Nice work ... a mahout's wife jokingly holds a basket of beans below an elephant's tail. Photo: AP
BANGKOK: Coffee connoisseurs are rushing to pay $50 a cup as the wives of mahouts in northern Thailand eagerly wait to pick through piles of fresh elephant dung.
In a world first, coffee made from pure arabica beans are being slow cooked in the stomachs of a herd of 30 elephants, plucked 30 hours later from their dung, then washed and roasted.
No, the result is not a crap-puccino, promoted as ''good to the last dropping''.
Those who have tried Black Ivory Coffee say it tastes of ''milk chocolate, nutty, earthy with hints of spice and red berries''.
Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas, a luxury hotel group, is selling the coffee at its hotels in northern Thailand, the Maldives and Abu Dhabi. Business is brisk despite the price tag of $US1100 ($1049) a kilogram.
Correspondents from Bangkok have made the journey to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma, meet to witness the jumbo baristas at work and to sip the product.
''When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness,'' Blake Dinkin, a Canadian who has spent $US300,000 developing the brand told Associated Press. ''You end up with a cup that's very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee.''
The coffee beans, hand-picked by villagers on hillsides, stew together with bananas, sugar cane and other ingredients in the elephants' vegetarian diet.
The first batch of 70 kilograms has already sold out and Mr Dinkin hopes to produce six times that amount next year.
Black Ivory is not the first novelty coffee to hit the market in recent years. Coffee passed through civets sells for a similar price. In 2010 the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, raised eyebrows when he presented then prime minister Kevin Rudd with Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, during a visit to Australia.