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Nathan Hansen's column: 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.

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.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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