Coffee is an important commodity—one that keeps the economies of countless countries alive and one that fuels the mornings of billions of people around the world. It’s a subject we have touched upon several times already, albeit one that typically takes a back seat to our guides on tea and herbs.
We recently wrote a guide to the most expensive teas in the world and decided that we should pay the same homage to the world’s priciest coffees. So, let’s take a look at these top-shelf javas and make you think twice the next time you bemoan the cost of a cup of coffee from your local chain.
Jamaican Blue Mountain = £50+ a pound
The Jamaican Blue Coffee is produced at an elevation of over 5,000 feet in the Jamaican Blue Mountains. It’s believed that this area was first settled by slaves escaping the plantations that dominated Jamaica during colonial times.
Known as Maroons, these settlers formed many of the Caribbean cultures and settlements that remain to this day and began the traditions that formed around Blue Mountain Coffee.
This region produces some amazing coffee thanks to the abundant rainfall and nutrient-rich soil, and these beans have proven popular all over the world.
Japan imports huge amounts of this coffee every year and is one of the biggest drinkers of Jamaican Blue Mountain in the developed world.
St. Helena Coffee = £50+ a pound
Napoleon was said to be a huge fan of this coffee, which is currently produced on the island of St Helena, where the great general was exiled. It is a premium product produced in relatively small batches, but the main reason the cost is so high is because it has to travel a long way before it makes it to your local supermarket.
St Helena is in the middle of nowhere, which is why the French leader was sent there after getting his wrists slapped. The island sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, over a thousand miles off the coast of Africa, making exports a huge ordeal.
Kopi Luwak = £100+ a Pound
Kopi Luwak is one of the best-known premium coffees in the world, one that has topped countless “most expensive coffee” lists, as well as countless lists devoted to the most unusual and most disgusting drinks.
Kopi Luwak is produced in Indonesia by cute little critters known as Asian palm civets. Part of the viverrid family, these creatures eat the beans and then defecate them. The digestion process helps create more complex flavours and makes the Kopi Luwak coffee what it is.
It’s basically a form of fermentation, albeit one that occurs within the animal’s digestive tract. The beans are eaten whole before being collected, cleaned, and roasted, leaving little trace of faeces by the time it makes it to your cup.
If the idea of drinking defecated coffee doesn’t put you off, maybe the plight of the animals will. These beautiful little creates are endangered right now because of a growing illegal wildlife trade. Poachers are hunting them for meat, to use as pets, and to produce Kopi Luwak coffee.
In the past, the beans were collected wild, but the increasing popularity of this drink means the poachers are capturing them, keeping them in captivity, and force-feeding them coffee beans all day.
Hacienda La Esmeralda = £450 a Pound
In 2017, a coffee auction showcasing the Best of Panama saw a specialty Hacienda La Esmeralda coffee fetch an impressive $601 per pound. At the time, this was the highest price paid for a green coffee, propelling this drink into the public conscious and making it the aspirational choice of coffee aficionados everywhere.
Hacienda La Esmeralda has won countless awards throughout the years. It is a super-premium coffee grown in the shade of guava trees on Mount Baru, Panama. It is said to possess an unforgettable and unbeatable taste.
Unlike some of the other products on this list, the Hacienda La Esmeralda is not produced by “unique” means and is simply a small batch, super high-quality coffee grown at high elevation in one of the best coffee regions in the world.
Black Ivory Coffee = £1,000 a Pound
Black Ivory Coffee has been called the world’s rarest and the world’s most expensive coffee. It is produced in Thailand, with elephants consuming and digesting Arabica coffee beans, before the resulting . . . product is gathered.
The digestion process is said to add a mellow flavour to the beans, creating an unusual and complex flavour profile. The manufacturers make no attempt to hide the complicated and somewhat disgusting process, as the name Black Ivory suggests.
The price of Black Ivory Coffee is said to be worth anywhere from £500 to £1,500 a pound. The problem is that when you do a google search for “Black Ivory Coffee”, you’re inundated with newspaper and blog articles discussing how expensive it is, as opposed to actual retailers selling it.
However, you can buy a small package of the product directly from the Black Ivory Coffee website for $100 (roughly £75) per 35-gram package. This neatly designed packaged is all black with gold text, looking as premium as the price tag would suggest.
But don’t expect that small package to last very long, as it contains enough for just four small cups of coffee, equating to nearly £20 a cup.
Bottom Line: Good Coffee, Sensibly Priced
You can get great coffee without breaking the bank or getting a shipment from halfway around the world. Consumers now have more choice than ever and can sample the very best beans from dozens of countries and hundreds of award-winning producers.
Many of the world’s most expensive coffees get their price tags because they’re produced in small batches or following some labour-intensive and elaborate process. It doesn’t mean they’re nicer—far from it. What’s more, as discussed about Kopi Luwak, some of them do serious harm to the local wildlife, economy, or population.
Shop smartly, don’t overpay, and stick with Fairtrade coffee when you can. At the time of writing, we don’t sell any coffee here at Shelgo Tea, but stay tuned, as that might change in the near future!