Where do they come from? How do they taste? Are they worth the price tag?
Most people don’t think much about what goes into their morning coffee- content with a warm, energetic boost to get on with their busy days. Other people, however, very much look forward to experiencing their favorite coffee in all of its nuances. They take the time to savor every detail of the experience and eventually develop an authentic taste for identifying different coffee varieties, processing methods, and preparations. Coffee enthusiasts sometimes go to great lengths to discover the best coffee, some of them even willing to spend a significant amounts for a life-changing cup!
Let’s take a deep dive into the most expensive coffees from around the world. Are they worth the hefty price tag they carry?
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At a Glance:
Grown in a family-owned farm that was established as early as 1874, Finca El injerto is an organic blend processed in highland areas of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Since that time, the farm has been managed and passed down to the younger generation of farmers who have ensured that the quality of El Injerto coffee beans is consistent.
The farm occupies a vast area of 447 hectares. The high output from the farmland is attributed to the rich organic non-volcanic soil in the region, which is perfect for the cultivation of coffee beans. In particular, the soil on the farmland is well drained and regularly tested to ensure that the level of organic matter needed to promote cultivation of coffee beans is maintained. The plantation produces both Red Catuai and Bourbon Rojo Arabica coffee variety.
Finca El Injerto is one of the world’s most expensive and sought-after coffees. It has a sweet fruity, earthy taste with a hint of chocolate, a smooth but heavy body, and abuttery/milky texture with a pleasant aftertaste. However, this taste does depend on the season the coffee is grown in. This can be attributed to the changing climatic conditions all through the year, which have an impact on the soil in the coffee plantation. Finca El Injerto is also known to be one of the few premium coffee blends with low acidity. The aroma is quite pleasant, reminiscent of brown sugar, and honey-roasted peanuts, with a subdued sense of bitterness.
Finca El Injerto is often highly praised for its consistency across various brewing methods, meaning that it retains some of its core characteristics, even if you use different preparation processes, such as drip, pour-over, or espresso. However, other observers think its too simple and lacking complexity in its flavor for such a high price.
Which side are you on? If you like your coffee on the chocolate-y side, rather than on the more acidic, fruity side, Finca El Injerto might be for you.
At a Glance:
This is perhaps one of the most notorious examples of the world’s most expensive coffee. The history of Kopi Luwak can be traced to the Sumatra region, as well as Java, Bali, Sulawesi, and other areas of Indonesia.
During colonial times, a variety of Westerners ran coffee plantations in the area. As the story goes, locals who worked in the farms were not allowed to sample the coffee. Many people, who had worked with coffee for years, had never had the chance to taste the drink, and some of them really wanted to know what the fuss was all about! Some plantation workers noticed that a local animal, the civet cat, was actually eating coffee cherries, which would go through the animal’s intestinal tract only partially digested, and later expelled by the civet cats (the “pits” of these cherries, essentially). Somebody must have tried to scoop these beans out and brewed coffee out of them. The word quickly spread and the coffee became particularly sought-after because of the flavor. Kopi Luwak has significantly reduced bitterness compared to normal coffee, distinguished its hallmark mellower, more floral texture, reminiscent of black tea.
Although many people often praise the unique taste of Kopi Luwak, many industry insiders consider it to be a gimmick, or a novelty product at best, claiming that the product is more fascinating and appealing because of its storied background than because of its actual flavor.
Some people might mistakenly think that Kopi Luwak is a coffee varietal, but it is a specific form of processing, as previously noted. In its most traditional form, it is so expensive that prices often range from 500 to 700 dollars per kilogram.
Kopi Luwak has received a lot of hype and publicity in recent years, making demand for it soar throughout the world. Unfortunately, in an attempt to supply the rapidly increasing demand, many producers began to treat civet cats inhumanely- keeping the cats in cages, force-feeding them coffee in captivity to increase output.
For this reason, we would generally discourage trying Kopi Luwak. However, it is possible to find producers who sell Kopi Luwak in its more traditional form with humane practices- but at a high price.
At a Glance:
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee can be traced back to 1728 when production started in the Blue Mountains region of Jamaica. Coffee usually thrives at moderately high altitude, and the Blue Mountains of Jamaica provide some unique conditions that make for exceptional coffee. The climate is temperate, but also with a lot of humidity. This makes for fertile soil and excellent drainage, preventing water pooling that would damage the plants. These conditions are ideal for any coffee producer!
