A woman in northern Thailand - where elephant dung originated - sifts through elephant dung for coffee beans. Pic: AP.

A woman in northern Thailand – where elephant dung originated – sifts through elephant dung for coffee beans. Pic: AP.

In somewhat nauseating news, Vietnamese coffee and tea producers have announced that they are developing bird-saliva and elephant dung coffee.

The bird-saliva coffee will be made using bird’s nests – a common, and expensive, delicacy in Asia. The nests, which are made by swiftlets, are generally consumed in a soup. However, in a bid to grow the appeal of the nests, they are now being mixed into other products, such as coffee.

Bird’s nests are big business in Asia, generating US$5 billion in sales in 2014. However, whether these products can take flight globally remains a big question given that the taste is one that many may find unusual, especially if they are told what it is made from first. Vietnam has a number of bird’s nest producing facilities and producers are keen to take advantage of developing gustatory trends.

Elephant dung coffee originated in Thailand in 2012 and is one of the world’s most expensive coffees (possibly due to the short supply, despite the best efforts of the elephants) – some sellers charge as much as US$50 per cup. Elephant dung coffee follows on the trend of other fecal coffees such as the similarly expensive Kopi luwak, which is made from the feces of the Asian Palm Civet – a small cat-like creature.

Vietnamese elephant owners have now begun feeding their elephants high-quality coffee cherries. The cherries are then “processed” through the elephant’s digestive system and deposited in a lump of dung at the other end. Producers estimate that they are able to get around five kilograms of beans from each lump of dung. Perhaps it is not long before “lump of dung” becomes a common measure word? The beans are then dried in the sun before being washed, roasted, and ground.

Those lucky enough to have tasted the elephantine brew describe the experience as fragrant and buttery, as well as chocolaty (this correspondent refuses to let himself think about what this may remind him of).

Vietnam is currently the world’s leading exporter of robusta coffee, earning US$3.62 billion from coffee exports in 2014. Could your local coffee shop soon have available bird-saliva and elephant dung coffee? I will be sticking to tea for the foreseeable future just in case.