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It’s quite possible that coffee will help you celebrate more birthdays

But what we drink has just gotten weirder

IMAGE courtesy of ScoopWhoop Media

OK, I admit it, I’m a coffee snob. No tall, non-fat latte or any of those other fancy Starbucks drinks. I’m talking real coffee where you can taste the quality without a drizzle of caramel. 

I recently had coffee in several sidewalk cafes in Nice, France and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have great coffee back home. To drink good coffee in the U.S. you have to make it yourself. And that’s what I do.

In fact, making a cup of joe is one of the first things I do in the morning. And that’s a good thing because current scientific research links drinking a cup or more of coffee—along with daily exercise and healthy food choices—to staying fit.

Of course, science can’t guarantee drinking coffee will help us live longer. But two recent studies found that those who drank 2 to 4 cups a day had an 18% lower risk of death than people who did not drink coffee at all.

If that’s the reason coffee consumption is on the rise, it’s a good one. Worldwide we now consume about 150 million bags of coffee a year. That’s almost 10 million tons.

That might not come as a surprise—Starbucks are on every corner in nearly every U.S. city, despite people like me avoiding the chain—but what is shocking is a type of coffee people are drinking in Asia and the Middle East.

Let me explain that statement this way: For about 30% of us coffee drinkers, our morning joe brings on more than just a caffeine high. If you’re one of that blessed three out of ten, you know what I’m talking about. Coffee makes you poop. While that’s not earthshaking news, what will probably shock you is that in some parts of the world, poop makes you coffee. Elephant poop to be exact. And it’s in such demand that it holds the title of most expensive coffee in the world.

Let me repeat that, so it can sink in: The world’s most expensive coffee is a by-product of elephant poop.

Okay, let’s take another sec before I say it a third time: The world’s most expensive coffee comes from beans that were consumed by an elephant before being excreted and picked out of the dung!

Whaaaaaaat!

IMAGE courtesy of METRO | A Thai mahout picks coffee beans out of elephant dung as part of the process to make Black Ivory Coffee.

In recent years, the need for coffee companies to differentiate their product has grown as more and more coffee lovers like me purchase their own espresso machines. One thing companies do to set themselves apart from the pack is offer something new.

Just when I thought I’d figured out the latest trend, white coffee, up comes the oddest and most expensive coffee in the world—elephant dung coffee.

It started in 2012 when Canadian entrepreneur Blake Dinkin, who is really into coffee, took his life savings to do something creative after working in Ethiopia with a food scientist on elephants.

Dunkin went to Thailand, a country that has both coffee and elephants, and formed a partnership with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, an organization set up to recuse street elephants.

The product Dinkin then came up with is genius to some and disgusting to others. He calls it Black Ivory Coffee. And it’s super expensive. A small 1 lb bag goes for around $85. That’s right, and you thought that tall, non-fat latte with caramel drizzle was pricey.

If you want all the details, on the Black Ivory Coffee website you will find all pertinent information about the production process, the elephants, and Black Ivory Coffee itself.

But here’s the scoop in a nutshell: Elephants’ digestive enzymes, which break down the protein in coffee, sway the taste of Black Ivory Coffee. 

Since less protein means less bitterness, elephant poo coffee apparently has a smooth, revolutionary taste. For people like me who have never tried it, they say it has subtle notes of dark chocolate and cherry minus the burnt or bitter taste of regular coffee. That’s probably too mild for some coffee lovers. It even sounds a bit like dark tea to me.

In any event, Black Ivory Coffee is incredibly popular in some parts of the world. Some 5-star hotels charge $50 (USD) a cup. Why is it so darn expensive?

Well, as you know, the source of the coffee you drink every day is the coffee bean. What you might not know is that what we call a coffee bean is actually more like a seed or pit that grows inside a red fruit commonly referred to as a cherry.

And here’s the thing: For a bunch of reasons you can read about on the Black Ivory Coffee website, 36 lbs of coffee cherries are needed to produce 1 lb of Black Ivory Coffee.

It starts by mixing the cherries into a mash with fruit and then feeding the blend to rescued elephants (no more roaming the streets) either by mouth or up the trunk. They say the process is harmless to the elephants, but who really knows?

Since it takes an elephant 15 to 70 hours to eat the cherries, semi-digest the beans and poop them out—and throw in the difficulty of rescuing street elephants—only about 440 lbs of elephant poo coffee is made every season. That makes it extremely rare. And the short supply, in comparison with the high demand, is the reason for the high price.

So coffee lovers, if you are ready to have a sip of the world’s most expensive coffee made by passing coffee beans through the stomachs of elephants, there’s good news and bad. The bad news is that it is probably not available at your favorite coffee house. That’s because Dinkin is mostly selling to limited luxury hotels such as the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok and the MGM Macau, to name two. The good news is that Black Ivory Coffee is available online.

Is poo coffee just a passing trend? Dinkin doesn’t think so. “There’s easier ways to make money,” he told NPR, a multimedia news organization and radio program producer. “I wouldn’t spend 10 years and put my life savings on this if I didn’t think it’s for real, or I thought it was just going to be an overnight gag.”

Hmmm. Take that quote with a massive pinch of salt, but considering that before Dinkin entered the picture, coffee derived from the feces of an Indonesian cat-like animal called the palm civet held the title of most expensive coffee in the world. So you never know what tomorrow will bring in a rapidly changing coffee world.

That said, for me—even though they say elephant poo coffee is 100% safe to drink—you’re much better off with coffee made the traditional way. The very thought of coffee beans plucked from feces does not appeal to me. Plus, I don’t like the idea of caging animals—even rescued ones. The suggestion of feeding elephants all that caffeine just seems wrong.

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