When Henrique Sloper de Araújo first spotted the wild jacu bird feasting on fruit from the coffee trees on his fazenda in the foothills of the majestic Pedra Azul, he threw up his arms in despair. He had no doubt that the organic farming practices on his 740-acre estate, called Camocim, just outside of the Pedra Azul National Park, was causing the birds to wander in and feast on the abundance of pesticide-free coffee cherries. Sloper had previously visited Indonesia, where the prized kopi luwak—coffee extracted from the treated excrement of the coffee cherry–eating Asian palm civet—had gained fame for its taste and steep price. There might be something in the ample bird droppings left behind by the jacu, Sloper thought.
When life gives you bird poop, you can only very rarely turn it into staggeringly good coffee, but that is just what Sloper did. In 2006, he produced the first jacu bird coffee, made from washed and roasted grains that had been hand-picked from the defecated remains of the birds’ meals. Today, it is among the most expensive in the world, selling at around $110 for a measly 4.5 ounces of coffee. Prominent French chef Alain Ducasse is a fan, and Harrods sells it in England.
The jacu, which looks a bit like a pheasant with a distinctive bright-red waggly decolletage, is a protected bird in Brazil. Wild birds of the forest, they suffered from the country’s deforestation initiatives (just between 2000 and 2006, Brazil destroyed a swath of forest land that rivaled the size of Greece). Now there’s a jacu sanctuary near Camocim estate.
The birds know their coffee well. They choose only the ripest fruit to eat, and the digested coffee has a distinctive nutty flavor, with an aftertaste of aniseed. The jacu bird’s vegetarian diet plays a part in the coffee’s flavor: Some batches will have notes of apricot seed and truffles, or other wild berries consumed by the bird. Harvest season typically runs April through October, and the jacu sightings on the estate multiply around this time. Workers fan out to collect bird droppings, which are then washed, de-husked, and roasted, for a truly invigorating hit of caffeine.