Coffee production is rooted in Jamaican history and economy so much so that Blue Mountain Coffee is also used for the preparation of another local staple, “Tia Maria”- a delicious coffee liqueur reminiscent of the famous Italian liqueur “Borghetti”.
Jamaica Blue Mountain is highly sought-after because of its perceived lack of bitterness, as well as its mild, slightly fruity flavor. JBM is particularly prevalent in Japan- almost 80% of Blue Mountain Coffee exports end up on the Japanese market. What makes JBM even more special is that it is a highly regulated product with a protected certification mark, ensuring that only certified coffee from local producers from the Blue Mountain region can advertise their product as authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. The packaging of this product also carries a unique label, confirming its authenticity.
We did a deep dive into Jamaica Blue Mountain in a previous piece - click this Guide to Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee to read more.
At a Glance:
This little bag of beans will set you back $40 per pound. Although this may price may seem a little steep, this coffee is worth it.
Los Planes Coffee takes “single-origin” one-step further, cultivating all of the beans on a single farm in El Salvador. This is otherwise known in the coffee industry as “single-estate.” Single-estate coffee is increasingly sought-after by coffee connoisseurs because of its extremely specific flavor profile. So many different things influence how a coffee tastes, smells, and feels. Growing coffee on a single farm allows for the unique flavor and body of a particular coffee crop to be readily identifiable.
By Adam C. Baker - Originally uploaded to Flickr as Fair Trade, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5767543
The Los Planes coffee is well-loved around the world for its sweet butterscotch taste and refreshing tangerine twist. It is characterized by a medium body with lemon-like acidity and apparent sweetness. But unlike other acidic coffees, the flavor of Los Planes coffee is delicately balanced by the sweetness. There is also a hint of milk chocolate and nuttiness in the cup. The finish on the coffee has a shortbread cookie vibe with some baking spice notes. You can taste a little mango or pineapple as the coffee approaches room temperature – the finish and aftertaste have tropical notes. In a nutshell, the coffee is well balanced, and all the favors blend seamlessly to create a pleasant cup.
Los Planes Producers have garnered a variety of awards and honors for their coffee, including second place at the 2006 Cup of Excellence where it earned an impressive score of 93.52 points. Coffees that achieve a score of 90 points in the Cup of Excellence receive the Presidential Award – an honor very few coffees can brag of.
At a Glance:
Black Ivory Coffee shares a lot in common with Kopi Luwak- similar to the way Kopi Luwak is digested by civet cats, Black Ivory beans have an interesting journey. However, I’d suggest skipping this one if you have a weak stomach!
It all starts in Northern Thailand. Arabica coffee berries are eaten and digested by elephants. The cherries are mixed with the animal’s favorite food such as tamarind, banana, or rice, depending on their preference. The animals’ digestion process, taking up to 72 hours, breaks down the protein in the beans – giving them a unique and robust flavor profile. These berries are then harvested from elephant excrement and expertly roasted.
But how exactly does an elephant digesting coffee beans improve the taste profile of coffee? According to a study from Dr. Marcone of the University of Guelph, proteins are the main culprits for the bitterness in coffee; the denaturing of the proteins during digestion causes a reduction in bitterness. Additionally, fermentation in the elephant’s stomach helps in the extraction of the coffee bean from the fruit.
Also like Kopi Luwak, this coffee isvery expensive! A pound of Black Ivory Coffee will end up costing you over $1,000. If you want to try the coffee without spending big, you can enjoy a cup for $50 at specialty coffee stores.
Only 150 kilograms of Black Ivory Coffee are produced annually. According to the producers of the coffee, it takes up to 33 Kilograms of cherries to make a single kilogram of Black Ivory Coffee. Another reason why this coffee is so rare and expensive is because elephants often chew the entire berry, making it useless as a coffee bean, and also excrete in hard to reach places. This makes the whole harvesting process difficult and exhausting! Consequently, only a small quantity is produced every year, resulting in a higher price tag for this exotic delicacy.
