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.
Black 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 Thailand.
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.
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