How far would you go for the perfect cup of coffee? A Canadian inventor in Thailand is betting a small fortune that his brew made from elephant dung, the world's most expensive cup of joe, is the next big thing in the world of coffee.
Deep in the jungles of Thailand's Golden Triangle is an elephant sanctuary where businessman Blake Dinkin is on the hunt for elephants that have just relieved themselves. For him, it is just another day at the office.
To the average person, it might seem a bit out there, but Dinkin is betting his "brew from No. 2" will take off.
"It's not a coffee that people are going to wake up late for work craving," he said. "This is a special, unique coffee that is for a minority of people who are open minded and adventurous, and want to try something different."
Different is what Black Ivory Coffee is all about.
Here's how it works. The coffee beans are grown on a remote mountainside in the sanctuary. Local villagers pick, wash and dry the beans, then feed them to the elephants, along with a mixture of rice, fruit and water. Anywhere from 15 to 70 hours later, the beans are ready to be recovered.
An elephant's digestive system supposedly breaks down the proteins of the coffee bean. Think of it as a natural slow cooker producing a taste like nothing else.
Currently, Dinkin only sells the coffee to high-end resorts where customers will to pay the steep price tag of $50 per serving. It is so rare that only 100 kilograms, or roughly 220 pounds, has ever been made. Next year, Dinkin plans to produce 300 kilograms, or around 660 pounds, more.
Thanks to a natural "waste" process, when elephants deposit the dung in places like rivers or deep fields that can't be recovered, it takes roughly 33 kilograms, or almost 73 pounds, of raw coffee cherries to produce a single kilogram of Black Ivory Cofee.
But even at $50 a serving, coffee drinkers at the sanctuary said, "Bottoms up."
"It's rich and it's smooth," said Mike Wilson of San Francisco.
The crap-punccino jokes aside, Dinkin said business is booming. He hires veterinarians to tend to the elephants and pays their mahouts, the local Thai villagers who take care of the elephants, a fair salary that includes free health care for their families.
"I'm out to make money, but I also want to make a difference," he said. "We operate in a transparent manner. Vets [who] are here to inspect the elephants are well taken care of. I've worked with food scientists, wildlife experts, picked the best sanctuary. It's all on my own money."
By the time the coffee beans are cleaned and roasted, the coffee tastes nothing like, well, dung. Instead, it has an earthy, nutty taste that is very rich and flavorful.
In the end, it may not even matter what Black Ivory Coffee tastes like. Part of the thrill is just to be able to say you have tried it.
And you know what they say: Good to the last dropping.