The notion of civet coffee is strange enough — it's pricey java (approx. $500/pound) brewed from lightly digested coffee cherries that are plucked from the dung of a nocturnal, long-tailed, catlike animal that prowls the coffee-growing lands of Southeast Asia.
But now an entrepreneur in Thailand, Blake Dinkin, has gone the nascent civet-coffee industry one better. His Black Ivory Coffee brand is produced after elephants at the Golden Elephant Triangle Foundation are given Thai Arabica beans, removing some proteins in the digestion process, and expel the half-digested coffee. The company plucks out green coffee beans and processes them into a smooth brew that it claims tastes less bitter than regular coffee because Dumbo's process of semi-digestion strips out much of the protein.
Dinkin says he can take the inevitable humor. "There's always going to be an element of [poop] jokes in doing Black Ivory Coffee," Dinkin told the Associated Press. "But the reason why it's taken me nine years to develop this is I'm really trying to make a serious product."
The price of Black Ivory alone makes it serious enough that it's primarily sold in five-star hotels; a serving sells for $50 at one luxury Thai resort, AP reports. That's in part because it takes about 70 pounds to get just two pounds of usable beans; and they're plucked by hand. As for whether the caffeine harms the elephants, Dinkin's FAQ states:
No. BLACK IVORY COFFEE uses 100% Thai Arabica beans. Arabica beans contain approximately 1% caffeine. In contrast, Robusta beans contain double that amount. Green coffee beans have quite an amazing design as shell of the bean acts as a protective barrier to the coffee oils that are inside. Further, in order to extract the caffeine, heat is necessary. This is why coffee is roasted at roughly 200C and brewed at 93C. Adding further security for the elephant is the skin and pulp of the coffee bean. Blood work has been completed by independent veterinarians to confirm that there has been no harm to the elephants. An elephant veterinarian is also on-site at the the production site full-time.
Do elephants eat coffee beans naturally? Yes. In times of drought, Asian elephants are attracted to coffee plantations as many of them are irrigated and the elephants are drawn to the various fruits (coffee and others).
But price shouldn't be a problem for Black Ivory because its biggest competition, civet coffee, has been going for about $227 a pound. Still, as connoisseurs in the U.S., Europe and East Asia have discovered civet coffee in recent years, growing demand is fueling a rush on the stuff in Philippines and Indonesia, the countries with the largest populations of civets, the New York Times reported.
Dinkin also argues on his website that elephant-refined coffee beans are more ethically produced than civet-produced coffee:
There are many examples of civets being placed in cages and farmed in Asia and Africa. This raises questions about the ethical treatment of civets. Civets are also believed to have transmitted SARS from animal to humans. In 2004, all civets (approximately 10,000) in Guangdong, China were exterminated by Chinese authorities. Based on analysis of civet coffee, Dr. Marcone (a food scientist at Guelph University in Canada) estimates that 50% of civet coffee is counterfeit. In contrast, BLACK IVORY COFFEE will be tested for authenticity by the University of Guelph, a disinterested third party.
Even so, are you ready for a steaming cup of elephant coffee? Below, more from WSJ.com —