What is it like to try the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee?

Few hotels offer a better — or more expansive — look at the
life of the rich and famous than the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto.
Home to a sprawl of contemporary bars and lounges housed inside
a sleek glass façade, patrons of the Ritz wear $1000 Balenciaga
sneakers as casually as the rest of us wear Birkenstocks. But
while there is no shortage of options at the hotel, the coffee
menu is among its most intriguing offerings.

Known as the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world,
Black Ivory Coffee is served at the lobby bar. Even in our
increasingly sophisticated coffee culture (everyone from
Starbucks to Second Cup has started offering a decent selection
of single-origin brews), Black Ivory Coffee continues to stand
out for both novelty and flavour. It’s made from part-digested
coffee cherries eaten and defecated by Thai Elephants in the
Chiang Saen district of northern Thailand. Thanks to a
plant-based diet rich in bananas and fresh tamarinds, the
elephants’ natural digestive enzymes are said to break down
coffee proteins, ultimately removing bitterness from the beans.
The resulting coffee boasts a light, tea-like aroma and a
smooth, chocolatey finish.

Ivory Coffee founder Blake Dinkin (R) feeds an elephant a coffee
bean mixture at an elephant camp at the Anantara Golden Triangle
resort on December 9, 2012 in Golden Triangle, northern
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The appearance and caffeine content are roughly the same as any
old cup of joe. But nothing else about the experience is
comparable to your average trip to Starbucks. It begins with a
coffee attendant pouring fresh grounds into a
19th-century-style royal balancing syphon coffee maker. The
contraption, which resembles Aladdin’s genie lamp more than it
does a standard coffee maker, boils water to a precise 93
degrees before syphoning it into a glass chamber. The brewing
coffee sounds like delicate applause as it simmers table-side.
After a moment, it’s poured into a branded brandy snifter
emblazoned with a gleaming black ivory elephant and served.

Any apprehension one might have over the process that the beans
undertakes fades quickly, because at this point, it’s too late
to turn back. If you’re expecting a manure-like aroma as I was,
prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The coffee leaves an
intoxicating scent of rich caramel and cocoa, with a flavour
that’s equally appealing, offering a touch of sweetness
balanced by savoury earthy notes reminiscent of quality black
tea or homemade vegetable stock.

As the elixir cools, its taste grows sweeter, allowing a
familiar dark chocolate flavour to shine. But despite its rich
character, each sip leaves no aftertaste. Instead of coffee
breath, expect your mouth to feel like you’ve sipped straight
from an Icelandic glacier as you go on about your day.

Even better is that 8 per cent of Black Ivory Coffee sales
support The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a
non-profit charity that improves the welfare of wild and
captive elephants. The company also supports Thai workers,
paying competitive wages that allow staff to earn the
equivalent of a day’s wage for less than an hour of work.

At $50 a serving, Black Ivory Coffee will obviously never
replace your standard double-double. And yet, the
elephant-assisted coffee is about more than just caffeine — it
offers a unique experience in the heart of downtown Toronto.

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