novelty purposes - a ridiculous status symbol for rich idiots, like using ground-up, ineffective rhino horn to treat erectile disfunction.

Amen! Kopi Luwak has the inherent marketing advantage of describing the production process in a one sentence, narrative hook that everyone understands. Even non coffee drinkers know about "that coffee where the weasel poops it out."

That aside, modern experimental coffee processing techniques, varietal classifications, and terroir's effect on taste and quality is far more interesting and productive with regards to pushing the envelope for specialty coffee.

This seems very similar to wines. I like coffee and I like wine, but my only metric for whether one is good or bad is simply if I like the taste.

"You yourself are gratified by some music, arrangements of noises, and again essentially nonsense. If I were to kick a bucket down the cellar stairs, and then say to you that the racket I had made was philosophically on a par with The Magic Flute, this would not be the beginning of a long and upsetting debate. An utterly satisfactory and complete response on your part would be,'I like what Mozart did, and I hate what the bucket did.'"

-Kurt Vonnegut to his brother Bernie, excerpted from Timequake

(Which is to say, I agree with your point, and just wanted an excuse to quote the most entertaining paraphrasing ever of 'to each his own')

That's not even "good" or "bad", just "taste". I personally gravitate to dry reds, particularly within a certain price range- too cheap and you can't taste the grapes, too expensive and you can't taste the alcohol- but that doesn't mean whites are "bad".

Got any good sources for learning the craft? I have assembled the basics over the past couple years, and have probably reached the point where my devices are no longer the limiting factor.

A thermometer, an adjustable burr grinder, and either one of: a high quality drip brewer, a hario, or a french press. I prefer the hario for ease of cleanup, personally, but some people consider non-french press brewed coffee to be heresy.

I think it's cool to try to roast your own once or twice, but roasters cost a ton and cowboy coffee (roasting in an open pot over heat) produces a ton of smoke & chaff. Mostly it made me appreciate the skill involved in roasting :)

The big thing is to mind the temperature of the water (and use good water), making sure you're using freshly ground whole bean coffee, the amount of grinds vs water, and the quality/freshness of the coffee beans. There's a ton of good advice online, I hope you find something that works well for you (and that my humble advice is useful)!

A friend of mine roasted coffee beans in an air pop popcorn maker.

Roasting your own? If you're not already, it's simple fun and tasty.

I can't help but think you'll see the same thing as with diamonds. Inventing a lab process will just make the original cat-process even more prized, because suddenly it's not just "rare" but it is also "authentic".

Basically, it doesn't seem like this is a technical challenge. It's a social challenge.

Maybe so. I wonder though, if it's cheaper to produce it synthetically and impossible to tell the difference in the final product, wouldn't those people who produce it now (out of greed) be very tempted to use the synthetic process, but still claim that they use the "authentic" one?

I don't know, you could recreate a process that falls under a model, similar to micro-brews. Then you attach clean and good for the environment. This would be the next big hobby, and better for you than that cool cigar humidor, or making of beer.

Coffee fermentation is already a very well understood operation: this is partially why high quality beans are a commodity item (ie. selection of microbe strains). It is also a food safety issue, so you have lots of attention from authorities too (including the UN).

The rest is just a branding a pricing exercise (along with roasting, which is also a well understood process). The whole trading process is not unlike trading Brent barrels and selling them through different oil companies and stations. Ask Nestlé.

I would think that there has to be a synthetic was to get the same effect.

I just got back from Bali and tried this stuff. The place I went to of course said little about the surely terrible environment the animals are in -- they had a few at the place but they were probably just there for the tourists to see.

Anyway, the coffee isn't anything great. Yet invariably many of the tourists around me were raving about it, I'm sure not in small part due to the focus on it and the high price it demands. It reminds me a lot of the phenomenon of shark fin soup in Asia -- the soup is mediocre at best, but because of its high price people (in my view) pretend to think it tastes incredible.

They're not pretending, that's power of suggestion. They believe it.

Good point!

It costed me US$5 for a small cup in Bali and a bunch of other complimentary coffees and teas for free. Did you had the same experience?

I also had it in Bali, a few years ago, and had a similar reaction both there and with the small quantity I brought back.

This probably isn't any different from consuming anything that contains animal products from a country with flexible regulation on farming conditions. The description doesn't strike me as being any different from the conditions described for chickens in the U.S.

Markets that suddenly emerge often have strange consequences. The demand for quinoa and acai berries, for example, have had serious economic and environment effects in South America.

There's not too much that's unique about this case, other than product. Poor conditions for animals and exploitation appear to be the norm.

The fact that this is being done to wild animals seems especially cruel.

I tried Luwak coffee last summer in Munduk, a mountain village in north Bali. Honestly: it's nothing special. My girlfriend (a former barista) vetoed it after she saw a caged Luwak, and the huge piles of drying coffee-bean-laden turds that were clearly not the result of gathering. And, obviously, pretty gross.



Honestly: it's nothing special.

Like many other food-as-status-symbols. It's not about how good it is, but how rare and difficult to procure.

Indeed, status symbols generally depend on one criteria, namely the ratio of marketing to availability. Lots of marketing and little availability makes it a status symbol. Less availability and little marketing makes it a novelty.

