GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Thailand ? In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is excreting some of the world’s most expensive coffee.
Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new 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. Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world’s most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it’s also among the world’s priciest. For now, only the wealthy or well-traveled have access to the cuppa, which is called Black Ivory Coffee. It was launched last month at a few luxury hotels in remote corners of the world ? first in northern Thailand, then the Maldives and now Abu Dhabi ? with the price tag of about $50 a serving.
world ? first in northern Thailand, then the Maldives and now Abu Dhabi ? with the price tag of about $50 a serving.
The Associated Press traveled to the coffee’s production site in the Golden Triangle, an area historically known for producing drugs more potent than coffee, to see the jumbo baristas at work. And to sip the finished product from a dainty demi-tasse. In the misty mountains where Thailand meets Laos and Burna, 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 $300,000 developing the coffee. “You end up with a cup that’s very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee.”
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.
Jokes aside, people are drinking it. Black Ivory’s maiden batch of 70 kilograms (150 pounds) has sold out. Dinkin hopes to crank out six times that amount in 2013, catering to a customer he sees as relatively affluent, open-minded and adventurous with a desire to tell a good story.
For now, the only places to get it are a few Anantara luxury resorts, including one at the Golden Triangle beside the elephant foundation.
At sunset one recent evening in the hotel’s hilltop bar, an American couple sampled the brew. They said it surpassed their expectations.