(Enjoy the photos and read below to learn more and what Black Ivory Coffee has to do with my novel)

Blake Dinkin, Founder of Black Ivory coffee, preparing the syphon for brewing.
This French made syphon is recommended and sold by Black Ivory.
The hand grinder used to grind the beans.
After the water boils, it transfers from the opaque little kettle on right to the glass vessel on the left containing the ground beans.
Blake recommends using this kind of glass to drink Black Ivory. Could be a sturdy wine glass.
No fine cup of coffee would be complete without equally fine pastries. These are from Paul's at Terminal 21.
Blake and my wife Josie with a thrity five gram packet of Black Ivory Coffee beans.

Black Ivory sells the French syphon with two specially made glasses and three packets of the coffee for approximately $500. The syphon can double as an object d’ art, and you can brew other coffee so long as you keep one filter dedicated to Black Ivory. Properly cared for, the syphon should last a lifetime.Further information available at

Black Ivory Coffee supports the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, which benefits the animals and the families who care for them.

What Does Black Ivory Coffee Have to Do With My Novel?

I recently finished what I hope is the final rewrite of my novel, Bangkok Shadows. The protagonist, Glenn Murray Cohen, is a former criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco. For seven years he leads an idyllic life in Thailand until he  finds himself caught in a maelstrom of intrigue and suspense which he is woefully ill-equipped to face. Like many foreigners or farangs, years of living in Thailand did not lead to a genuine understanding of the culture and the people. Suddenly he has to learn quickly with no room for error.

Glenn happens to be a coffee connoisseur, and as such, periodically enjoys a cup of the world’s finest and most expensive brand, Black Ivory Coffee.This coffee is unique because of its high quality and for its production process.

The finest beans are selected in Chiang Mai province in the North of Thailand, where fine coffee has been cultivated for many years.Only the choicest beans make the grade.The beans are then mixed with a blend of fruit and fed to elephants. When the elephants eliminate, the beans are hand-gathered, cleaned and roasted. Black Ivory has been adopted by coffee gourmands (some may say coffee snobs) the world over, prized for it’s mild yet earthy bouquet and its full-body, accented by  a scent of chocolate and a hint of fruit.

The complete experience requires brewing the coffee as intended. I am fortunate to have as a good friend in Bangkok Blake Dinkin, the Canadian Founder of Black Ivory coffee. Blake personally makes certain all commercial customers learn  the proper brewing method. He was more than amenable to coming over to my condo and preparing  the perfect brew using the French syphon he recommends and sells so that I could properly portray the preferred brewing procedure. (His customers are largely five star hotels and resorts, high end restaurants, and of course, individuals with discerning taste.) The pleasure of Black Ivory is not without its price. A pound of beans will run about a thousand U.S. dollars, and the individual packet containing thirty five grams will set you back eighty five bucks. It doesn’t make sense to purchase such exquisite beans and prepare them poorly. (Blake informs me that if one does not happen to have a syphon on hand, you can brew it as a single cup drip, though even the best paper filter cannot capture oils and other impurities as well as the syphon filter. Blake cautions that under no circumstances should a French Press be used!)

The first step is to hand-grind the beans, using the grinder shown above. You hold the cylinder with one hand and turn the grinder handle with the other, moving both arms in a circular motion. (You won’t be able to hold the grinder still so the movement works perfectly once you get the hang of it.)  A wonderful reward for this effort is the smell of the freshly ground beans when you open the cylinder to transfer it to the syphon.

The photos above show how the syphon is used and the attention the process requires. After carefully measuring 350 mil of mineral water (recommended; tap water and distilled water are absolutely no-nos; bottled water is acceptable), methyl alcohol is placed into the fuel container. (Be careful using this alcohol as it can strip the varnish off furniture!).The wick is lit and shortly afterward the water boils. At this point, physics and thermodynamics take over, and the boiling water from the opaque container (stainless steel and copper-plated) is siphoned to the clear vessel containing the ground beans. The brew cools and then siphons back to the opaque vessel, having passed through the powerful filter. Wait four minutes and then drink when it is at the temperature you prefer. (The process is described in the novel excerpt below).

I have been waiting some time to try this product, and I was not disappointed. I am what some might call a  coffee fanatic in the mold of Glenn; I’d rather die than drink a cup of instant and while I respect Starbucks for its corporate responsibility, I have doubts as to whether what they are selling is entitled to be called coffee. (In Thailand I find every other chain to be better than Starbucks but none hold a candle to a good independent coffee shop. In the U.S., Peet’s is the best, hands down.) So I did not wade into the world of Black Ivory without some strong beliefs and expectations.

Black Ivory, as its name implies, should be taken black. It is the unique flavor that is it’s signature, so why adulterate it with lighteners and sweeteners?