See for example red spinels vs rubies. These aren't food but they show the same dynamic at work. The most famous "rubies" in the world are actually red spinels, but because they aren't marketed heavily they are seen as second class gems.

Reminds me of the South Park 'Whale Whores' episode.

A lot of people who probably are happily eating chicken getting incensed by another culture doing something the same to a slightly different creature.

What if you don't eat chicken either?

Instead of buying civet coffee, roast your own beans. I have never tasted coffee as good as the stuff I have roasted myself. All you need is an old popcorn maker. Buy green beans from Sweet Maria's or somewhere else online. It's cheap, easy to do, and the results are amazing.

First I ever heard of this stuff was from Olin Shivers' page:


his general page:


I don't think it's changed much in about 15 years

If it makes any of you feel better (from an ethical perspective), I've heard that a large portion of the "Civet" coffee that is marketed has never seen the digestive tract of that nocturnal animal, and is simply regional coffee beans branded at a much higher price.

It's the coffee equivalent of Kobe Beef (which, if you've purchased in the United States, probably wasn't actually from the Tajima breed of Hyogo wagyu cattle in the Hyogo Prefecture)

Someone should start a consumer protection type business which offers certification with varying degrees of statistical significance to slap on your products to prove it isn't bullshit. Then we legally mandate you either get the seal or have to put "THIS PRODUCT MAY BE LYING ABOUT ITS CLAIMS" on the packaging. Then it'll be interesting to see how long until the process is corrupted and the certification becomes meaningless.

Then it'll be interesting to see how long until the process is corrupted and the certification becomes meaningless.

"Certified Organic"

It is interesting how luxury goods are very amenable to this kind of campaign -- the "conflict diamond" thing from a few years ago seemed a lot more effective than any number of regular anti animal cruelty or sweatshop labor campaigns. Anti-fur and anti foie gras has also been much more effective than anti-meat.

I've been to one of those farms when I was in Indonesia. They only showed me a single one of those animals in a big cage, but I can be sure there were more from the amount of coffee avaliable to sell in their "Rural store"

I've bought one cup of it for U$5,00 and it's stupid. The coffee tastes wierd and seeing that animal in that cage was enought to make me leave the place with a felling that I was doing something really wrong paying for that coffee.

I try hard to never buy this or any other kind of super cool variants of cheap things. Especially if they are from a 3rd world country because ( I am from one ) I know that there is nothing in those countries with power enought to stop any wrong doing. In those places governement and agencies just don't care about animal safety, public health and so on.

In the short term I think this article is going to have the opposite effect of what's intended. It seems inevitable that everyone must know about Civet Coffee before resources can be gathered to protect the animals regardless of the demand. Better sooner rather than later.

I don't know that the article will increase demand. I know my personal demand for this coffee has gone from middling (I hadn't heard about it before the article) to zero on hearing that it's made from the poop of an animal that can't digest coffee beans.

I don't know which I find more disgustingly appalling -- that people are choosing to, paying very much to drink "pooped-bean coffee" -- or that the animals which play a crucial part of this process are so cruelly treated. But at least the latter can be compartmentalized with the inhumane conditions of our other food animals.

Ever had cheese or alcohol? Now that is poop. The part you should be emphasizing is "can't digest". These beans aren't poop as in digested material, they're taking a ride in poop. It's not really worse than the standard method of mixing poop into the dirt where plants are grown.

A lot of people want to try exotic food just for the sake of it, and civet coffee is appealing because it sounds gross at first glance but not so gross after looking into it. Not all poop is the same, these cats aren't carrying around diseases and they don't eat a whole lot of different things. So people imagine that it will impress their friends, while at the same time consuming it isn't a painful experience.

Aren't we ingenious little fuckers? Always finding new ways to give the finger to other species..

Copy and pasted from the article:

" I was the one who started it all ... I first read a description of kopi luwak buried in a short paragraph in a 1981 copy of National Geographic Magazine."

So... he didn't exactly start it. He just popularized it to the affluent western audience.

your point?

This is a bit thematic, but maybe we could get Jellyfish to eat the coffee bean cherries? Two problems, one answer?


They need a free-range or wild standard I guess

The chemical and mechanical processes of the luwak digestive system could be duplicated. I don't know (and don't want to know) the effect of gut flora on the beans.

"free-range coffee"

Talk is cheap. I kept expecting to read how he was donating some % of his consulting fees/shared profit from the promotion of this luxury into alleviating the problem, but apparently that's not on the cards.

He's "raising awareness", of course.

There's a local startup here that produces coffee supposedly with the same enzymes produced by the cats. I think this might be them: http://coffeeprimero.com/ I've tried it before and I have to say, it's not bad...but not really for coffee lovers either. At least if the bitterness is at all part of what you enjoy about coffee, this stuff is pretty bland and boring. The fact that they only sell it ground is another hint that it's not really meant for coffee lovers.

I sense someone just got a deal with a farm that can actually ship a ton per year of the real stuff and is now working his way into a certification program.

Certified civete coffee anyone?

