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Lies My Travels Told Me – Luwak Coffee, Bali

This post was born 03 Dec, 2014 8 Comments
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Like all human beings, I’ve been hurt before – by boys, friends, grandparents, siblings, pets, cracks in the sidewalk, vodka disguised as water in my college dorm room.

I mean, I’m a realist. I accept that these things are bound to happen to the living. Apparently it’s part of life or whatever. Yet somehow I was still utterly blindsided when I found out the love of my life had deceived me – and in the process, cost me precious $$$$ bills.

Of all things – Travel. Travel was the bastard who effectively slid the metaphorical knife between my unsuspecting shoulder blades and left me wailing like a spoiled kid whose Halloween candy had all been devoured by Jimmy Kimmel. Travel! Travel(maybe if I keep repeating the word, it won’t be true). The one and only thing I’ve consistently loved my whole life. The only commitment my commitmentphobic heart was never afraid to surrender to completely. TRAVEL. I was cuckolded. And even worse – travel messed me about in Bali.

Indonesia

Idyllic, innocent Bali. The woody perennial rose of Indonesia who seduces you in with her entrancing good looks and pacifying ambiance making you want to unearth every stone and secret in order to discover how someplace can possibly be this flawless. Once you’ve been lulled into that idealistic complacency upon which you desire never to return from, you blindingly slice your finger on that jagged thorn called ‘Luwak Coffee’.

Girl Meets Luwak Coffee

It started off like most love stories. A young impressionable girl wandering wide-eyed through life trying to find out who she is and where she belongs. She likes simple things like chocolate, sunsets, long walks on the beach, and of course her morning cup of coffee.

So when she hired a private car and driver named Tika from Seminyak to take her around other parts of Bali, she was thrilled when he pulled over for a surprise stop at a teeny tiny coffee plantation along the winding road to Uluwatu.

She was taken in by the lush beauty, the smell of fresh crisp air, and the unfamiliar yet beautiful sounds emanating from a Balinese instrument being played by one of the locals. She wandered through gardens blooming with cinnamon, vanilla, and of course the coffee beans.

Coffee beans in Bali

Ambling along the dirt and stone laden paths, she heard the story of Kopi Luwak for the first time…

The Luwak, also known as the Asian Palm Civet, is a wild animal found throughout Indonesia that has a tendency to consume small coffee fruits found developing in this impeccable coffee-growing environment. They seem to have a discerning palate allowing for only the best wild ‘fruits’ to be ingested with minor digestive struggle as the actual seeds (or beans) come out whole once excreted. Indonesian farmers discovered that if you cleaned and roasted these excretements, they made a lip-smackingly delicious cup of joe (I like to imagine these things happen by way of a dare. Like, I dare you to try that piece of tuna that came out of my cats a**).

The excreted beans to make Luwak Coffee
Excreted beans – yum!
Roasting coffee in Bali
Roasting poop.
Me making Luwak Coffee in Bali, Indonesia
Grinding feces.

Once the young girl inhaled its deeply satisfying aroma and her lips finally claimed their first taste of smooth richness, she fell head over heels in love.

She spent the rest of the day in the throes of newlywed bliss with her thoughts consumed only by Luwak Coffee. She downed her whole first cup as easily as a drunkard does his ale. The more she had, the more she wanted. She grabbed and bought it by the pound for she was a generous soul who wished to share this local delicacy with everyone back home. Love is blind became quite true for her as she didn’t even question why she payed more for this special blend than she did on her night’s accommodation.

Drinking Luwak Coffee in Bali
Even her friends approved of Kopi Luwak.

Luwak Coffee Betrays Girl

It wasn’t until they planned to meet up the next day outside of Ubud during a blissful (albeit clumsy) bike ride through the countryside that the first signs of discourse seeped through. They happened to stop off at another coffee plantation much larger than the one near Uluwatu. They were being taken around by a local Balinese plantation worker while munching on succulent mangosteen when he began to tell the story of the Luwak. The girl didn’t pay much mind for she had already memorized the tale and was dreaming ahead to her next batch of coffee.

But then she overheard someone asking if the Balinese drank Luwak Coffee – to which the local villager laughed and said, “no – it’s mainly sold to tourists or exported to foreign countires”. That caused her to pause. She thought, What? How could that be? I thought it was a part of their cultural heritage. When in Rome do what the Romans do, right? Doesn’t the same go for Bali? I just bought my family and friends buttloads (no pun intended) of the stuff thinking I was bringing them back an authentic piece of Bali. Has the blogger at ‘I’m Not A Tourist, I Swear?’ fallen into the (gasp) ‘tourist trap’?

