Sunday, December 23, 2012


Coffee is considered a refreshing stimulant beverage consumed world over and its high caffeine content is supposed to provide the effect that consumers enjoy after drinking it. The seeds grown on a dozen countries of the world need substantial processing before the basic coffee powder is obtained for brewing into the drink. Interestingly those are wedded to coffee consume it in different ways and though it has significant bitterness many like this taint along with the aroma contributed by over 800 chemicals generated during roasting! Black coffee which is the normal brewed coffee is liked mostly in America and other countries, in India the brew is whitened with milk or commercial casein based whiteners and sweetened before consuming it as a hot beverage. Besides the natural varieties like Arabica, Robusta, Peaberry etc there are some coffee products including decaffeinated coffee, civet coffee and ivory coffee. Civet coffee has already established as a commercial product and is reported to be popular with some people though it is associated with the feces of the wild civet cat. Similarly the Black Ivory Coffee, which recently gained some attention in Thailand is product extracted from elephant dung after making the animal eat the raw coffee beans along with its feed. Considered the world's costliest coffee which is currently being offered at a fabulous price of $ 1500 per kg and the ready coffee beverage made with it costing as high as $ 50 a cup, what persuades some consumers to buy this product is a big mystery. Here is a report on this peculiar phenomenon that is currently restricted to the hilly northern parts of Thailand.  

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee's unique taste. Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world's most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it's also among the world's priciest. For now, only the wealthy or well-traveled have access to the cuppa, which is called Black Ivory Coffee. It was launched last month at a few luxury hotels in remote corners of the world - first in northern Thailand, then the Maldives and now Abu Dhabi - with the price tag of about $50 a serving. The Associated Press traveled to the coffee's production site in the Golden Triangle, an area historically known for producing drugs more potent than coffee, to see the jumbo baristas at work. And to sip the finished product from a dainty demitasse.In the misty mountains where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, the coffee's creator cites biology and scientific research to answer the basic question: Why elephants? "When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness," said Blake Dinkin, who has spent $300,000 developing the coffee. "You end up with a cup that's very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee." The result is similar in civet coffee, or kopi luwak, another exorbitantly expensive variety extracted from the excrement of the weasel-like civet. But the elephants' massive stomach provides a bonus. Think of the elephant as the animal kingdom's equivalent of a slow cooker. It takes between 15-30 hours to digest the beans, which stew together with bananas, sugar cane and other ingredients in the elephant's vegetarian diet to infuse unique earthy and fruity flavors, said the 42-year-old Canadian, who has a background in civet coffee. "My theory is that a natural fermentation process takes place in the elephant's gut," said Dinkin. "That fermentation imparts flavors you wouldn't get from other coffees." At the jungle retreat that is home to the herd, conservationists were initially skeptical about the idea. "My initial thought was about caffeine - won't the elephants get wired on it or addicted to coffee?" said John Roberts, director of elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants. It now earns 8 percent of the coffee's total sales, which go toward the herd's health care. "As far as we can tell there is definitely no harm to the elephants." Before presenting his proposal to the foundation, Dinkin said he worked with a Canadian-based veterinarian that ran blood tests on zoo elephants showing they don't absorb any caffeine from eating raw coffee cherries. "I thought it was well worth a try because we're looking for anything that can help elephants to make a living," said Roberts, who estimates the cost of keeping each elephant is about $1,000 a month. As for the coffee's inflated price, Dinkin half-joked that elephants are highly inefficient workers. It takes 33 kilograms (72 pounds) of raw coffee cherries to produce 1 kilogram of (2 pounds) Black Ivory coffee. The majority of beans get chewed up, broken or lost in tall grass after being excreted. And, his artisanal process is labor-intensive. He uses pure Arabica beans hand-picked by hill-tribe women from a small mountain estate. Once the elephants do their business, the wives of elephant mahouts collect the dung, break it open and pick out the coffee. After a thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then brought to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok. Inevitably, the elephant coffee has become the butt of jokes. Dinkin shared his favorites: Crap-accino. Good to the last dropping. Elephant poop coffee.

As in the case of civet coffee, since the ivory coffee is also associated with the excreta of an animal, naturally there could be revulsion among many coffee lovers regarding the hygienic and safety credentials of the product. But in Asia excreta of animals like cows, buffaloes, elephants etc is not considered repulsive and that may be the basis of developing such products without any hesitation or reservation. Those pioneering the development of ivory coffee justify the high cost in terms of extra ordinarily high losses incurred while "routing" the coffee cherries through the huge guts of the elephant, reported to be of the order of 97%! Animal protectionists are happy with this development because the money generated by this queer coffee drinkers is ploughed back for the welfare of the animal! 


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