I think we can all agree that coffee is a luxury item. It is certainly seen that way by most economic analysts who spend a lot of time looking at how we spend our money. Coffee consumption is used as an indicator for economic growth – if we’re all drinking more coffee, we must be doing alright financially.
While there have certainly been numerous cold, dark mornings, usually in the middle of November, when coffee has certainly felt like a necessity rather than a luxury, I do realise how lucky I am to be able to afford great coffee and new and exciting ways to make coffee. It gives me pleasure, and I would consider drinking coffee a hobby of mine, rather than just a way to keep going.
Even I, though, as a self-confessed coffee nerd, occasionally get to the point of gasping in amazement at some of the money that gets spent on coffee. Some of the coffee available, from all corners of the globe, cost eye-watering amounts – certainly not the sort of money you or I would spend at our local café.
I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of these coffees. I should stress at this point, however, that these are not reviews – unfortunately the budget for this site does not cover spending this kind of money (maybe we should start a justgiving page…?). This is just a quick look at some of the most expensive coffees available – you may be surprised by the amount that involve animal excrement!
Why Are Some Coffees Very Expensive?
Before we take a look at some of the most expensive coffees available today, it might be a good idea to briefly look at why some coffees are so expensive. Oh, and I should stress, I’m not talking about the type of expensive coffees where you have to pay over £4 for a bang average latte in a service station! No, I mean some of the world’s most rare and exotic coffees – the sort that might have you paying £20-£30 PER CUP!
You see, coffee is quite a lot like wine. Just like grapes, you can grow beans in many different areas all over the world. They all have varying climates and growing conditions, and all produce different tasting beans, which can then all be put through varying processes (more on that later), to produce very different drinks. Like any commodity, the more rare it is, and the more ‘desired’ it is, the more expensive it becomes.
The genetic makeup of a coffee plant counts for an awful lot. Certain plants produce a distinctive flavour of coffee bean, which is difficult to replicate (which feeds into the ‘rare’ aspect) and this can influence the cost.
As I alluded to earlier, another key contributing factor towards the cost of coffee is exactly how it is produced. There are many exotic coffees around today that have been eaten and then, well, excreted by certain animals. Other than the novelty value, this can produce a taste profile that is revered the world over. The problem is, of course, with supply. It is a much more difficult process to manage than simply planting some seeds! This all adds to the high price of some of these coffees.
(I would just like to point out at this stage that this is not the case for all animals, so please don’t try sneaking a load of coffee beans into your dog’s dinner and search through their business a bit later – I think you will be very disappointed!).
Anyway, with all that clear, let’s take a look at some of the most expensive coffees in the world today.
El Injerto Peaberry
The El Injerto farm is in Guatemala – it was first owned by Jesús Aguirre Panamá in 1874, and to this day is still owned and run by the third and fourth generations of his family. It is located at an incredibly high altitude, reaching 1920m above sea level in some parts. These unique conditions enable them to grow some pretty unique plants.
Coupled with their attention to detail and growing methods, the climate and humidity create a wonderful environment to grow some fabulous coffee beans. While they have many different varieties that definitely fall into the ‘expensive’ category, the peaberry really caught my attention.
Peaberry coffees are usually considered a speciality, and have a price to reflect that. Basically, a peaberry is grown when a natural mutation takes place during the growing process. Where usually a coffee cherry will contain two coffee beans, a peaberry comes from a cherry that only grows one. They are usually smaller than a regular bean, and don’t have the flat side – they are much more rounded. They generally produce a sweeter, more flavourful tasting coffee.
This one is no different – it is bursting with citrus fruit and floral flavours. It’s incredibly lively with a crisp, clean finish and will set you back about £50/lb.
Next up we’re going to try out another incredibly rare coffee bean that you may have heard of – The Esmeralda Geisha (sometimes spelled Gesha). These are beans that originate in the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia, but were taken over to Costa Rica in the 1950’s and grown there.
It is another plant that thrives in high altitude, and, after limited success, was eventually tried out in Panama’s highest peak – Volcan Buru. This did the trick and by 2004 it had won the coveted The Best Of Panama prize, which has been described as ‘like The Oscars for coffee’.
It is incredibly difficult to grow. It needs the perfect conditions, and it needs to be harvested at exactly the right time. If you get this right though, you have a wonderful coffee on your hands – packed with delicate aromas and flavours, from rose and jasmine to lime and papaya. The Specialty Coffee Association regularly rate the quality of various coffees – Geisha has never scored below 90 out of 100.
Price wise, if you were to travel to Panama to sample this, you could be drinking it from as little as £7 a cup in a coffee shop. In the UK, though, you might be looking at £60 for a 125g tin.
Black Ivory Coffee
I know you’ve been waiting for it, so let’s finish this with a poo coffee. (Grow up!).
There is an elephant sanctuary in Thailand that looks after 15 elephants. Among their complicated and varied diets, all 15 elephants are fed some coffee cherries (100% Arabica that have been handpicked at an altitude of 1500m). Between 12 and 72 hours later, these beans reappear, having spent a little time being broken down by the elephant’s digestive system.
The beans are then retrieved, washed, raked and set out to dry in the sun. Only the intact beans are used, which means they can be sure of an even roast. All of this is done within the local community, with everybody getting paid a fair wage.
The result is something, that I am told, is out of this world. The digestion process of the elephants takes away all of the bitterness, but seems to enhance the flavour. It’s as smooth as silk, but with a deep and fruity flavour and hints of chocolate and caramel.
It’s the type of thing you will talk about long after you have drunk it, if nothing else, just to tell the amazing story of how it gets produced. And to show off a little bit, as this doesn’t come cheap. You can buy directly from their website for £564/lb (five hundred and sixty-four pounds, per lb!).