Elephant Coffee $50 A Cup: Does ‘Black Ivory’ Make Top 5 Most Expensive List?

December 7, 2012 6:11 PM EST | By Mo Mozuch
Coffee Cherries
Coffee beans typically come from small cherries, like the ones pictured above. those beans are also, typically, not passed through the rectum of a packiderm. Unless you want good coffee, then go find yourself an elephant's butthole. (Photo: Reuters)

Elephants in Thailand eat Thai Arabica cherries as they forage for food, typically eating lots of bananas and sugar cane. Those cherries travel through the elephant's stomach and intestines on a 13 to 30-hour journey and end up, well, where'd you expect them to end up.

This is where it gets weird.

Inside those Arabica cherries are beans. Coffee beans, to be precise. Those beans are gathered (by hand, mind you) by elephant trainers (called mahouts) and then dried in the sun before being brewed into coffee. Is there really a market for elephant poop coffee?

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At $50 a cup, the answer is a surprising 'yes.'

Elephant coffee at $50 a cup is being sold at resorts throughout Thailand, such as the Anatara hotel chain. The Anatara hotels feature a variety of elephant-related activities, and actually feeds the cherries to their elephants for the sole purpose of making elephant coffee for $50 a cup, according to CNN.  

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

Riiiight. I'm guessing they leave the origin story off the menu next to the 'Elephant Coffee - $50 a cup."

The coffee is officially called 'Black Ivory' and the initial 70kg batch sold out almost immediately. Apparently the rich and well traveled don't mind the ick factor of poop-enhanced elephant coffee for $50 a cup.

But at $50 a cup, and $500 a pound, is Black Ivory the world's priciest cup of joe?

Yes it is. But are there any coffees that come close?

According to a recent Forbes article, the former champion of poop-enhanced java was Luwak Coffee. Luwak coffee requires the help of the civet, a small jungle rodent, who eats coffee cherries and passes the undigested beans onto the forest floor where it's gathered by people who, until recently, literally had the crappiest job in the world. It retails for $160 a pound, well below the $500 price tag for Black Ivory.

Next on the list is Hacienda La Esmerelda, which I think is Spanish for "Why does coffee from poop cost more than normally grown stuff like this?" The beans only grow in the shade of old guava trees, making them a bit of an ecological rarity. Rated a 94.6 out of 100 by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a pound of the brew would set you back about $104.

Island of St. Helena Coffee is next on the list, retailing for about $80 per pound. History buffs will recognize this as the island Napoleon was banished to, and while there he became quite taken with the coffee and sang its praises far and wide. At only 1/6th the cost of the elephant coffee for $50 a cup, it also comes with a much cooler origin story.

Finally, the current number five on the most expensive coffee list is the (by comparison) reasonably priced El Injerto from Guatemala at only $50 a pound. What it lacks in the subtleties of Black Ivory and civet coffee it makes up for in the "never part of a steaming log of dung" category.

What do you think? Think you would enjoy elephant coffee at $50 a cup? Or does any food that comes out of poop off limits for your palate? Let us know in the comments!

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