The leading vietnamese coffee company Trung Nguyen analysed the natural process and was able to reproduce it without animals. I tasted both and was not able to tell the difference. Great coffee, lower cost, no animals harmed. http://www.trung-nguyen-online.com/about-legendee-coffee.php

Disgusting how there's scumbags out there who jump at the chance to make some quick money, even if it means destroying the lives of others.

I had civet coffee many, many years ago (nearing a decade) and it was a lovely cup of coffee, but not enough to justify the ridiculous price. Now that's become industrialised it's even more awful to consider having a cup, I do hope this helps remove it from the market.

"Wild Crap Coffee" - as a descriptor of the Civet industry's marketing, the broader fecal caffeine industry instigated by the author (Tony Wild), and the brand name for his suggested loop-closing product in the final sentence - has a ring to it.

I know this is the wrong reaction, but now I want to try it.

A proper luxury product should debase the consumer, ie,

"LoJack for luxury handbags" that would adapt radio tags for monitoring wild animals to the task. (Sans Civets.)

What on earth..

It's actually quite good. Imagine coffee without the bitterness or acidity. The taste is somewhere between coffee and unsweetened cocoa.

How to get coffee without bitterness or acidity on the cheap!

"Drip" coffee:

Buy good coffee (stumptown, PT's, tonx, among others) whole bean. Try to finish the beans within ~3-4 weeks of the roast date.

Grind it with a cheap $12-$15 whirly grinder from target. Make sure to use the ground coffee within ~15 minutes.

Put it in an aeropress or a french press, follow brewing directions. Usually 2-4 minutes for a french press, less for an aeropress.

If using an aeropress, add hot water to your coffee.

Huzzah! You are on your way to delicious coffee.

Adjust amount of coffee, brew time, and water temperature until you get it just right. Each bean & roast is different, and they will often adjust slightly seasonally. If the coffee is sour or weak, grind finer, use more coffee, or a longer brew time. If it is bitter or acidic, grind courser, use less coffee, or a shorter brew time.


Same as above, but use an aeropress & don't add water. It can be a challenge to get an amazing shot out of an aeropress, I will admit.

When you are hooked:

Spend money on a good espresso machine & grinder, go nuts.

I have not prepared Civet coffee, it may very well be /easier/ to attain that slightly sweet brew with Civet coffee. But given the downsides it is certainly not worth doing so. Buy two bags of coffee, plan on practicing on the first bag, you'll have a system down pat in no time.

Am I missing something or you're just describing the regular way to make coffee?

The result will be somewhat bitter and acidic, varying according to the beans you use (assuming the brewing procedure is fixed). It's not like bitterness and acidity are generally considered bad attributes for coffee anyway. It's just that people like different degrees of it.

The general point is that fresh coffee, from an awesome roaster, prepared with some extra love & care does not taste bitter to me or the people I've made it for. Thought I'd toss out enough to get started for those interested.

It sounds like you've gone down that same path, and if so, then I just have to assume we experience or describe flavors differently.

Fair enough. I understand that most people who drink coffee fail do some things that you listed, e.g. they buy pre-ground stuff, so your advice is useful. I think the usual result will be better coffee, but still bitter unless you put sugar or cream.

> I just have to assume we experience or describe flavors differently.

Yes, probably the latter.

Most people use preground beans in one of those crappy coffee makers that burn the coffee. Even most people who get french presses probably overgrind their beans or leave it in the press too long, so I think it's useful advice if you're a newbie to making good coffee.

A solidly brewed quality coffee can produce the same effects and should have minimal bitterness or acidity. The technique and beans are what matter. I'm pretty skeptical about the pooping.

No, you're 100% right, the claims are bullshit. Less proteins in the coffee bean = less flavor. http://sprudge.com/say-no-to-kopi-luwak.html

I'm definitely open to the possibility that the effect is purely psychological. Not unlike the wine experts that were fooled by white wine with red food coloring.

What were the qualifications of these "wine experts"? I read the original paper and the word "expert" is used only three times in the entire paper, and long after they talk about the subjects.

This was the article if I recall (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tas...). And it doesn't actually prove experts can't tell the good from the bad in black and white terms, but simply that given the same wines they may rate them differently each time.

A double-blind taste test would be very interesting, but in my experience the kopi luwak is noticeably less bitter and acidic than the least bitter and acidic solidly brewed quality coffee I've had :) It's worth a try if you've never had it, at least.

It sounds like the original format, where you let the wild critters themselves choose the coffee berries instead of feeding them in cages, is likely to have produced a superior product.

Agreed. I think that that most people that would like Civet poop coffee would find this good: buy a Hario, prepare one cup at ~1.5 times average strength, toss it, and brew a second cup from the previously extracted grinds.

You should compared it to cold-brewed coffee and report back. :)

I've tried them all! I lived in Seattle for 20 years and was only able to survive the winters by spending at least 4 hours a day in cafes. :)

I'd assumed that (US) The Killing was making up the weather - the feeling of depression that show carried was impressive.

We humans are really twisted.

It's time for free-range, coffee-eating kopi luwak farms!

"cut the crap" :)

Kopi 2014

Viva la free market!

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