For most people, coffee is a morning ritual that is a means to injecting caffeine into a busy day. This is not the case for Canadian entrepreneur Blake Dinkin, who has traveled the world in search of the “perfect cup”. This journey landed Dinkin in Thailand where he now produces one of the world’s most exquisite cups of coffee made from beans that are hand-picked from elephant dung.
Brian Gillie of Examiner.com had the opportunity to catch up with Dinkin on Tuesday January 1st 2013 to discuss the recent launch of Black Ivory Coffee. Dinkin’s story is an interesting one that has taken him from North America, to the hills of Africa and eventually landed him in Thailand where his coffee is meticulously selected in an effort to produce a delectable cup of coffee, worthy of the finest 5-star hotels in the world.
Inspired by the kopi luwak coffee, also known as civet coffee, Dinkin’s journey took him to Ethiopia almost 10 years ago where he began studying up on the methods and techniques used to develop the most interesting coffee at that time.
Returning home from a job in Asia, Dinkin read about a new type of coffee in a local newspaper, sparking his intrigue for coffee.
“I read about civet coffee in one of the national newspapers in Canada and I thought it was a really interesting story. I mean, it’s really bizarre, you hear about this animal eating coffee beans and my reaction was just like anyone else, well more positive I like to think. I’d like to try it, it sounds really cool and it is a unique story, “explained Dinkin.
It was this curiosity that took Dinkin to Ethiopia where he introduced the local government to the concept of civet coffee.
“I developed a partnership with different levels of the Ethiopian government and I tried to develop a socially responsible income generating initiative with coffee and civet farmers,” explained Dinkin. “So I was working there for a year and just as a little side note, in Ethiopia, they didn't know anything about civet coffee, I was the person who introduced it to them.”
Despite a fruitful year of research and product development, civet coffee had many downsides. According to Dinkin, at that time, SARS was making headlines and civets were the animals responsible for the transmission of the disease that became a worldwide pandemic. He further explains that because of this, China exterminated as many as 10,000 of the animals in an effort to reduce the respiratory disease. Further detailing the unethical treatment of civets by Ethiopian coffee producers as well a myriad of other failures that forced him to shift his focus away from the civet and over to the formidable elephant.
“I thought to myself, ‘What's an animal that is going to be clean, accessible--where they actually will eat the coffee without being force-fed, and where is there a good supply of high quality Arabica coffee beans of coffee,’” asked Dinkin. “And it also has to be monogastric (single stomach) because animals like a cow or giraffe chew their cud.”
Dinkin made his way back to Canada where he began testing the blood work of elephants along with developing his technique of developing the world’s first coffee made from the animal’s excrement. It was not a palatable journey to say the least.
“I have to admit at first, the coffee tasted just like you'd think,” said Dinkin.
This prompted him to refine his technique which he finally perfected December of last year. After years of research and development, Dinkin finally mastered the art of making a cup of coffee whose beans were hand-picked from elephant dung.
Dinkin introduced his unique beverage to the crowd at Thailand’s King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in August 2012. Two months later, he launched Black ivory Coffee to the 5-star hotel chain Anantara.
Coming in at nearly $40 a cup, the entrepreneur realizes his coffee is not for everyone. While his coffee has created much interest worldwide, he prefers to keep the world’s most exquisite cup of coffee at preferred hotels. Included in his partnership with 5-star hotels, Dinkin flies to each location and personally trains each staff member on every aspect of the coffee, providing them an opportunity to taste his coffee.
Described as having an earthy aroma with chocolate, cherry and floral notes; the full bodied coffee is specially prepared using a 150-year-old old brewing machine called a balancing syphon. It is the unique brewing system that Dinkin requires each of his vendors to utilize in order to create the perfect cup of coffee.
The lingering question is: Why is it so expensive?
“The reality is it takes about 33 kilos of coffee cherries to make about a kilo of Black Ivory Coffee. First of all, the elephants don’t eat every day; I feed them a very tiny amount because I need the elephant owner’s buy in. When the elephants chew, they crush the beans. When elephants go for a swim, I lose the whole load…so my costs are much higher.”
Spending as much as $400,000 of his own money, Dinkin wants to be clear that his item is not a gag or a joke; it is about experiencing a remarkable cup of coffee.
“It took me nine years on-and-off to hone the process and make a really good coffee. And when people call Black ivory Coffee a gag or a novelty my response to them is; 'if it is only about a gag, I would have tried selling this 9 years ago, I just would have put it through the elephants regardless of taste,'" said Dinkin.
Dinkin’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Since his October launch, Black Ivory Coffee has been invited to Singapore for a food and beverage conference featuring some of Asia’s top food and beverage people as well as Asia’s top chefs.
Aiming to reprogram the perception of coffee consumption, Dinkin assures the skeptics that his coffee is indeed the real deal. He clsoed the interview with this statement:
I realize this coffee isn’t for everyone. There are people who are going to be grossed out but I would say, this is a coffee you have to be open-minded, adventurous, and affluent enough to want to spend the money but when you really think about it, honey is bee’s vomit and no one has a problem with that. It’s meant to be a serious cup of coffee that I put a lot of time and money into to develop a good product. On the other side, there is a serious social and economic issue involving the move away from elephants in logging and finding a sustainable source of income for the Mahout (elephant owners) and their families. Tourism provides help, via elephant rides, but there are challenges within tourism too; hours worked by the elephant, number of people per ride, limited number of tourists. What is great about Black Ivory Coffee is that the elephants can do what they do naturally (eat) and still make money. There are serious social and environmental issues affecting elephants. This is why I spent a lot of time choosing the right sanctuary and why I donate 8% of my sales back to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.
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