Photo: Imaginechina Limited / Alamy Stock Photo
Among the unwritten rules about food—the cooking, eating and even writing of it—is that it should never overlap or coalesce with words like “poop”, “vomit”, or “digestive disorders”. There the outliers though. Take for example, the cutesy poop emoji which has broken the barrier somewhat, inspiring chocolate makers and confectioners alike. Then there are the Bengalis who dwell on matters of the gut and discuss biryanis and digestive remedies with equal vigour. However, by and large most in the food business adhere to this rule. Except when it becomes the stuff of science and gastronomy.
Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has provided a fair bit of fodder for meme generators and his recent video with Bear Grylls has turned the spotlight on a beverage with a scatological origin.
While elephant poop tea might be hard to stomach for some, it is not all that exotic as animal poop teas and coffees are not only a thing, but also regarded as gourmet foods and come with a price tag to match.
The science behind processing through poop, puke and saliva
The science behind this unique processing technique lends the bean and the final cup of coffee an unusual flavour. The coffee bean goes through the intestines of the animal in question, its digestive enzymes causing the proteins in the bean to break down and change in character. The partially digested bean extracted from the faeces or spat out remains after cleaning and further processing, yields a cup of coffee that is lower on acidity with a smoother finish. The trend took off after the success of the Indonesian kopi luwak or coffee made from the droppings of a civet cat and is an experiment that is being replicated with other animal excreta in coffee plantations across the world.
Here are some of the more commonly known variants of tea or coffee that are processed via the digestive tracts of animals.
This Indonesian variety of coffee made from the droppings of the civet cat dates back to the 19th century. However, a growing international demand post the 1990s, propelled civet poop coffee into the global limelight. The Asian palm civet which is indigenous to this region feeds on ripened coffee cherries and shits out the partially digested beans. These are then further processed and turned into a coffee which has a cult following across the world. Coffee plantations in Coorg, India, have also carried out similar experiments and created a variant called Ainmane which produces small quantities of this coffee made from wild civet droppings.
Flavour apart, the labour intensive process of gathering the beans has made this one of the world’s most expensive coffees. However, its popularity has had a less than happy outcome for the animal especially in Indonesia. Wild civet poop coffee is often supplemented by farms which cage the animals and force-feed them coffee cherries in order to meet the growing demand. Thanks to the campaigns by animal rights groups, retailers of repute are increasingly boycotting the farmed kopi luwak variants. This has led to a growing move towards a more sustainable wild alternative that will hopefully return the coffee to its original status as an expensive oddity.
Monkey parchment coffee
Monkey parchment coffee is another experiment that is taking off in India. The prevalence of rhesus monkeys in the forested coffee growing areas of the Southern and Eastern Ghats and their fondness for the sweet and ripe coffee cherries have led to a market for this coffee variant. In this case, the coffee bean is not extracted from the poop but comes from the spat-out remains of the cherries which contain the beans and a thin surrounding outer layer. The beans undergo a process of fermentation through the enzymes present in the monkey’s saliva which lends itself to a brew with unique flavours. Speciality brewer Araku Coffee is experimenting with this while the Indian Bean Company already has a variant out in the market.
Elephant poop coffee
In recent times, coffee from pachyderm poop is fast replacing kopi luwak as the world’s most expensive coffee. This coffee was developed by Candadian coffee expert Blake Dinkin whose company Black Ivory Coffee produces this variant in Thailand and is a sustainable initiative that works with local families who care for elephants. The animals are fed the coffee cherries and the digested beans are extracted from the poop and turned into a prized coffee. The coffee is made with only the beans that are excreted whole and this reduces the amount that can be collected at a time, making this a rare and time-intensive process. One kilogram of Black Ivory Coffee retails at $2000 (approx Rs 1,47,800) and often lands up at star hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants across the world.
Panda poop tea
This Chinese green tea is a bit of a misnomer as the tea is enriched with panda dung rather than extracted from the same. This special blend grown in the Ya’an region of the Sichuan province is grown with the help of tons of panda poop gathered from the nearby breeding centres. This all-natural fertilizer is rich in nutrients derived from the pandas’ bamboo-centric diet and this is an additional boost to green tea’s purported rejuvenating properties. This particular variant is currently retailing at an exorbitant $3,500 (approx Rs 2.5 lakhs) for 50 gms, making it the world’s most expensive tea.
Weasel puke coffee
This is more a local oddity rather than a rare processing technique and a de facto presence on listicles about strange coffees from around the world (including this one). There is a particular variety of weasel in Vietnam with a fondness for coffee cherries without the stomach to digest them. Greed gets the better of this creature and it often pukes out undigested remains of its feast. Locals extract the undigested beans from this mess, dry, process and brew them as a coffee which is supposed to taste rather fine.
Whatever turn of accident led to the this strange and bizarre poop coffee and tea , the resulting brew with its mellow and malty flavours is clearly here to stay.