Lonely Planet Writer

Exclusive US$13 a coffee made from elephant dung!

In a remote corner of Thailand, a 44-year-old Canadian entrepreneur has made a perfectly legitimately enterprise out of selling exclusive coffee beans.

Elephant coffee selling for $13 a cup in exclusive hotels in Asia
Elephant coffee selling for $13 a cup in exclusive hotels in Asia. Image by Fiona Henderson / CC BY 2.0

The reason for the exclusivity tag is that the beans have to go through the digestive systems of elephants before ending up being ground down to retail at  US$13 a cup. Blake Dinkin wanted to blend business with conservation – and help local employment prospects – when he struck on the idea of creating the world’s most expensive coffee beverage.

Elephants in Thailand digest coffee beans before they are picked up in their poops, cleaned and washed and then ground down to make exclusive coffee
Elephants in Thailand digest coffee beans before they are picked up in their poops, cleaned and washed and then ground down to make exclusive coffee. Image by Kieran Lamb / CC BY-SA 2.0

The New York Daily News reports that when the founder of Black Ivory Coffee suggested the idea to the local elephant riders, they thought he was mad. He resolved to make ‘elephant coffee’ from the time he discovered that they often ate coffee beans in the drought season of Southeast Asia. He was encouraged by the idea that he could team up with an elephant rescue group which was helping to save the animals from danger.

However Dinkin admitted that getting coffee from pachyderm poop was not as easy as he thought it would be. In fact it took nine years to finally get his business literally off the ground. He explained that the enzymes in the elephant’s stomach help the coffee beans marinate alongside the herbs and fruits the animal also consumes. In the 17-hour process of the beans’ journey through the animals’ digestive tracts, the acid manages to extract the bitterness from the bean.

Local employment gets a boost when the elephant riders’ wives collect the coffee beans from the elephant dung. They then have to wash and dry the beans in the sun. The process is time and food consuming as it takes 33 kilos of beans to make a kilo of coffee.

However, this is one case when scarcity helps with the exclusivity of the product. This year is their third successful harvest and Black Ivory have only managed to produce 150 kilograms of coffee. The good news is that at a whopping $1,880 per kilogram, or US$13 for an espresso-sized cup, it is a top of the range drink.

The Journal.ie reports that the brand will soon be available at high-end establishments in Paris, Zurich, Copenhagen and Moscow. For the moment, it is only available exclusively at luxury hotels in Asia, mostly in Thailand, but also in Singapore and Hong Kong.

German tourist, Barbara Schautz, described the beverage as “a unique taste” claiming she detected taste of caramel and chocolate in the brew. “It’s not bitter at all,” she added