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 far away as Hollywood, even Jay Leno has taken cracks.
“Here’s my question,” Leno quipped recently. “Who is the first person that saw a bunch of coffee beans and a pile of elephant dung and said, ‘You know, if I ground those up and drank it, I’ll bet that would be delicious.’”
Jokes aside, people are drinking it. Black Ivory’s maiden batch of 70 kilograms (150 pounds) has sold out. Dinkin hopes to crank out six times that amount in 2013, catering to customers he sees as relatively affluent, open-minded and adventurous with a desire to tell a good story.
For now, the only places to get it are a few Anantara luxury resorts, including one at the Golden Triangle beside the elephant foundation.
At sunset one recent evening in the hotel’s hilltop bar, an American couple sampled the brew. They said it surpassed their expectations.
“I thought it would be repulsive,” said Ryan Nelson, 31, of Tampa, Florida. “But I loved it. It was something different. There’s definitely something wild about it that I can’t put a name on.”
His wife Asleigh, a biologist and coffee lover, called it a “fantastic product for an eco-conscious consumer,” since the coffee helps fund elephant conservation.
But how does it taste?
“Very interesting,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “Very novel.”
“I don’t think I could afford it every day on my zookeeper’s salary,” she said. “But I’m certainly enjoying it sitting here overlooking the elephants, on vacation.”