Nathan Hansen’s column: A cup of coffee you’ll never forget

A few years ago I used this column to bring
you, my readers, word of what was then the most expensive coffee in the
world. Called Kopai Luwak, it was made from beans that had been eaten,
digested and excreted by a small furry creature called the civet.

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The
theory, so far as I can tell, is that as the beans pass through the
digestive tract of the civet they are magically treated by tiny,
highly-caffeinated elves that imbue them with rich, smooth flavor and a
chemical that makes people forget they are drinking turd coffee.

It was reportedly delicious. It would kind of have to be.

But
the coffee industry is filled with innovators. Something like 77
percent of the cost of every Starbucks latte goes to fund a high-tech
research lab located deep in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. That’s
what I read on the Internet, at least.

Without that kind of
endless drive for some new and better way to caffeinate the world, we
would never have frappuccinos or pod-based coffee makers or seasonal
beverages that taste inexplicably like pumpkin.

Without it, we
would certainly not have the new most expensive coffee in the world, a
drink that exists because someone, somewhere looked at Kopai Luwak and
said, “That’s great and all, but could it be grosser?”

In fact it
could. Which is why we now have something called Black Ivory, which is a
fancy name for coffee made from beans pooped out by an elephant.

No
offense to the elephant, but it’s not the most handsome of mammals. On
one highly unscientific scale it ranks behind the platypus but ahead of
the rhinoceros and Steve Buscemi. The civet isn’t exactly a supermodel
either, but it has a certain fuzzy charm. It looks a little bit like a
possum crossed with a bear crossed with John Travolta.

More
important, the civet has relatively dainty little droppings. Based on
the pictures I’ve just found online — certainly not my proudest
Google-search moment — they look kind of like Salted Nut Rolls.

Consider that the next time you’re looking for a snack at the gas station.

Elephant
flop is somewhat less modest. It’s like what a horse might produce if
that horse was the size of a front-end loader. And somewhere in
Thailand, people provide for their families by rooting through piles of
it search of these particular magic beans.

According to a recent
story by National Public Radio, Canadian entrepreneur Blake Dinkin has
bet big on Black Ivory. He says whatever science or magic happens in an
elephant’s oversized tummy gives the beans a unique, mellow taste like a
cross between coffee and tea. He is sure that taste can take the world
by storm. Even at a cost of $70 per cup.

“I wouldn’t spend 10
years and put my life savings on this if I didn’t think it’s for real,
or I thought it was just going to be an overnight gag,” Dinkin told NPR,
not realizing “gag” is probably not the right image to put into the
minds of his potential customers.

Maybe he’s right. I don’t think
I’ll ever really understand connoisseurs. I don’t drink coffee, but I
like good beer. I’ll never drink something with a Lite in the name. But
you’ll also never catch me waxing rhapsodic about notes of oak or a
fragrance of leather or a fuzzy mouth feel or whatever fancy beer geeks
get all worked up about.

I’ll also never drink a beer made from
hops that have been digested by an orangutan, or grain collected from
bat guano. There are plenty of good beers that trust me to do the
digesting on my own.

Maybe Black Ivory really is best thing out
there. Maybe the secret to the perfect cup of java isn’t in the roaster
or in the fancy coffee machine so much as it’s in a pachyderm’s rear
end.

I don’t expect to ever find out, though. Frankly, I think the whole thing smells funny.

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