REVIEW: A Film About Coffee [2014]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 67 minutes | Release Date: April 26th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Avocados & Coconuts
Director(s): Brandon Loper
Writer(s): Brandon Loper

“Coffee people have to be sexy”

I am not a coffee drinker. I don’t even really like the smell of the stuff either despite that usually being what non-drinkers do enjoy about the hot, cold, compressed, dripped, or frozen beverage sold almost everywhere in the United States. So to say I was completely unaware of the process that occurs to put its aromatic brown liquid into your porcelain cup is an understatement. Not only did I know nothing beyond beans grinding into a power steeped in water, I didn’t care to learn anything. To me it seemed inconsequential. Coffee is so ubiquitous that the whole manufacturing system is probably as boring as any other mass-produced item. But as Brandon Loper‘s documentary A Film About Coffee quickly shows, this tiny bean is important.

The work focuses mainly on “specialty coffee” so don’t think Loper is dealing with McCafé or anything. We’re talking about Stumptown Coffee Roasters (who use Rwanda Huye Mountain beans), Tokyo’s “sexy” Bear Pond Espresso, and Coava Coffee (who uses beans from David Mancia’s farm in Honduras). But to explain how the coffee they roast/sell is brought to America is to explain the general industry from picking cherries, stomping them through water to remove layers of pulp, drying the beans white, and sending them off. The story of every bean starts on a farm and as the coffee world luminaries tell us, the final product is only as good as the journey its beans take. For Stumptown and Coava the personal touch of human hands means everything.

I know how hipster elitist that sounds, but it’s true. The companies Loper spotlights are interested in more than the financial bottom-line. They seek to cultivate a relationship with the farmers they use and the workers they help employ. Because hearing someone like Mancia—whose done this for fourteen years with only his wife and ten children to help—answer “the consumer” to a question about who’s the most important person in a coffee bean’s history means something. If not for the consumer so many people would be out of jobs. And when it comes to the Huye Mountain team, a company like Stumptown can do even more than just buy crops. They can irrigate a lake so an entire town—and the farm—gets water.

These stories are special and the film does well not to tell them for pats on the back. Each tale is delivered naturally and with ease in the context of coffee’s renaissance for flavor above caffeine. It helps too that Loper’s cinematography captures everything with a keen sense of composition and excitement. This goes for the fields, machines, and myriad systems utilized to put coffee in your cup. He gets in close to the drip filters, siphon rigs, and cappuccino cream hearts drawn in foam. He provides time for the African farmers singing as they work, Mancia’s family drinking their beans as espresso for the first time, and even a Japanese master brewer in semi-real time creating performing his magic. Coffee suddenly becomes art.

I guess it always was, but without a film delving as deeply into the process’ history of sustainability and contemporary appeal I may never have known. Beyond the human aspect, though, my favorite part was watching the baristas do their thing during competitions and elsewhere. Hearing them talk is to understand what coffee truly means to them as well as to see how buying the cheap stuff ruins the industry. They treat a cup of espresso like a gourmet meal—heck even the regular cup of slow drip coffee is given this air. We’re talking about the experience of witnessing its creation, water turning dark. There’s love on display that renders seemingly corny statements about coffee being the sole reason to get out of bed true.

And this is A Film About Coffee‘s success. It portrays all this to someone who doesn’t care about the product its indirectly selling. I still don’t like coffee or have any inclination of drinking the stuff in hopes of acquiring the taste to do so daily, but I do have a deeper respect for it beyond a cup o’ Joe. I now know not to balk at a high priced latte from a privately owned café delivering a gift unavailable via Starbucks or your Folger’s can at home. The drink suddenly earns an aura of wine with new infused flavors and chemistry-backed rules with which to adhere in producing, brewing, and consuming. A world is opened, integral figures mostly ignored are championed, and a bean is anointed king.

courtesy of the film’s website

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