Elephant dung was in the news in Thailand last week in a story about a rare and novel blend of Thai coffee. Black Ivory coffee is ground from Thai Arabica beans but the process starts with the coffee beans being fed to elephants and later picked out whole from their dung. The good news is the excreted coffee beans are washed thoroughly, dried in the sun and then roasted at about 200°C, the bad news, Black Ivory coffee, which is said to have a milk chocolate, nutty, earthy taste with hints of spice and red berries, costs $25 a cup.
Coffee roasted from beans digested by elephants is a ‘fresh’ concept in the coffee world but not a unique idea. Asian palm civets (toddy cats, pictured right) have been used to produce Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) since the days when the Dutch East Indies Company controlled the islands and coffee plantations of Java and Sumatra.
The coffee plantation workers were forbidden by their colonial masters from sampling the coffee fruit they produced but came up with their own way of getting a ‘fresh’ brew. Coffee fruit is part of an Asian palm civet’s daily diet and the plantation workers hit on the idea of picking the fruit from the civets hot toddies (excrement). The coffee berries were then washed, lightly roasted and finally ground to produce Kopi Luwak which lacked the bitterness other coffees produced. The plantation owners got ‘wind’ of what their workers were up to, sampled the coffee, and then set about producing it on a larger and grander scale. The coffee was expensive way back then and today it has continued to keep up its value with a kilogram of civet coffee selling for as much as US$748.
Black Ivory coffee also lacks a bitter coffee taste, and so what magic formula sets both civet and elephant dung coffees apart from the rest. The answer is in the digestive systems of the two mammals. This extract from Black Ivory Coffee website explains how;
Research by Dr. Marcone at the University of Guelph indicates that during digestion, the enzymes of the elephant break down coffee protein. Since protein is one of the main factors responsible for bitterness in coffee, less protein means almost no bitterness.
Thailand’s Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation is the production centre for Black Ivory coffee and 5-Star Anantara Hotel properties in the Maldives, Abu Dhabi, UAE and Thailand (Golden Triangle and Phuket) are the outlets. The coffee beans are produced from about 30 elephants at the foundation and the job of harvesting the coffee beans from the dung provides extra ‘rich pickings’ for the elephants mahouts and their wives. It takes 10,000 coffee beans to produce one kilo of Black Ivory coffee and with only 50 kilograms planned for sale in 2012 its price is a mind-blowing and dung-throwing US$1,100 baht a kilo. Here’s a further extract from the Black Ivory Coffee website;
As a result of our commitment to elephant conservation and welfare, 8% of our sales will help fund a specialist elephant veterinarian to provide free care to all the elephants of Thailand through the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. Additional funds will also be used to purchase medicine as well as to build a new laboratory.
If you think coffee made from beans harvested from elephants dung is a madcap idea then take a look at the following two photographs.
These are a very well styled pair of elephant dung heel shoes. Perfect for stomping around any discotheque.
How about this animal dung 7-ball pool table which is a must for an afternoon of fun in the heat of Africa. Don’t put your nose too near the cue ball.
Thailand’s Black Ivory coffee doesn’t seem too bad an idea after viewing those two pictures.
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© 2012, Martyn. All rights reserved.