What if I told you the most expensive coffee in the world was $160 per pound and has gained extreme popularity all over the world? The price tag is shocking enough, but wait until you hear how it’s processed.
Coffee has been linked to decreases in diabetes, parkinson’s disease, liver damage and also protects against gallstone disease. A daily cup of coffee is enjoyed by billions, however most have never tasted a coffee like this.
Luwak Coffee, also commonly referred to as civet coffee, is not only because of its extremely expensive price tag but because of its uncommon means of production. This particular type of coffee is produced from the coffee beans that have been consumed from animals like elephants. Similar coffees have been produced with civets and the mongoose. Before it can be processed, the coffee beans first have to pass through the digestive system of these animals. From there, production can begin. So you’re basically consuming coffee that has been processed through poop.
In the lush hills of northern Thailand, herds of elephants excrete some of the world’s most expensive coffee. Trumpeted as earthy in flavour and smooth on the palate, the exotic brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee’s unique taste.
The coffee’s creator cites biology and scientific research to answer the basic question: Why elephants? ‘When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness,’ said Blake Dinkin, who has spent more than $300,000 developing the coffee. ‘You end up with a cup that’s very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee.’
The processing is labour intensive. Pure Arabica beans are hand-picked by hill-tribe women. The coffee cherries are mixed together with fruit and rice and then fed to the elephants. Once the elephants do their business, the dung is collected, and the coffee is picked out of the dung. After a thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then sent to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok.
The result is similar in civet coffee, or kopi luwak, another exorbitantly expensive variety extracted from the excrement of the weasel-like civet. But the elephants’ massive stomach provides a bonus.
Think of the elephant as the animal kingdom’s equivalent of a slow cooker. It takes between 15-30 hours to digest the beans, which stew together with bananas, sugar cane and other ingredients in the elephant’s vegetarian diet to infuse unique earthy and fruity flavours, said Blake Dinkin, the 42-year-old Canadian, who has a background in civet coffee.
Dinkin says: ‘My theory is that a natural fermentation process takes place in the elephant’s gut. That fermentation imparts flavours you wouldn’t get from other coffees.’
Elephants Don’t Absorb The Caffeine
‘My initial thought was about caffeine – won’t the elephants get wired on it or addicted to coffee?’ said John Roberts, director of elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants. It now earns 8 percent of the coffee’s total sales, which go toward the herd’s health care. ‘As far as we can tell there is definitely no harm to the elephants.’ Before presenting his proposal to the foundation, Dinkin said he worked with a Canadian-based veterinarian that ran blood tests on zoo elephants showing they don’t absorb any caffeine from eating raw coffee cherries.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.