Anantara resorts to debut “unique” Black Ivory coffee

Anantara resorts are offering their guests a unique culinary experience with the Maldivian debut of elephant-refined Black Ivory Coffee, writes Neil Merrett for Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.

“Taking influence from Kopi Luwak, a coffee variety derived from beans digested by civets that is then harvested from the creatures’ faecal matter, Anantara has claimed that its Black Ivory Coffee is instead refined by Thai elephants consuming arabica beans picked at an altitude of 1,500 metres,” says Merrett.

The beans are ground by hand and sell at $1,100 a kilogramme.

Blake Dinkin, founder of Black Ivory Coffee, said that he came up with idea through necessity after SARS led to the extermination of 10,000 civets in China.

It was reported that, following harvesting, the coffee beans are then refined at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) in Thailand which provides for street elephants and their trainers.

Eight percent of all the coffee sales goes towards financing veterinary care for the foundation’s elephants.


Review: Coffee, coffee everywhere, but not a drop to drink

Almost everywhere you look in Male’ you can see coffee shops. From cosy little places that barely seat 10, to trendy hangouts with sea views and prices quoted in dollars. The one thing that binds all these disparate establishments together, though, is their consistently bad coffee.

The most common outing in Male’ is going out for coffee. Lavazza, Melitta, Danesi, Illy, the names rolls off local tongues as easily as yellow fin or skip jack. On a few occasions, you might be served a good cuppa. But this happens so rarely you might be forgiven for thinking it a freak accident, in which the barista was distracted by a shooting star and forgot to burn the coffee beans.

Are Maldivians addicted to burnt coffee, or is the lack of entertainment so severe, that sipping bad coffee in good company is better then sitting cooped up in your room?  The latter seems most probable; coffee shop regulars complain non-stop about poor food and drink. However, like the English, we Maldivians are loath to return bad drinks, meaning eateries continue to serve rubbish and get away with it.

When Maldivians visit resorts or travel to foreign countries, we are generally discerning customers, able to tell the difference between a good cup of coffee and a burnt one. Alas! The dearth of good Male’ cafés has condemned local denizens to make do with what is on offer.

Here we offer a few examples of Male’s consistently bad coffee drinking experience:

You might assume that a café called Shell Beans would know how to make coffee. You would be mistaken. The trendy water front café frequented by Male’s ‘it crowd’ use expensive imported coffee machines for their brews. When we order cappuccino, though, they arrive as a brown soupy liquid with a scum of discoloured bubbles on top. The coffee is burnt and foul.

Next we try Shell Bean’s namesake, a new establishment called Coffee House. The café is more akin to London or San Francisco than Male’. Floor to ceiling glass windows, comfy chairs and cool wallpaper give this place a fresh, funky feel. The interior might lift the spirits but the coffee dispirits the soul. Those that inhabit the house know not how to make coffee.  Our cappuccino arrives burnt, revolting and utterly undrinkable.

One of the most visible cafes in the capital is Panini, in the lobby of Male’s swanky Trader’s Hotel. In Trader’s previous incarnation as Holiday Inn, Panini was an oasis of a café, where you were always guaranteed a well-rounded, good coffee.

When Holiday Inn sold the hotel to Shangri-La’s Trader’s brand, we rejoiced. After all Shangri-La is a leading luxury hotel brand in Asia, renowned for its gastronomy. But reputation does not match reality. Nowadays, Panini’s coffee is hit and miss. Our filter coffee arrives looking as black as the devil, and strong enough to fill your week’s caffeine quota in one cup.

Our latte, by contrast, looks almost angelic in its pale, milky appearance. It’s a perfect drink for those craving a warm glass of milk, but café latte it is not. Panini is a good example of how different people can make wildly different coffee from the same machine.

There is one member of Panini’s staff – a hangover from the Holiday Inn days – who makes perfect coffee. So to get a decent cup, you must stalk the lobby and wait for this lady’s shift to start. It seems she is the only server who knows her way around the Nuova Simonelli coffee machine.

In our quest for a drinkable coffee, we splash out on a meal at Sala Italia, one of the city’s most expensive restaurants.  We order cappuccino. What arrives borders on the bizarre: an espresso cup with a shot of espresso and another of milk, with about a dozen bubbles on top.

“What on earth is this?” we ask.

“Espresso-Cappuccino,” says the waiter.

A lack of training, or maybe the right cup, has spawned a new breed of coffee. We send it back in exchange for (perfectly prepared) filter coffee. It seems even in an Italian restaurant, few know much about coffee.

