Wake up and smell the global coffee trade

Blackgold Just saw Marc and Nick Francis’s wowwee documentary, Black Gold, about the $80 billion global coffee trade and the Ethiopian producers who see less than 1 percent of it. “Your coffee will never taste the same again” is the film’s tagline. Now that’s truth in advertising. No more mocha latte for me, unless those beans are Fair Trade certified, no way. With Fair Trade, growers reap a higher percentage of sales revenues by weeding out middlemen and commodities exchanges. Yes, please, I’d like my beans grown by people who aren’t a “half dollar away from slavery,” which is how the filmmakers described the daily wage of an Ethiopian coffee grower. If coffee weren’t the second-most valuable traded commodity in the world, behind oil, and if Ethiopians didn’t serve up the highest quality beans, and if this film hadn’t brought the issue to consumers’ attention, there’d be no hope. But it is, and they do, and it has. So there is. In Ethiopia, the Francis brothers introduce us to farmers’ co-op union rep Tadesse Meskela. Meskela was present at the screening, and both onscreen and off, you get why he’s the Frank Perdue of coffee. Only in Meskela’s case, no coin was exchanged to plug the cause. (Plus you know what drug he’s on.) Hard to imagine a more effective way for his 70,000 growers in 74 co-ops to get their message out, especially since few can afford medicine, let alone a media buy. Likewise, in Italy, illy caffè founder Ernesto Illy ups his Q score. Surely no amount of paid advertising could earn his brand such good will. Illy gets several minutes of screen time to inform us about his gourmet label, and we’d happily indulge him more. Talk about organic placement: His pitch is at one with the narrative and never feels gratuitous. After Black Gold’s October release, expect to see sales froth at illy—and at any other buyer who sidesteps the commodities market to give farmers a bigger percentage. How’s this for a non-paid endorsement: As you shell out five bucks for one of the world’s two billion cups of coffee downed today, keep a lookout for this film’s fall release.

—Posted by Laura Blum