No animals were harmed to make elephant bean coffee

Flickr/Bex Walton

No animals were harmed to make elephant bean coffee

Drinks

No animals were harmed to make elephant bean coffee

We may have told you recently that the biggest trend in your neighborhood coffee shop was very small, as in the tiny single-bean mutation that gives us the unique Peaberry coffee varietal. But small isn’t all that’s happening when it comes to trendy single origin, genetically mutated – seriously! – coffees. At the opposite end of the size spectrum, there’s an elephant in the freshly brewed, coffee-scented room. We’re talking about elephant bean coffee.

Oh no, this isn’t going to be one of those coffees that’s harvested from the waste of an animal, is it?

Not at all, although Black Ivory Coffee, whose beans are harvested from elephant dung is also very much a thing. We’re talking instead about elephant bean coffee, or Maragogype. There are no animals, and certainly no waste, involved in this one. Instead, “elephant bean” earns its moniker from the enormous beans grown from the enormous fruit on the enormous tree-like Maragogype coffee plant.

The Marago-what now?

The Maragogype plant or tree, sometimes spelled Maragogipe, is actually the common name of the Coffea Arabica L var. Maragogipe mutation. Just like peaberry mutation, which results in tiny, round, single -eed coffee cherries, maragogype is another genetic mutation. Named for the Maragogipe town in the Bahia region of Brazil, these coffee plants grow noticeably larger than normal arabica plants. Unlike the peaberry mutation, which causes somewhere between 5% and 30% of all arabica and robusta coffee plants to form single bean fruit interspersed among its normal bounty, Maragogype plants are unique in that they only produce their famed namesake fruit.

So what? What does the size of the plant have to do with my cup of coffee?

Quite a bit, actually. Elephant bean coffee requires specialized harvesting techniques on account of the fact the the Maragogype plant just behaves downright differently than most coffee plants. Rather than producing an endless bounty of fruit to be harvested, dried and eventually roasted off, Maragogype arabica plants don’t put out much coffee at all.

The plants require a specialized type of vertical farming in which few of the giant plants are given plenty of space far apart from one another to grow. Even when cultivated correctly, the trees produce very little fruit. And get this, once the giant cherries of the Maragogype plant are collected, they can’t just go through regular coffee machinery used to de-pulp the fruit, separating it from the pits within. Just like Peaberry fruit needs to be segregated from the greater cherry population, elephant cherries must also be processed with highly specialized machinery, lest the pits be crushed by the default sizings and settings of regular coffee processing equipment.

What’s the point then? This coffee sounds like a pain in the butt.

Elephant beans are no joke to cultivate and collect, that’s for sure. But when executed correctly, elephant bean coffee is prized as one of the world’s very best varietals. Much of that boils down to the higher sugar content within those giant beans. If rushed to market, elephant bean coffee can taste thin and almost hollow. But if the beans are given the proper time to dry, the coffee’s natural sugars explode in prominence in the final product.

What does it taste like?

One roaster says elephant bean coffee has “exquisite creaminess and rich flavors of cocoa, earth and easy sweetness.” Another claims the brew is reminiscent of tamarind, apricot jam and fresh tobacco. Finally, a third says elephant beans produce a coffee that coats your palette in brown sugar.” Truthfully, we’re down for any of those options.

While individual roasters may not be able to come to any sort of agreement on what exactly elephant bean coffee tastes like, everyone can agree on one thing: the taste is big. Huge. Elephantine.

How can I try it?

With interest in individual coffee varietals spiking among even casual coffee aficionados, everyone is trying to get their hands on elephant beans. But the slow-growing coffee is rare. In addition to the three roasters I linked to above, there are a number of online coffee specialty stores that have the long-established relationships with farmers necessary to guarantee a consistent flow of product. Try searching online if your local cafe doesn’t have a placard up boasting about their hard-won elephant beans. Or failing that, give Starbucks a shot. The world’s largest coffee company is known to push elephant beans in some of its bigger shops every now and then, and the beans are part of its Starbucks Reserve Nicaragua Maracaturra blend.

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