The Black Ivory Coffee is arguably one of the most full-bodied and complex coffees available and is famous for its smooth profile and mellow tasting notes. The first sip of the coffee has fruity notes with hints of butter, leather, malt, and earth. Rather than bitterness, you can taste fresh grass on your palate. As the cup cools to room temperature, it develops an enticing chocolate-like aroma – it also loses the fruity aroma while the leathery notes become more distinct. Black Ivory Coffee has a delightful velvety aftertaste that lingers on your palate after every sip. Its finish is full of extended caramel and chocolate notes that leave you craving more! The acidity is well balanced, resulting in a smooth taste. This light taste (almost tea-like) is thanks to the enzymes in the elephant’s stomach that have broken down compounds in the bean causing bitterness. Whether you are a coffee expert or not, Black Ivory Coffee ranks top among the most distinctive cups of coffee you’ll ever taste. Unfortunately, this process just can’t be replicated with modern machinery.
As we previously noted, Kopi Luwak has a similar extraction process using civet cats that has unfortunately resulted in the civet being forced farmed to produce more of this expensive bean. Luckily, producers of Black Ivory Coffee have teamed up with a local Thai elephant sanctuary to harvest the coffee. Additionally, the profits from the sales fund the elephants' healthcare. So you can drink a great cup of coffee and help out elephants at the same time!
At a Glance:
This enigmatic and mysterious coffee varietal can end up costing over $100 per pound. The reason for this hefty price tag is because there is a small yearly supply of the beans: only 22 kilograms are harvested each year. All 22 kilograms come from a small collection of plants on a single farm in the heart of Colombia. Just like Los Planes Coffee (discussed above), this coffee is “single-estate.” However, the incredible story of the HR-61 doesn’t just stop there. The clue to its secret is actually in the name, and it’s a fascinating story.
The coffee producer, Oswaldo Acevedo, planted a selection of different plants on his farm. He quickly discovered that one of the plants was not a geisha varietal like he at first suspected. Instead, it was unclassifiable. Oswaldo has stumbled upon a new coffee plant! He named the coffee HR-61, after the specific lot the plant was grown on, and Hacienda El Roble after the name of the farm.
Additionally, the only roasting company that roasts and sells the coffee is Proud Mary’s, a roasting company and small-café in the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. However, Proud Mary’s doesn’t sell it by the cup. It’s too precious to be sold like regular coffee. If you want to taste this rare coffee, you can try it at a cupping session at the café. This will set you back up to $100 per 100g bag or $30 for a cup.
Experts in the coffee industry highly rate this coffee, so we think it’s worth making the special trip to Melbourne to try it out! The best coffee cuppers in the world have consistently rated the coffee in the low 90s, proving its superior quality and phenomenal status.
If ratings by coffee experts are not convincing enough, then its demand might convince you to seek the elusive HR-61 Hacienda El Roble coffee! In the 2018 Spring Auction by Grounds for Health, the coffee registered an auction record of $120.05/lb. It also recorded the highest number of bids (64) and earned its place as the highest-grossing coffee ($3121.30) in the auction.
Like other Colombian varieties, HR-61 is loved for its floral tasting notes and clean finish. It has a creamy body and lemon-lime acidity. There are undertones of milk chocolate and caramel. Expect to taste hints of grapes, green mango, and honey. To cap off the palate roller coaster, the coffee has a clean aftertaste that seems to linger on your tongue. If you are lucky enough to among the chosen few to sample the HR-61 Hacienda El Roble coffee, you’re in for a treat!
At a Glance:
These coffee beans have an interesting and colorful history. The two Ospina brothers, who allegedly escaped from prison, founded the company in 1835. The brothers founded the Ospina coffee farm together, and it ended up growing into the very first large-scale commercial coffee growing company.
The Ospina family are still involved today, along with three former Colombian presidents. Over time, this coffee brand became one of the most luxurious and sought-after coffee products in the world. Ospina Dynasty Gran Café Premier Grand Cru coffee is the cumulative accomplishment of lush land and five generations of coffee lovers.
The coffee is produced from scarce and rare Colombian Arabica Typica coffee trees, grown at a 7,500 feet altitude in the Antioquia province in Colombia alongside volcanic highlands in the undisturbed shade of the tropical forest. The coffee fruit is hand-picked, fermented, and sun-dried. The production on the Ospina farm is done in a manner rigorously protective of the environment, with a focus on protecting butterflies, birds, and bees– luxury coffee meets eco-friendly, sustainable practices.
The beans are famous for their balanced flavor profile, and exotic fruity tasting notes. The exquisite coffee has gained widespread accolades. The Global Luxury Robb Report even ranked the coffee as “The Best of The Best” after connoisseurs were thoroughly impressed by the unique notes.