The thirty five gram packet provided enough coffee for three normal sized cups, but it was taken in smaller amounts in what is essentially a wine glass. I sipped mine, as I would an espresso, though this was milder and not at all bitter. I would describe the texture as full bodied and velvety, not nearly as thick as Turkish coffee but not quite the same as my regular brews.

I know what everyone is asking : is it really worth the money, let alone the time and effort?

I say yes, it is, especially if you are a serious coffee enthusiast, as a scotch lover yearns to taste a thirty five years old single malt, or a cognac lover seeks the very best VSOP, or a wine aficionado seeks out the perfect Cabernet. (Maybe today we can also say as a cannabis connoisseur seeks out the finest buds.) I wouldn’t urge running up credit card debt, but if you are a true coffee devotee who can afford it and the money isn’t going to change your life at all, go for it! It is never going to be your everyday brew, so live life large once in a while!

Glenn Murray Cohen would agree. He loves coffee and can afford the tab. He has all the time he needs. I have referred to Black Ivory in my novel because I would expect any affluent coffee enthusiast living in the Land of Smiles, where Black Ivory is produced, to indulge on special occasions. Not to mention that I have Blake Dinkin to make sure I get it right in the novel.

Here’s An Excerpt From Bangkok Shadows,  Featuring Black Ivory Coffee: (This scene takes place in the middle of the novel, after Glenn has been pressured by the CIA into participating in a dangerous covert action. Oliver is a gregarious Australian and the number one purveyor of information in the Kingdom; he is helping Glenn prepare for the mission. Oliver is enjoying himself in Koh Phangan, a beautiful island in the South. The reference to the transvestite drug case relates to an earlier chapter where Glenn tells an astounded retired Thai general how as a young lawyer he won an acquittal and what lessons he learned from the case.)

     I woke up at the crack of nine and made coffee. One part of life in America that followed me to Thailand was love of the bean. I know where in Bangkok to buy the best and maintain a shelf of fine equipment: grinder, French press, measures, filters with holders as backups. Over the years, coffee consciousness in Thailand has grown exponentially, which  brings  me great pleasure.  I make occasional short trips to Chiang Mai, up North, the city with the best coffee culture in all of Southeast Asia. It is worth the trip just to sit in its coffee houses.

     Feeling expansive, I broke into my treasured stash of Black Ivory Coffee, the most expensive and best brew in the world. The beans are grown in the North, fed to elephants after being mixed in a special blend of fruit and then roasted in Chiang Mai after the elephants eliminate the product. It may sound unappetizing, but don’t be fooled. The elephants’ digestion does something that gives a flavor unparalleled by any coffee I have ever tasted. The process is labor intensive and costly, especially hand picking the beans once the elephants make their deposit. A half kilo of beans sets me back over five hundred U.S. dollars, but is well worth the money.

     On top of that I shelled out several hundred dollars for a French-made syphon, which is the old-fashioned way of brewing recommended by Black Ivory.

     The syphon looks like the scales of justice except instead of  two weighing plates, one side has an opaque vessel and the other a clear one. They are joined by narrow piping. The clear one is for the ground coffee and contains a cloth filter. The opaque vessel sits atop a tiny tank for methyl alcohol. I carefully poured some alcohol into the tank, careful not to spill any. I then measured out six scoops of the precious beans, ground them by hand in my small wooden grinder, and carefully measured the powder into the clear vessel.  I poured exactly three hundred fifty milliliters of mineral water into the opaque vessel, lit the wick and stood back to watch. When the water reached boiling, the heat caused it to be siphoned over to the ground coffee in the clear vessel. Once the brew had cooled ever so slightly, it was magically siphoned back into the opaque vessel. During the four minute seeping period, I called Oliver. He told me he was in Koh Phangan and would be returning to Bangkok in two days.

     “In the meantime,”  he said “use those brains that served you well when you were defending people back in your country. Treat this like a problem in one of your cases. Dust off those skills you still have somewhere inside you. Hard as it may be to believe,” he added.

     I wondered if that advice would show up on his bill.

      As usual, Oliver was right. Countless times in my days as a defense lawyer I faced  what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. Evidence  piled up and it always pointed to guilt. There were no obvious holes in the prosecution’s case, no exit from the impending crash, no alternative routes. There appeared to be nothing to argue at trial to present even the veneer of a skillful defense of my client.

     Somehow ideas always appeared after long hours of study and concentration. The story about the transvestite charged with drug sale was one such example. Many times these ideas  worked and my client was not convicted. Other times they failed but the jury stayed out for days, what we defense lawyers called a “moral victory.” On occasion I would run my defense past the prosecution and get my client a better deal, sometimes even a dismissal. Never give up is the criminal defense lawyer’s code. It helped me through some very challenging cases.

(From Bangkok Shadows,  (c) Stephen Shaiken 2018

Available now on Amazon Kindle:Click here to go to Bangkok Shadows page on Amazon Kindle

To learn more about Black Ivory Coffe, visit

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