Sunday, 10 November 2013

Elephant No. 69: Coffee Grounds

For some reason, my husband Terrence left a French press full of dry, unpressed coffee grounds when he went out of town a few days back. Since I don't really drink coffee, I decided I'd save them to make an elephant design.

I've seen commercials on television that use coffee grounds to make animations. I did toy with that idea, but I didn't really have an easy way to set up a camera on an overhead tripod, and I figured that it would require more time and expertise than I have handy today.

I had this much coffee handy, which is the equivalent of a small handful of beans, ground at home for a French press.

I began by spreading them out a bit.

Then I decided that I would try doing an animation, after all. You can see the result below. Jumpy and a bit uneven, but done in under an hour with a handheld camera that was not behaving well today. On the other hand, "jumpy and a bit uneven" perfectly describes me when I've had too much coffee.

Obviously this would have worked better with some interstitial reshaping of the coffee grounds, but it's still kind of fun. As my first stop-motion animation thing ever, it wasn't nearly as hard as I expected it to be, and I may even try it again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
If you've heard of the mighty expensive civet-dropping coffee (kopi luwak) from Indonesia, you may not be surprised at the idea of coffee made from elephant-excreted coffee beans.

Black Ivory Coffee is made from coffee berries that are consumed by a herd of 20 elephants in northern Thailand, then plucked the next day from their dung. Said to be "earthy in flavour and smooth on the palate," the coffee is the brainchild of Canadian Blake Dinkin.

Why elephants? Part of it is apparently due to biology. According to Dinkin, an elephant stomach is like a slow cooker. "When an elephant eats coffee," he says, "its stomach acid breaks down the protein in coffee, which is a key factor in its bitterness. You end up with a cup that's very smooth, without the bitterness of regular coffee."

Blake Dinkin with some of the elephant-digested coffee berries.
Photo: Apichart Weerawong/Associated Press

Conservationists at the refuge where the elephants live were initially leery of the idea. John Roberts, director of elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, wondered at first about the impact of caffeine on an elephant's surprisingly delicate constitution. "My initial thought," he says, "was about caffeine—won't they get wired or addicted to coffee?" Luckily, it appears that there is no harm at all to the elephants.

Black Ivory Coffee currently sells for an amazing $1,100 per kilogram ($500 a pound), and about $50 a serving. Why so expensive? Part of it is because the process is labour-intensive, from growing the coffee, to picking the dung apart, to extracting the beans themselvs. It also takes approximately 33 kilograms (72 pounds) of raw coffee berries to produce a single kilogram (2.2 pounds) of coffee, largely because most of the beans get chewed up, broken or lost in the tall grass.

Black Ivory Coffee is now available at a few luxury resorts in places like the Maldives and Abu Dhabi, and in northern Thailand, right next to the Foundation. Dinkin gives 8% of the proceeds from the sale of Black Ivory Coffee to the Foundation and its elephants, helping the elephants to essentially support themselves. To my mind, it's a much better way for Thailand's elephants to earn a living than street begging or performing tricks for crowds.

To read more, click here. To learn more about Black Ivory Coffee, visit their website at

Meena the elephant sniffs at some Black Ivory Coffee sipped by Miki Giles.
Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

To Support Elephant Welfare


  1. You can learn more about Black Ivory Coffee via our website: or the Black Ivory Coffee Facebook page. Thank you for sharing this article with your readers!

    Best Regards,

  2. Hi Blake,

    Some have told me they're pretty intrigued by Black Ivory Coffee. I've also added a new sentence to the blog post directing readers to your website to learn more.

    Looking forward to seeing Black Ivory Coffee everywhere!

    All the best,


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