This Arabica coffee has a balanced, creamy, velvety, vibrant, and bold body. Its complex and rich flavor bursts with notes of chocolate, coconut, berries, and macadamia. The complex and fruity aroma is reminiscent of peach, jasmine, almond, caramel, and orange. The aftertaste is fruity, crisp, clean, and undeniably refreshing – much like a sophisticated glass of wine. The Ospina Dynasty Gran Café Premier Grand Cru is a true luxury item. The exotic flavors and sweet aroma make the perfect cup of coffee.
These beans can cost between $150 per pound to $750, and if you want to indulge in Ospina luxury, it’s quite easy! Take a look at their online website. They have a diverse selection of beans and beautiful roasts available for purchase.
At a Glance:
Hacienda La Esmeralda delicious coffee beans are “single-estate” and cultivated in the lush region of Boquete, Panama. The berries are grown on heirloom Geisha trees 1,500m above sea level, under the natural shades of guava trees. A lot of care and attention has gone into growing these beans!
What makes this coffee stand out? Aside from being “single-estate,” the Hacienda La Esmeralda comes from the Geisha varietal of coffee. Just like apples, there are different sizes and shapes of coffee cherries. The Geisha or Gesha varietal of coffee is among the most sought after, and considered the most flavorful.
Hacienda La Esmeralda is one of the most awarded coffees in the world, lauded by connoisseurs and coffee experts around the world. It has won first place numerous times at a variety of different competitions including the Specialty Coffee Association of America, Best of Panama, and Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality.
The beans are also famous for their fresh citrus taste and tea-like profile. Nothing beats the distinctive Esmeralda Geisha aroma floating in the air with a cup of it warming your hands. The coffee has a little acidity and a citrus flavor that give it its characteristic lemon taste. At first, the Hacienda La Esmeralda strikes your palate with a penetrating floral sweetness. Afterward there are hints of peach, pomegranate, and strawberry. The light and fruity bath are capped off by a juicy and clean finish that will leave you yearning for more.
One of the reasons for its fame and high price tag is because the harvest is so small. The lucky roasting companies that get their hands on these raw beans will actually ration it year-to-year to their customers. Other determinants of its price include its unparalleled flavor, high labor cost, and short growing season. This unique and special coffee can cost over $100 per pound. However, many experts in the industry describe the Hacienda La Esmeralda as the most unique and distinctive coffee ever grown! Its delicacy and rarity in the coffee world make it a must-try for any coffee enthusiast or connoisseur.
At a Glance:
This incredible coffee is grown in Mataquescuintla, Guatemala at altitudes of between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The coffee was created by the world-renowned producer, Mr. Jose Roberto Monterroso. It’s not quite as expensive as others in this list, yet it still comes in at $44 per pound, which is quite a bit more than the average coffee bean on the market!
This coffee has a variety of accolades to its name, and it’s actually impossible to buy in most countries in the world. This is because it primarily gets auctioned to buyers in Japan and Taiwan, who purchase a significant amount of the crop each season. New Zealand is the nearest English-speaking nation that brews El Morito Pandora de Fatima. The rarity and exclusivity of this coffee makes it even more mysterious and tantalizing.
The El Morito Pandora de Fatima is known for its clean, heavy body and layered flavor profile. It has soft citrus notes and pleasant, balanced acidity. The dense mouthfeel has hints of sweet vanilla, walnut, caramel, jam, butterscotch, baker’s chocolate, and cherry. These cupping notes make the coffee an ideal addition to any expresso selection – if you can somehow manage to acquire it.
To actually try this coffee, you will likely have to travel to one of these countries to track down the roasters and cafes that sell it. However, the trip could be worthwhile!
At a Glance:
On a small island in the middle of the south Atlantic Ocean, a certain type of coffee plant flourishes. The original seeds came from Yemen in Africa, brought over in 1733 by an industrious individual who wanted to expand the range of green-tipped bourbon coffee bushes. Now, hundreds of years later, St. Helena coffee is one of the world's favorites. It has even earned a spotlight at Starbucks, one of the most prosperous coffee retailers in the United States.
How did it expand from this island to take over the taste buds of brew drinkers from around the world? The story of St. Helena coffee includes famous historical figures, a near-miss with industry destruction, and world-wide awards. In the end, the most important details about this unique coffee come from the people who enjoy a cup and give their glowing reviews.
