Elephant Poop, Civet Droppings: What Goes Into Luxe Coffees?
Image Credit: 'Elephant-refined' Black Ivory coffee beans. Via Wikimedia Commons

COFFEE. With over two billions cups consumed around the globe daily, this caffeinated beverage is much more than a tonic for sleep-deprived mornings, or an accessory hastily grabbed at an espresso bar to cope on frenetic days. Along with tea and beer, coffee is a bonafide social lubricant that has been a part of the culinary canon for a staggering five hundred years. Coffee has historically enabled and fostered a culture of communal consumption. First cultivated and consumed as a beverage in the Ottoman Empire during the 16th Century, coffee spread like wildfire throughout the globe — across Europe, India and parts of Southeast Asia in the 17th century, then eventually to Mexico and Brazil in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Considering how ubiquitous coffee is in human lives, it is understandable why industry experts continue to experiment with cultivating the most premium coffee beans. If you are an elite coffee connoisseur, chances are you have heard about Black Ivory Coffee. For amateur caffeine addicts, this luxe variant of coffee is cultivated only in Thailand. A cup of this drink comes with a price tag of a whopping $50 (approximately Rs 4,100). What makes Black Ivory rank among the most expensive coffees in the world, you ask? Well, it comes from the hind side of — you guessed it — the friendly neighbourhood elephant. 

The idea behind using elephant poop is simple — as herbivores, elephants consume large quantities of fibres. At the Black Ivory farm, elephants are fed fruits like bananas, sugarcane and vegetables along with coffee cherries. During the process of digestion, the beans are infused with the fruitiness from the other components of the diet. Further, the gut enzymes break down the proteins in the coffee beans, thereby taking off its bitter edge and making it much smoother and finer in taste. With its bitterness eliminated, the coffee beans assume a nutty, chocolatey flavour. 


Only a few hundred kilometres away in Indonesia is produced Kopi Luwak, another poop coffee; this time, made with the droppings of civets. Coffee beans were introduced to Indonesia in the 17th century through trade, following which, coffee was widely consumed and cultivated in the country. Things changed with the early 19th century Dutch occupation of Indonesia, with colonists forcing local farmers to cultivate coffee on their own lands. But in true, exploitative colonial fashion, natives were disallowed from picking cherries for their personal use.

Unbound by the laws of servitude, the fruits of their labour were enjoyed by wild civets, who snacked on coffee cherries aplenty. Incidentally, some farmers identified civet droppings around the plantations containing partially digested coffee beans. They collected these beans, cleaned, roasted and brewed coffee in their homes. It is believed civets picked the best coffee cherries, which is why the coffee made from civet droppings was far superior in quality than regular coffee. 

Much like Black Ivory Coffee, Kopi Luwak comes with a hefty price tag; a kilogram of this variant coffee may cost up to $1,000 (Rs 82,000 approximately).

The glossary of strange coffee doesn’t end with elephant and civet turd. In Taiwan, coffee beans chewed up and spat out by Formosan rock monkeys is considered a delicacy. It is said that the saliva breaks down the beans and imparts them with a vanilla and citrusy flavour. Closer home, in Chikmagalur, Monkey Spit Coffee or Monkey Parchment coffee is produced in a similar way, by foraging coffee beans eaten and spat on by rhesus monkeys. Similarly in Brazil, coffee beans are extracted out of Jacu bird droppings. 


Coffee aside, the digestive powers of elephants are being harvested by other industries too. Japan, for instance, has concocted their version of a beer from excreta coffee. The beer, called Un, Kono Koro, gets its name from unko, the Japanese word for excrete. The beer is made in small batches to maintain its exclusivity. Reportedly, the company sold out every last bottle of beer on the first day of sale itself, with patrons lauding its refined, sweet taste. 

Meanwhile, a couple in South Africa is responsible for manufacturing elephant dung infused gin. Indlovu Gin, as it's called, is supposed to have woody and earthy notes. Each batch of the brew has a distinct flavour and aroma. This is because the raw material for the gin, the dung, is heavily reliant on what the elephant is consuming. 

Because of its high fibre content, elephant poop is also used to make recycled paper. This eco-friendly product can potentially eliminate the need for wood pulp paper, and consequently prevent large scale deforestation. 

In India, elephant dung is a highly sought after ingredient. Many rural families in Karnataka use it as a medicine for post natal care and high fever, and elephant dung cakes also serve as excellent mosquito repellants. In 2018, Karnataka allegedly suffered from an elephant dung shortage as people thronged in markets to get their hands on this miracle ingredient. 

The digested coffee culinary trend has come under the scanner a few times in the recent past, specifically civet coffee, with conservationists questioning whether such consumption trends hamper the wellbeing of animals. Reports suggest that many farmers keep civets in captivity, and force feed them coffee berries as means to bolster production. Despite criticisms though, coffee aficionados swear by this exotic brew for their caffeine fix. As they are wont to say, 'sip' happens.