The next time you feel like complaining about the cost of a cup of coffee, remind yourself that it could be worse. A lot worse; $500 per pound worse, to be exact.
When I wrote a column about civet cat coffee beans back in 2006, we were talking about $200 per pound coffee beans, at that time the world’s most expensive. Kopi luwak, the beans discussed in that column, are beans extracted from the droppings of civet cats, who eat the coffee cherries and expel the undigested beans in their droppings. Harvested, cleaned and roasted, the beans have a unique flavor and lack the bitterness of most coffee beans. Yes, I know it to be true because I had several cups of civet bean coffee and enjoyed every drop.
Now, however, another coffee has stolen the limelight and become the brew of the year, presently served only in exotic luxury resorts in places like Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. It won’t be long, however, before importers bring it here for our enjoyment and pleasure, if we can afford it, or don’t mind paying $50 for a small cup. What makes it so incredible, you may be asking?
Elephants. That’s right, these costly little beans have passed through the digestive systems of elephants, who eat the coffee cherries from especially cultivated Arabica coffee plants, then expel the beans in their dung. The wives of the elephant keepers dutifully collect the dung and extract the beans. They are then, of course, thoroughly washed and carefully roasted (the beans, not the wives), and by the time they’ve turned into liquid gold and poured into the cup of a tourist at one of those resorts, it will cost $50 or more. And you thought Starbuck’s was pricey!
According to Blake Dinkin, a Canadian who’s been dealing in civet bean coffee for several years, “when an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein in the coffee, which is what causes the bitterness present in most coffee beans and you end up with a cup that’s very smooth.” Mr. Dinkin now lives in Thailand and keeps a herd of 20 Thai elephants just to produce his coffee beans, which he calls Black Ivory.
Coffee connoisseurs wax poetic when describing the flavor of elephant bean coffee; “soft, mellow, exotic, rich” are but a few of the adjectives used in brochures advertising the new brew. One tourist, when asked about the cup she was drinking, said it had “something wild about it, something I can’t put a name on.”
How about “a hint of elephant dung.”
RECIPES: If you’re paying $50 for a cup of coffee, you definitely also want something very special to eat with it. These recipes are outstanding breakfast treats no matter what your coffee costs. What could better accompany a rich, mellow cup of coffee than a flaky, buttery jam-filled scone.
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
5 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup plus 3 T. heavy (whipping) cream
1/3 cup (approx.) raspberry jam (not seedless)
½ cup powdered sugar
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. Gradually add 1 cup cream, mixing until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a sheet of foil; pat to ½-inch thickness.
Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out scones (if you have a triangle-shaped scone cutter, use it). Gather scraps, pat to ½-inch thickness and cut out additional scones. Using a floured knife, cut each scone horizontally halfway through scones; fill with a generous teaspoon of jam (it will show at the edges). Transfer to a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until brown, about 18 min. Transfer to a rack and cool until still slightly warm.
In a bowl, mix powdered sugar with remaining 3 T. whipping cream, blending until smooth. Spread the glaze over the scones and serve. Makes 10-12.
For many years, I’ve loved occasionally having a slice of this lemony cake with my morning coffee. I use this recipe for both dessert and breakfast “coffee” cake and it works for both.
3 T. fresh lemon juice and finely grated zest of 3 lemons
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk, preferably low fat
3 large eggs and 1 egg yolk, at room temp.
18 T. (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 cups sugar
Have oven rack at lower middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with baking spray (cooking spray with flour), or brush pan with melted butter then dust with flour, knocking out excess flour
Mince the lemon zest to a fine paste (you should have about 2 T.). Combine zest and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside to soften, 10-15 min.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine lemon juice mixture, vanilla and buttermilk in a med. bowl. In a small bowl gently whisk eggs and yolk to combine.
In a stand mixer with flat beater, cream butter and sugar at med.-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 min.; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Reduce to med. speed and add half the eggs, mixing until just incorporated. Repeat with remaining eggs; scrape down bowl again. Reduce to low speed; add about 1/3 of flour mixture followed by half the buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Repeat, using half the remaining flour mixture and all the buttermilk mixture. Scrape down bowl; add remaining flour mixture. Mix at med.-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold the batter once or twice with the rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
Bake until top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-50 min.
Make a glaze: Whisk together 2 T. of the lemon juice, 1 T. buttermilk and 2 cups confectioners’ sugar until smooth, adding more lemon juice gradually as needed until the glaze is thick but pourable. When cake is done, allow to cool on a wire rack set over a baking sheet for 10 min., then invert cake directly onto the rack. Pour half the glaze over the warm cake and let cool for 1 hr. Pour remaining glaze evenly over top of cake and continue to cool to room temp, at least 2 hrs. Cut into slices and serve.
Note: You can dress this up with sweetened raspberries or blueberries. The cake is light and fluffy the first day made, but wrapped well and held at room temp. overnight, it becomes more dense, like pound cake. That’s when it’s perfect with your morning coffee, no matter the source.