What Is St. Helena Coffee?
The unique brew called St. Helena coffee earned the honor of being Coffee of the Year from SpillingTheBeans in 2013. This happened at the height of their bean production, which has unfortunately fallen off in the years since. Still, this particular coffee still wins awards. The UK's Guild of Fine Food bestowed 2 Gold Star Awards on it in 2018.
The origin of this cultivar came from the Bourbon coffee varieties grown in Ethiopia and Yemen. Over the centuries since its introduction to St. Helena island, it has transformed into something truly unique in the world. The combination of plants, environment, and climate work to develop a unique taste and aroma that coffee lovers the world over seek out and pay a premium price for. Pounds of beans can go for around $145 or more.
Where Does St. Helena Coffee Come From?
The island of St. Helena was first discovered by European sailors in the early years of the 1500s. The Portuguese used it as a base of operations and source of products for trade. It was not until 1733 that someone thought to import coffee seeds there. By that time, the island had changed hands from the Portuguese to the Dutch and finally to the English, who still control it today.
The only thing many people know about St. Helena is that Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815. By that time, the exceptional coffee was already being grown in various plantations. The historical figure was quoted as saying, "The only good thing about St. Helena is the coffee."
At the time, the East India Company owned the island itself. It is only about 120 square kilometers, but it was rich in exotic trade goods that many people wanted to trade. An East India Company ship picked up coffee seeds from a variety called Green Tipped Bourbon from the country of Yemen. They were planted around St. Helena in various plantations. The bushes thrived, and St. Helena coffee came into being.
Today, the farms use some of the same techniques to grow, harvest, and process the beans as they have for many years. For example, most of the beans are harvested directly by local people. They are washed in bathtubs, dried in the sun, and sorted by hand after going through the small-scale machinery. Although not as popular as it once was, St. Helena coffee is seeing more modernization that may lead to an upsurge once more.
Why is St. Helena Coffee so expensive?
While the history may spark interest in the island of St. Helena itself, and coffee aficionado Napoleon's comments fan it into a flame, the real measure of any cup of coffee is how it tastes. Why are people so willing to pay considerable amounts for a basic bag of beans?
First of all, the coffee grown on St. Helena remains rare simply due to the fact that the island itself is quite small. It can only fit so many plantations. Most coffee around the world grows at higher elevations, but its position in the tropical climate, natural fertilizer from high populations of sea birds, and air currents coming from the south make it a viable plantation spot.
Also, production over the years has vacillated rather wildly. The peak growing years happened in the 1990s when 20,000 coffee trees grew in various locations around the island. Prior to that time, the islanders found flax a more profitable export crop. Today, those large plantations have given way to smaller farms that only cover a few acres.
Is St. Helena coffee really that good? How does it taste, and is the experience of sipping on a steaming cupful worth the high price tag?
The Flavor of St. Helena Coffee: Tasting Notes
The brewed coffee itself is described by various tasters as complex, fruity, wine-like with hints of spices, chocolate, and caramel. Although St. Helena coffee has a distinct flavor due to the unique growing conditions on St. Helena Island and is an overall great coffee, St. Helena may impress more due to its novelty rather than its quality.
How to Get Your Hands on a Cup of St. Helena?
Today, a few plantations such as Rosemary Gate do offer the coffee to the people who live or visit there. The family who owns this plantation opened a coffee shop to everyone in 2002. Hotels and restaurants on the island also serve it. The island even boasts a St. Helena Distillery that creates a unique Midnight Mist liqueur from the beans themselves. If you happen to visit the island, take a tour and try it out!
Unfortunately, the coffee plantations and exports from St. Helena have both decreased considerably in the last few decades. While a relatively new airport constructed by the British and island governments could increase exporting, only time will tell if St. Helena coffee production can return to the heyday of the 1990s.
For most people around the world who would like a taste of St. Helena coffee, they choose to purchase the beans for themselves from a local or online retailer. One of the only places to buy it in the United Kingdom, for example, is Harrods. Luckily, you can now purchase it online. Starbucks has also served it at various times over the years. Finally, it can be purchased directly from a plantation website or similar sources.
Gourmet Coffee Can Be Found Around the World!
Hopefully, you enjoyed this look at some of the world’s most expensive and iconic types of coffee- but there is so much more to be discovered! Whether you’re looking for a new experience or a one-of-a-kind coffee taste, the search for the perfect cup continues.
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