Elephant Dung Makes a Smooth Cup of Coffee

A poo exhibit at the Miami Zoo
A poo exhibit at the Miami Zoo
Flickr/jewdini

Civet poop is so yesterday for coffee connoisseurs. Coffee beans "laundered" through elephant dung is where it's at.

Called smooth and earthy in flavor, an exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by a herd of 20 Thai elephants and retrieved the next day from their dung, the Associated Press reports. The long gastrointestinal journey results in some of the most expensive coffee beans in the world -- $500 a pound.

Don't look for the "Black Ivory" blend at Starbucks anytime soon. It is reserved for the elite (and stupid?). For now it is only being served at a few luxury hotels in far-off places like northern Thailand, the Maldives and Abu Dhabi, at about $50 a cup.

The appeal?

"When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness," Canadian Blake Dinkin, who has spent $300,000 developing the coffee in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, told the AP. "You end up with a cup that's very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee."

Coffee mined from civet poop -- called kopi luwak, another exorbitantly expensive variety -- is said to have a similar taste. But the elephant's massive stomach and slow digestive process is said to add even better flavor. It takes up to 30 hours for an elephant to digest the beans, which in the meantime stew together with sugar cane, bananas and other stomach ingredients to infuse unique fruity essences, according to Dinkin.

"My theory is that a natural fermentation process takes place in the elephant's gut," he said.

Wildlife conservationists are on board with the idea. The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants, gets 8% of the coffee's total sales, which go toward the herd's healthcare. Testing has shown that the elephants don't absorb any caffeine from eating the raw coffee berries.

Dinkin jokes that the coffee's high price is in part due to the fact that elephants are "highly inefficient workers." It takes 72 pounds of raw coffee cherries to produce 2 pounds of Black Ivory coffee, according to the AP: "The majority of beans get chewed up, broken or lost in tall grass after being excreted."

The whole process is labor-intensive. Pure Arabica beans are hand-picked by hill-tribe women from a small mountain estate. Then the coffee cherries are picked out of the elephant's excrement by their handlers and sun-dried. After a (hopefully very) thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then brought to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok.

Black Ivory's maiden batch of 150 pounds has sold out. Dinkin hopes to produce six times that amount in 2013.

That's a lot of pachyderm poop.


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