Now that's what I call a coffee grinder (Black Ivory coffee helping elephants)
2 September 2012 03:55:00
Some years ago, up in North-East India, the harried coffee planters noticed that elephants had started to come out of the ever-decreasing forest, well, they’d been noticing that for many years (elephants outside a forest can be hard to miss) but they noticed something else, the elephants had begun to eat the coffee plants.
Originally this was thought to be a pain, damaged crops are what leads to the majority of Human Elephant Conflict around the world, however, these were well informed coffee planters and knew of a gourmet coffee sold from the jungles of Indonesia that has passed through the gut of a civet and fetches a pretty penny.
So, before they ran to scold the elephants they took to following them around and picking the beans out of the dung; dreaming of the fortunes that had inadvertently fallen into their laps (or onto their boots) they roasted then brewed the beans.
Lo and behold, the coffee tasted exactly as you’d expect something that has passed through an elephant to, it tasted of elephant dung and smelt pretty much the same.
While legend has it that the civets eat ONLY the choicest beans elephants, of course eat the choicest beans but they also eat the whole coffee tree and the tree next to that and, you guessed it, the tree next to that one too.
The coffee planters reported their findings and went back to trying to keep the elephants in the forest.
The idea would have been lost but for a young Canadian coffee wallah working, at the time, in Ethiopia with a community that traditionally kept civets and was researching ways in which the village might work it’s way out of poverty (&, being an animal lover, improve the conditions for their civets) by producing an Ethiopian version of what was then known as the world’s best coffee.
However, being an expert on coffee production (in the end, the Ethiopian village didn’t cotton to coffee) he figured that the enzymes in an elephant’s stomach would do the same thing to the coffee that the enzymes in a civet’s stomach (something to do with breaking down proteins that gives the civet coffee a unique smooth taste) and, unlike civets, he knew that there were places in the world where traditional communities of people lived with captive elephants and needed to work themselves out of poverty without working their elephants into the ground.
Blake set about becoming an elephant expert.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘cause I thought it too.
What on earth are we going to do with 26 wired elephants (or, on the flip side, like me before the old ristretto each morning, what are we going to do with 26 extremely bad tempered elephants who haven’t had their coffee on the days when there is none). Well, I learned (as you will too if you stop shouting and listen) that for caffeine to be bought out of a coffee bean you need to heat it to above 70 something celcius, which answers one of the questions that has been bugging me ever since I came to Thailand - why, when I order an iced coffee from a street stall, do they make a hot coffee and then put it on ice? Wasting all that energy.
Blake, of course, knew this but being a conscientious kind of guy found some elephants in Canada and fed them beans while asking vets to check their blood levels and general health for any sign that anything untoward was happening.
The coffee still tasted of a cross between a stomach and the elephant’s last meal but Blake knew the gentle taste and aroma of the world’s best coffee was in there somewhere, he believed, and he set about finding it.
How he does it he won’t even tell me, he’s put ten years of his life into perfecting the process (even discovering a coffee brewing machine that runs on alcohol and was last seen in a Viennese coffee shop/bordello in 1862 that means none of the flavour is lost to the brewing process).
Before leaving Canada with his, now smooth tasting, very light, coffee whose aroma puts you in mind of returning to a proper jungle after a long absence; for me, sitting in the back of an open topped Land Rover as we crossed the Rapti for the first time in a season and entering the cover of Chitwan National Park - those who have done it will know what I mean - the sense of steam and vegetation that a well inhabited jungle just has.
Before leaving Canada the tests were done to ensure nothing harmful that may live in the elephant’s gut was transferred to the coffee even before the roasting and brewing process, he also fed it to coffee experts, he came to Thailand and purchased Thai coffee beans, fed it to Thai elephants, processed and fed it to Thai coffee experts (& me).
Thumbs were raised.
He also took in the Thai ele scene and realised that, until you all rush out and buy it, there’s no way he can rescue every elephant in Thailand, what he decided was to find a thinking elephant charity that not only had access to elephants, but was registered and chartered to help beyond the boundaries of it’s own little borders (& who had vets on site that continually measure the elephants’ well being so anything, however unlikely, going untoward can be spotted before it goes anywhere and the process can be stopped).
In short, he found us! So, we set it up so the Black Ivory Coffee Company (as it now is, or will be soon) not only pays for supplemental feeding of our elephants, they pay the mahouts and wives for the collection of the beans, an important financial incentive to persuade people to stay with us - our little herd is under threat from another camp in South that has found the wherewithal to pay the same as we do (since 2006 we have been the best paying camp in Thailand) but have fewer rules about elephant welfare and the way a mahout must behave toward his elephant. Those who have bought our message will stay, the few who were in it for the money have asked to leave.
Now, a cup of Black Ivory coffee doesn’t come cheap, as unique things shouldn’t, but just in case you think we’re taking advantage you ought to know that the ‘elephant refining process’ is bean heavy, we, of course do not force feed the elephants so many beans never even make it to the mouth, then the beans have to get past the massive grinding molars and once they’ve passed through the elephants they can be hard to find (Blake has been seen in tears watching, through blurred vision, as a bolus of precious beans floats away down to the Mekong) as Black Ivory have not asked us to compromise the amount of movement we give to the eles nor, of course, would we, so we may well be planting coffee trees in the Golden Triangle bush - not every bean that makes it into the mouth, gets past the teeth, comes out the other end is ever found.
Oh, on top of that, 8% of all wholesale sales will come back to the Foundation and will help us fund our ever increasing veterinary department who, as you know, are committed to, with the help of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, helping every Thai elephant.
A nice rounded story to a well rounded cup of coffee.
P.S. In case you were wondering, Black Ivory was chosen as a name as it is the exact opposite of the white ivory - this is set up to be a sustainable business that helps elephants.
P.P.S. No-one else has tried this yet, but if you're getting funny ideas, or if someone who is not Black Ivory coffee tries to sell you Elephant Coffee remember the warning up the top, without the secret post-ele-refining-process and the special Austrian antique boiler the coffee really does taste like, well, you know... Accept no substitutes!
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