Civet coffee made a splash in the headlines when it was revealed that Indonesian farmers fed civet cats coffee beans that were then used — post-digestion, shall we say — to create coffee that cost up to $320 per pound. Connoisseurs of coffee claim that the mammal’s digestive acids tame the bitterness of the bean, creating a superior smoothness in flavor.
Now a Canadian businessman in Thailand, Blake Dinkin, has taken the concept a step further with the introduction of Black Ivory Coffee. Plucked from piles of pachyderm poop, the beans are said to produce a coffee with a smooth and earthy flavor, for a mere pittance of $500 per pound, or $50 a cup. It was first unveiled at several luxury hotels in Thailand, Maldives and United Arab Emirates.
The total supply for 2012 was 110 pounds with hopes for that to increase in 2013, depending on manpower. (As well as elephant “power,” we presume.)
A group of 20 or so elephants on a sanctuary are fed coffee beans from nearby plantations. After the beans take a spin through the elephants’ digestive systems where enzymes break down the proteins and are then expelled, the beans are gathered from the waste, sun-dried and roasted.
“In contrast to carnivores, herbivores such as elephants use much more fermentation for digestion. Fermentation is desirable in coffee as it helps to impart the fruit from the coffee pulp into the bean,” says the company’s website. As well, when the proteins that are responsible for bitterness are denatured, a smoother-tasting product is created.
And although visions of fidgety elephants all hopped up on caffeine come to mind (like, maybe they should offer them paint and canvas to calm their nerves), the company promises that the elephants suffer no ill effects from ingesting the beans. Dinkin employs veterinarians to care for the elephants, and he pays the local Thai villagers who tend to the animals a fair salary that includes free health care for their families.
"I'm out to make money, but I also want to make a difference," he said. "We operate in a transparent manner. Vets [who] are here to inspect the elephants are well taken care of. I've worked with food scientists, wildlife experts, picked the best sanctuary. It's all on my own money."
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