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Morning Eye Opener: Elephant Dung Coffee

Hot & Cool Food Trends

In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is excreting some of the world's most expensive coffee. As reported in the U.K.’s The Telegraph, the java is 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.

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 process is labor intensive. Pure Arabica beans are hand-picked by hill-tribe women from a small mountain estate... the coffee cherries are mixed together with fruit and rice, and fed to the elephants.

Once the elephants do their business, the wives of elephant mahouts collect the dung, and break it open and pick out the coffee.

(Now, there’s a job I wouldn’t want.)

After a thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then sent to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok.

“My theory is that a natural fermentation process takes place in the elephant's gut. That fermentation imparts flavors you wouldn't get from other coffees,” says Dinkin. As for the coffee's inflated price, Dinkin half-joked that elephants are highly inefficient workers. It takes 33 kilograms of raw coffee cherries to produce one kilogram of Black Ivory coffee. The majority of beans get chewed up, broken or lost in tall grass after being excreted.

If you're interested in purchasing some of this special brew, well, you'll have to wait for a while. Black Ivory's maiden batch of 70 kilograms (150 pounds) has sold out. Dinkin hopes to produce six times that amount in 2013. For now, only the well-healed or well-travelled have access to 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 nearly $50 a serving. I wonder if customers were told where the coffee came from.

You can read the complete original story in words and photos here.

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