The problem of Male’s poor coffee does not lie in the expensive machines or the well-sourced beans most cafes seem to have. It is the know-how that is missing. The essence of making a good cup seems an anathema to most cafes: clean the coffee machine regularly; don’t re-heat the same water over and over again; heat the milk only when an order is placed; use fresh milk not powdered; and above all make sure the water is heated to the right temperature so the coffee isn’t bitter.

In a desperate, last ditch attempt to find good coffee, we head off to one of the Maldives’ most exclusive resorts. We are sitting on the beach at Soneva Gili, sipping the perfect cappuccino; well-roasted Arabica beans, blended perfectly, with a good half inch of creamy foam on top. At US$8 the coffee is pretty good value but to do this again, we would have to stump up US$1,200 per night for the room charge. At US$1,208 per cup, this is an expensive cappuccino.

After three months touring the capital in the quest for the perfect cup of coffee we have drawn a blank. The only way to guarantee good coffee is to head off to a resort. A cheaper option might be to go to the travel agents and book a flight to Rome.

All review pieces are the sole view of the author/s and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Coffee aesthetics: Untitled Works exhibition

Coffee tempts our taste buds, seduces us with its aromatic smell, and as an ongoing art exhibition showcases: it can also be used to heighten the aesthetic appeal of paintings.

The use of coffee as a medium for art is just one of the things that makes the paintings of Mariyam Omar unique. The other could just be the sheer ambiguity of her work, open to the interpretation of the person viewing it.

“I don’t like to title my paintings. It’s up to the viewer to find meaning in my paintings” says the 30 year-old with a charming smile. When you first ask her the question of what her paintings depict, she throws the question right back at you. She seems fascinated with the interpretation others give to her creation.

Hence the name “Untitled works”, which seems aptly suited for Omar’s first solo exhibition. The 24 paintings on display showcase her signature style, brush strokes of deep colours punctuated by snow-white figures and limbs of men and women.

The exhibition also signals a break from convention as the artwork on display comes with a price tag, giving the possibility for visitors to walk away with a painting.

An outsiders view

“It was during school that I first used coffee in my painting,” says Omar, explaining that this was where she learnt the use of different mediums. Nowadays she uses acrylic, gouache, ink and coffee for her creations.

The brush strokes in her paintings, almost seems like a reflection of the turmoil within us. The swirls, twirls and strokes of the brush could be of anger, frustration or calm and tranquillity, a mirror of our own emotions at a given time.

“I have tried to explore the void that exists in each of us,” says Omar adding that even if one tries to find out things, one is always limited to gaining an outsider’s perspective.

Maybe that explains why the figures in her paintings are so mysterious; rarely do we get to see their faces. In one, a man is almost in the process of walking out of the painting. Leaving behind the myriad background of swathes of blood red and dark colour with the muted green beneath, the only visible part of him is his torso, neck and arm.

It is the unpainted white of the canvas that gives birth to the figures and limbs in her painting. The colours that swirl all around it, forms its outline, but as Omar puts it: “It depends on your perspective, the figures could be the ones that are coloured or not.”

One of the most striking pieces and one that already has the red tag, which marks the pieces that are sold, is a woman with her back to you. Her graceful lines denotes an uncanny feeling that at the same time as you are contemplating her, she is contemplating something in front just beyond your line of vision.

An artist in Maldives

Omar is a graphic artist by profession. “It’s not possible to gain a living in Maldives by being a full time artist” is her explanation.

As well as having taken part in collective exhibitions including ‘Beyond The Tourists Eye, Issue of Identity in Maldivian Art’ ,Omar has also done art residencies in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In day-to-day life Omar finds it difficult to make the transition from graphic artist to painting. So she gets around it by trying to take off a month each year just to concentrate on painting. Most of the work she has produced for the exhibition was done in a month.

Along the way social upheavings have also spilled onto her canvas. Two paintings on display have titles ‘Lock and Oath 1&2’, a break from her traditions. “It’s my frustration at the haste with which Maldivian judges took the controversial lifetime oath behind locked doors,” explains Omar.

Omar’s creations have moved visitors, that some have already bought her paintings. Jennifer Latheef has already snapped up one of Omar’s paintings. A first time buyer of Maldivian art piece; Latheef says the paintings spoke to her of injustice.

“Her paintings with fragmented body parts, spoke of the mind, body and soul in a fragmented world or a world that fragments people,” Latheef says.

The dozens of visitors streaming in daily would each walk away with their own interpretation. And their lies the appeal of Omar’s paintings. Her paintings move you by their undisputable visual beauty, but also seem to ask questions of you and the world around you.

“Untitled works” will be on display until the 30th of March 2011 at National Art Gallery, each working day from 9 am to 6 pm.