A special thanks to San Antonio Magazine for such a beautiful write up! The Elephant Story BY NIKO MEDRANO PHOTO COURTESY THE ELEPHANT STORY Elephants don’t typically come up in conversations about coffee, but in Thailand and the Maldives, the large animal is the key to a brand of coffee served in five-star hotels. Now, Texans can have a taste of exclusive Black Ivory Coffee thanks to the Hill Country shop, The Elephant Story. Husband and wife Ed and Joey Story founded the store in Comfort in 2012. Filled with apparel and gifts, many of which are...
It’s funny how I came across this little treasure. A friend and I met through a discussion of architecture and the work of a mutual client, but our conversation was so rich that we somehow shifted into talking about The Elephant Story, one of the most unique venues in the world. I now thank her for allowing me to learn about this gem hidden deep in the heart of Texas, and the fascinating ideas behind it. Out of Comfort (a small town south of Fredericksburg, just 90 miles from Downtown Austin) a marvelous story unfolds. It entails wildlife rescues, fun tales of men riding elephants during polo matches, villages of artisans producing exquisite goods, and, simply put, the most exotic and expensive coffee in the world. I’ll do my best to describe it…
In an effort to promote elephant conservation in Asian countries (most notably Thailand), Ed and Joey Story created The Elephant Story. Their mission is to raise awareness of the plight of what has become an endangered species, due to the deforestation in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Various conservation groups in these cities are focused on removing elephants from exploitation in the streets to return them to their natural habitat. In conjunction with this effort, net profits from The Elephant Story are directed to various Asian elephant support foundations. Meanwhile, The Elephant Story supports indigenous crafts and textile groups in Asian elephant countries by providing a market in the US for their goods. For instance, Lao Textiles, the silk textiles of Carol Cassidy, support fifty weavers in Laos and eighty survivors of the Cambodian war. Moreover, the photographic images of Carol Stevenson will be offered for sale to support her elephant conservation efforts.
The Most Exclusive Coffee in the World
Through their involvement with the conservation of wildlife, the duo has become involved with the ultra-exclusive Black Ivory Coffee brand. The product is known (and has been featured in CNN, The Huffington Postand other worldwide outlets) as the most exotic and expensive coffee in the world. Exclusive to five star hotels in Thailand and the Maldives, Black Ivory Coffee is available at The Elephant Story, the only location in the western hemisphere to serve it. The in-store service experience is $50 for 14oz, which will serve 4 demitasse cups of Black Ivory Coffee. One packet of coffee beans is $40 (which makes 400ml of coffee) and is only sold in the store or by phone order (not available online).
Ten years in the making, Black Ivory Coffee is created through a process in which coffee beans are naturally refined by Thai elephants at theGolden Elephant Triangle Foundation (www.helpingelephants.org) in Chiang Saen, northern Thailand. It begins with selecting the best Thai Arabica beans that have been picked from an altitude as high as 1500 meters. Once deposited by the elephants, the individual beans are handpicked by the Mahouts and their wives, and then sun-dried and roasted. It’s a highly unusual process, but with extensive scientific exploration behind it. In contrast to carnivores, herbivores such as elephants use much more fermentation for digestion. Fermentation is desirable in coffee as it helps to impart the fruit from the coffee pulp into the bean. Meanwhile, research by Dr. Marcone at the University of Guelph indicates that during digestion, the enzymes of the elephant break down coffee protein. Since protein is one of the main factors responsible for bitterness in coffee, less protein means almost no bitterness. The result is one of the most exquisite taste experiences for coffee lovers worldwide.
Meanwhile, the amazing composition of green coffee beans make it so that the shell of the bean acts as a protective barrier to the coffee oils that are inside. No caffeine enters the elephant’s system, since sufficient heat is necessary in order to extract the caffeine from the bean. This is why coffee is roasted at roughly 200˚C and brewed at 93˚C. As part of nature’s perfect design, the skin and pulp of the coffee bean add further security for the elephant. Independent veterinarians and researchers have completed blood tests on the animals to confirm that the process represents no harm to them and professionals are always on-site during production.
Production takes place at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation headquarters. Blake Dinkin, founder of Black Ivory Coffee, chose this foundation after doing research on approximately 35 elephant sanctuaries and parks in Indonesia, Laos and Thailand. The organization met the highest criteria regarding the conditions in which the elephants are kept, the presence of an on-site veterinarian, their approach to elephant conservation and very pragmatic, thoughtful leadership by John Roberts who is the Executive Director of the foundation. To further their mission of animal preservation, Black Ivory Coffee contributes 8% of their sales to help fund a specialist elephant veterinarian to provide free care to all the elephants of Thailand through GTAEF. Additional funds are also used to purchase medicine as well as to build a new laboratory. Production of Black Ivory Coffee also provides a valuable income generation opportunity for the wives of the Mahoutsto help cover health expenses, school fees, food, and clothing.
Approximately 10,000 beans are picked for each kilogram of roasted coffee; thus, 33 kilograms of coffee cherries are required to produce just one kilogram of Black Ivory Coffee. During the entire process, elephants are completely unaffected by the caffeine. In fact, the animals consume the beans naturally. Black Ivory Coffee uses 100% Thai Arabica beans, which contain approximately 1% caffeine (in contrast, Robusta beans contain double that amount). It was reported that in 2012, 50kg of coffee were available with supply increasing, but factors including the availability of high quality coffee cherries, the appetite of the elephants, the number of beans destroyed through chewing of the beans, the ability of the mahouts and their wives to pick the beans by hand (10,000 beans equal one kg of Black Ivory Coffee) all have an impact on supply. Due to the limited supply, Black Ivory Coffee is only available at The Elephant Story and select five-star hotels around the world.
Sounds very fun; it’s definitely on my bucket list.
The World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) was formed in 1982 at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, in the Chitwan National Park in southwest Nepal. The first games were played on a grass airfield in Meghauly, located on the edge of the National Park. The co-founders, James Manclark, a Scottish landowner and former Olympic toboggan racer, and Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge and Chairman of the Tiger Mountain Group, came up with the idea in a bar in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where they were members of the Cresta Club.
The original elephant polo matches took place in India around the turn of the 20th century by the members of the Maharaja’s Harem (Zenena) to keep them busy. WEPA is the first paramount organization in modern times to host and create elephant polo as a game with organized competitions. The game is played with a standard polo ball. The sticks are made of bamboo and have a standard polo mallet on the end. The length of the stick depends on the size of the elephant but range from 74 inches to 100 inches, up to twice the length of a horse polo mallet.
Fascinated with its history and driven by their love of elephants, Ed and Joey Story have made The Elephants Story the only elephant polo store in the world, carrying jerseys and game gear for these fun matches, while also sharing this captivating story.
A truly charming place
With incredible images of elephants and faraway cities adorning its walls, The Elephant Story is chockfull not only of in interesting stories, but also distinctive character. It’s a quaint venue with a ton of charm, definitely worth a Sunday drive.
Check out the story directly on their website at http://www.vettamagazine.com/an-elephant-story/
The Elephant Story was recently featured in an amazing article by VETTA Magazine.
VETTA ONLINE , OCTOBER 2, 2014
It’s funny how I came across this little treasure. A friend and I met through a discussion of architecture and the work of a mutual client, but our conversation was so rich that we somehow shifted into talking about The Elephant Story, one of the most unique venues in the world. I now thank her for allowing me to learn about this gem hidden deep in the heart of Texas, and the fascinating ideas behind it....