Harrod's $11,000 Coffee: Is It Worth the Price?

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- It makes three and four-dollar cups of coffee at Starbucks ( SBUX) look like a bargain.

Harrods, the renowned British luxury department store, began selling the world's most expensive coffee recently: Terra Nera, at $225 to $11,000 a bag not even in the same league as Starbucks, or any other coffee for that matter.

Grown in Quechua, in the Peruvian Andes, Terra Nera is made from coffee berries fermented through a civet cat's digestive tract. The process allows enzymes to alter the beans, creating the coffee's flavor. Each year only 45 kg of the exclusive coffee beans are cultivated.

But some coffee experts are skeptical about whether Terra Nera is worth the steep investment, and they have plenty of other suggestions for luxury coffee seekers.

"I've tasted coffee made by that process and wasn't impressed. It's more of a novelty," says Timothy Borrego, manager of Barismo, an Arlington, Mass., coffee shop with a national reputation that's focused on estate coffees and manual brewing methods. "You have to be extremely careful. With specialty coffee it's easy to pay for a coffee that goes through all the special processing and could still taste boring."

Ken Davids, editor of the Coffee Review website, has studied coffee processed through animals, including monkeys and civets, and had even harsher words for Terra Nera.

"There are exceptional coffees out there at prices that people think are outrageous -- like $40 a pound," Davids says. "And some of them, not these animal coffees, are exceptional for the variety of tree they come from. But this particular coffee is just a classic piece of outrageous marketing."

Borrego and Davids say that when it comes to high-end coffees there's a variety of factors raising the price and factors that affect taste, such as whether the coffee was processed cleanly at the country of origin and whether it's available only in small batches.

High-end coffees are also seasonal, varying by crop year, producer, even by the hillside where they're grown, Davids says.

"Someone looking to be a super connoisseur and out-brag other connoisseurs would not pick one of these animal-processed coffees. They would chose some of the very best, which either comes from a rare variety of tree -- the Gesha tree -- or there are just particularly fine coffees, from anywhere, made in very small lots," Davids says.

So what are some coffees worth spending a few extra dollars on? For those who can't afford the Harrod's offering or now don't want to, here are a few other luxurious cups:
  • Deri Kochoha: An Ethopian coffee available through Barismo that has a strong fruit, or floral, taste and retails for $18 per bag.
  • Gildardo Gutierrez: A Columbian coffee that comes shipped in vacuum-sealed packs and retails for $19 a bag. Also available through Barismo.

Additional coffees to try include coffee from the Gesha tree, which Davids describes as unmistakeable for its lavender floral notes, crisp baker's chocolate and bright, complex fruit flavor. These are the world's rarest, most expensive coffees, Davids says. The most famous Geshas are from Panama, but less expensive versions are produced in Colombia. Coffee from Gesha trees ranges from $40 to $70 per 8-ounce bag and can be bought via PT's Coffee in Kansas.

Davids also suggested Ethiopia Yirgacheffe -- a poor man's Gesha with a complex floral and citrus flavor. Terroir Coffee usually offers at least one Yirgacheffe. It's also sold by Novo Coffee (Yirgacheffe Belekatu, $15 per 12 ounces) and by Highwire Coffee (Yirgacheffe Blue Nile, $17.50 per 16 ounces).