Fancy an 'elephant dung' coffee? Visit Macau to taste most expensive beans in the world
Adventurous visitors to Macau line up to try unusual beans costing US$1,500 a kilogram
Whether its description involves an expletive that has to be deleted or it is hailed as God's gift to caffeine aficionados, "elephant dung" coffee is the most expensive cup on the planet.
Also known as black ivory, it costs US$1,500 a kilogram, easily exceeding the price of its similarly processed cousin, kopi luwak, or civet coffee, which ranges in price from US$500 to US$1,000 a kilogram.
And the ferry trip to Macau - the only place where you can try this coffee in China - will cost you less than the drink, which will set you back 488 patacas for 35 grams - plus service charge.
The labour-intensive process behind the coffee starts with orphaned elephants in Thailand. They are fed Thai Arabica coffee berries, which are them collected from their faeces after a period of "natural fermentation".
Kopi luwak is created in the same way, using the Asian palm civet.
Just 200 kilograms of elephant dung coffee are produced every year, as it takes 33 kilograms of coffee berries to yield just 1 kilogram of the coveted stuff.
The final product supposedly has aromas of dark, nutty chocolate and tastes of cherry and tobacco.
MGM Macau started selling the coffee this month and it will be the exclusive distributor for China until May.
Staff at MGM Macau's Grand Praca Cafe, where the coffee is served daily between 1pm and 8pm, said that since it was added to the menu, there were one to two orders every day.
"Usually a group of three or four might come and try it," one of the staff said. "Mainlanders like their coffee and want to try it because it is so special."
The hefty price tag will buy you a few minutes of table-side theatre, with the coffee beans, vacuum sealed in individual pouches, being freshly ground by hand before being processed using a Vienna-style siphon with water heated by an open flame.
Branded as a "delicacy", the coffee is also available in select five-star resorts in Thailand, Malaysia and the Maldives. At MGM Macau, it is also served in the VIP gambling rooms.
Details of how the delicacy is being received are akin to state secrets, with an MGM Macau spokeswoman refusing to divulge how many cups are being sipped or how many of the beans have been ordered.
The caffeine craze is not confined to Macau.
In Hong Kong, the number of coffee outlets has soared in the past five years, with palates becoming more sophisticated as boutique cafes offer more than your simple latte.
They include Kafema, a Russian brand that opened in Wan Chai in January.
Also in Wan Chai is Amical, a small first-floor space that sells about 50 cups of a boutique brew a day. The cafe is run by property investor Queenie Tse, who bought a two hectare coffee farm in Cameroon in 2011 in the hope of cashing in on the latest beverage craze.
Travellers are also pickier when it comes to coffee, said Markus Schueller, Asia-Pacific vice-president, food and beverages, of Hilton Worldwide. "The days of providing guests with a choice of black or white, with or without sugar, in a thermos flask are long gone," he said, and some of the hotel chain's rooms now had Nespresso machines.
A world of difference in the price and taste of a cup of coffee
Can you tell the difference between a cup of coffee costing hundreds of dollars and one going for just HK$11 from the corner store? Post journalists Chris Graham, Patrick Boehler and Amy Nip took a blindtest of four brands: a cup from Starbucks costing HK$27; Maxim's HK$11; MGM Macau elephant dung/Black Ivory 488 patacas plus 10 per cent service charge; and Café Corridor, Causeway Bay, HK$30.
Starbucks - Aroma
Chris: bland, smells rubbish
Patrick: no aroma
Amy: smells like bitter gourd
Starbucks - Taste
Chris: bitter, like instant coffee
Patrick: uninspiring, not great; the one at 7-Eleven is better, tastes better than Starbucks
Amy: just bitter
Starbucks - Price I would pay
Amy: can I not pay for this one?
Maxim's - Aroma
Chris: no coffee smell; generic
Patrick: no smell, could be old hot water
Amy: just normal
Maxim's - Taste
Chris: bitter aftertaste, like an average Starbucks
Patrick: not great, something you order for a caffeine hit
Amy: milder than the first one, not as bitter, bean not deeply roasted
Maxim's- Price I would pay
Elephant - Aroma
Chris: Chocolatey and nutty, like milk chocolate and hazelnut
Patrick: very different; smells like chocolate
Amy: like Chinese medicine, sweet herbal tea
Elephant - Taste
Chris: I like the smell more than the taste; very different, too sweet
Patrick: It's not coffee, it's something else, not something to enjoy; too sweet
Amy: sour like Caffe Kenon coffee; full-bodied
Elephant - Price I would pay
Amy: HK$50 to $60
Café Corridor - Aroma
Chris: smells like good coffee, like the type I would make at home with a cafetiere
Patrick: it's more like what I'm used to; smells like good coffee
Amy: not much aroma
Café Corridor - Taste
Chris: better than the first two; this is what I would drink
Patrick: good; this one has a bitterness that coffee is meant to have
Amy: stronger than the second one; it's not negatively bitter
Café Corridor - Price I would pay
NB: Elephant dung coffee was reheated on a stove top 18 hours after being siphoned