The Good Life

No Ordinary Bean

Spit, dung and more — these expensive coffees are not for the faint-hearted  

The Indian bean

The first sip tastes almost like a regular cup of Joe — it's earthy, smooth but minus the usual bitterness. In fact, it tastes so unique that no one can pinpoint for sure its complex flavours. Some say it even has a hint of chocolate or fruity taste. Wonder what kind of coffee this is? Considered one of the most expensive coffees in the world,  the secret ingredient behind this coffee might make you reconsider your love for the drink. This famous brew called Kopi Luwak or civet coffee is made from the faeces of civet cat and has its roots in Indonesia. Don't be surprised, because cat poop coffee is just one of the many new trends in the coffee industry.

Civet cats have a natural tendency to roam around in coffee plantations. More often than not, they pick on coffee cherries — the perfectly ripped ones of the lot. These coffee cherries are picked by civets for the fleshy pulp of the beans. During the digestion process, a unique fermentation process occurs, such that after passing through the civet’s intestines, the beans are defecated with other faecal matter. While this might just be faecal matter for some, others consider this a treasure. Rajat Badami, founder and CEO of Kingsmen Coffee says, "The sale of this coffee is primarily outside India. There is demand for this coffee in the US and many European nations." But the process doesn't end at collecting cat poop, argues Badami. He says, "Identifying the civet's faeces, handpicking it and then washing, drying and pounding is a long and tedious process. Since so much effort goes into making it, we sell this coffee at $600 a pound in Western countries."

On the other hand, Thamoo Poovaiah, managing partner of Ainmane brand of coffee, the first company in India to make Kopi Luwak prefers to keep the rates lower for Indian audiences. He says, "We have more than 235,000 acres of coffee plantations in India and we produce 40% of India's coffee. Since civet coffee is hard to obtain naturally, we can get only five to 10 tonnes of it per annum." Ainmane sells civet coffee for Rs.1,060 per 100gms.

While coffee made of litter selling for a few thousands might seem like an absurd concept, there is more to it. The brainchild of Thailand's Anantara Resort produces coffee straight from elephant dung. Known widely as Black Ivory Coffee, this unique product finds a place in the list of 'rare and expensive coffees of the world'. A single cup of this coffee is said to cost around $50. Its producer, Black Ivory Coffee Company, maks a very limited amount on an yearly basis, given that this natural process is time-consuming. Blake Dinkin, founder of Black Ivory Coffee is wants to keep the process a secret. He believes many people have mistaken the idea to be as easy as collecting elephant dung containing coffee beans.

Another special coffee with animal component is the monkey parchment coffee produced near Araku Valley.  The process of collecting beans is slightly different than the previous varieties. The monkeys, just like the civets, pick on the ripest coffee cherries. The difference being they eat only the flesh, but instead of swallowing the bean, they usually spit it out. The natural enzymes in their saliva give the coffee beans a tinge of acidity. Kunal Ross, founder and CEO of The Indian Bean says, "It is difficult to spot these spit beans in a forest, as compared to civet or elephant litter. A bite mark on a coffee bean is how we distinguish our beans." This makes the discovery process longer, but once collected, the beans are washed under running water and dried to ensure the consistent roasting. The Indian Bean's monkey parchment coffee costs around Rs.4,000/kg. These beans are collected around October, and what makes this coffee even more exclusive is its limited number of vendors in India. Coffee lovers are slowly warming up to the idea of artisan coffees, but it would be intriguing to see what new ingredient will join the list next.