She was plagued and haunted with doubts as she strolled through the plantation. She kept hearing more snippets of conversation around her. It was true enough, Luwak Coffee was one of the most in demand and expensive coffees in the world – just not a part of everyday Balinese consumption (maybe it’s time she stopped just showing up places and actually started doing some research to avoid these types of pitfalls).

A Luwak being fed at a coffee plantation in Bali, Indonesia
A Luwak being fed at the plantation.

Girl and Luwak Coffee Break Up

Like any girl experiencing her first heartbreak, she started justifying the relationship to herself. I mean it’s not like he entirely lied. He just omitted a few things. The Indonesians do still produce coffee from this method that’s been used since the 18th century so it is still a Balinese ‘tradition’.

This worked for awhile to curb her fears but then she saw the Luwak in a small cage and through further whisperings around town, she learned that the coffee was originally found in the feces of Luwaks in the wild. Now, many are kept in small cages and force fed the fruits which may alter the taste and quality of the coffee since they no longer just pick through the ‘good’ ones nor have the nutrients in their digestive tract from other foods that are believed to contribute to the excreted bean.

Some of the larger farms in Indonesia also mass produce Luwak Coffee by capturing hundreds of these wild animals and confining them in cages that are in appalling conditions. This also means that Luwak Coffee isn’t as rare as it was originally touted to be. Does true ‘wild civet’ coffee even exist anymore? If it’s now massed produced, why is it still so expensive?

This forced her to reflect on the ongoing debate revolving around ecotourism and the exploitation of wildlife. Is it right? What can we do to help? Sometimes travel isn’t so carefree and pretty and can force us to examine ourselves and our beliefs. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine and you become aware of things you didn’t even know existed. Sometimes you get caught in the web and the choice is yours on how you take this in and learn from it.

*Please note that I had a wonderful time in Bali and highly recommend visiting. This type of stuff goes on in some way shape or form everywhere in the world (and in some places – a lot worse than this). The coffee plantations mentioned above only had a couple of Luwaks in nice large cages (not that that makes caging wild animals okay) but I did not see any of the massive ‘industrialized’ coffee farms I later found out about.

**I originally drafted this blog post a few weeks ago when reminiscing on my trip to Bali earlier this year. I was reading through my diary travel journal when I came across my notes on the coffee plantations. I went to fact check a few of the points I had jotted down and was pleased to find a few articles on the subject of Luwak Coffee. I had never heard of civets before I went to Bali and was shocked upon learning about the deplorable conditions these shy animals were kept in. You can read further information on the 2013 movement to help bring attention to the matter here.

***Upon even more research (clearly college paid off) I found a recent article on an attempt at making  ‘sustainable’ Luwak Coffee. Hopefully that’s a step in the right direction.

Have your travels ever lied to you? Ever been caught in the tourist trap? Have an opinion about ecotourism? Let me know in the comments below!

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8 Comments on "Lies My Travels Told Me – Luwak Coffee, Bali"

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Ryan Biddulph
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Just left Bali last week Kristen, and gotta say that Luwak is everywhere! I never thought poop would be so in demand, lol. On a more serious note, folks in many nations treat animals like means to an end, and not sentient beings. We stayed in Klebang Moding, in a Balinese hood. Awesome experience. And heartbreaking too, as we lived beside pig stys. Seeing 500 pound pigs barely able to move in 10 by 10 pens disgusted me. 24 hours a day, and they lived in such deplorable conditions. Hey, I get why people raise pigs for food, but would… Read more »
Revati
Guest

Oh my god. First of all, beautiful writing on this post. It was almost poetic, the way you told the story. Now, for the Luwak Coffee. You just completely burst my bubble. So I know exactly how you felt. I’d heard about this exotic coffee and was fully intending on trying it when I finally do visit Bali. Great. Just great.

Elena
Guest

How did I miss that when i was there?? No idea, probably too busy riding a motorbike to the volcanoes (which I never saw because of the fog – getting there too late…3 times). I didnt see the Luwak coffee plantations in Bali but I felt like you many times on my travels. Disappointed discovering the truth about something I was very excited to see or try. Sometimes even ashamed of being one of the visitors who have no idea what´s behind all that…Well, that´s how we learn I guess..:)

Corinne
Guest

I have never heard of Luwak before, even though I’ve been to Bali. I’m kind of glad, as a gullible person, I would have shipped a crate of it back to the U.S. Great writing!

Tim
Guest

I had a similar relationship that went awry upon learning of the conditions these animals are put through. It is still a great story and you tell it well however like many stories there is a dark side and I applaud you for also including that part.

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