Funny or Not, Here I Come...

So I made a send-up coffee travel video that was supposed to parody the potential silliness of a coffee travel video, and the responses to it range a wide gamut. I am sure many people get a small chuckle from something in it and move on. A few think it is hilarious, others don't realize it's an attempt at humor, and a handful are a bit offended. Because some comments were a little "out there", a couple downright mean, I actually turned on "moderate comments" for the first time ever, and I culled a few. I kinda regret that now, because the responses are far more interesting than the video. So let me earnestly respond to this, because I think the points it raises are interesting. The fact that coffee buyers travel at all has recently been examined in posts by Kevin Knox and Ken Davids. Aleco Chigounis wrote a great little piece a while back on the same topic. Wish I could find the link to it.  Kevin in particular has raised some points I feel are sentient, that traveling to origin and doing a direct trade deal is not any guarantee of getting the best coffee. It's dead on true, but its also mildly annoying to me personally because here I am spending a wad of money, precious time (away from Maria and Ben and my important tasks in the cupping lab, not to mention missing possibly good surfing days at OB!) to make sure each trip is relevant, and absolutely does result in better coffee than I can get by trolling the brokers list. And the last thing I want is to ruin my good carbon-neutral standing. LOL. But there is something potentially ridiculous about this kind of trip; if you take some of what I do and nudge it a few degrees further, becomes laughable. I thought I would just have a little fun with that, because when viewed form a certain angle, the way I (and other buyers/companies) represent what we do is silly. We go to a place for 3 or 5 or 10 days and pretend we know it? We take pictures of coffee cherry in 1:1 Macro, and that means we know more about coffee? We know the name of the farmer, his wife and kids and his dog, so we understand them? Really? An intern spending a summer in the area might find some humor observing this. A doctoral Anthro candidate living in the area for 16 months would chuckle, and probably an NGO worker who has been worked in the zone for 12 years would guffaw. So what does the farmer who has spent a lifetime there think to witnesses our hit-and-run wisdom? After all, I come to a place to buy coffee, and if I make videos and photographs to use on our site, isn't there the possibility that I am just hawking something with these materials, that it is all part of a shtick? Pushed to the levels I attempt to make humorous (I say attempt) in the video, whats the difference between this and Cal Worthington and his Dog Spot? So the earnest criticisms and parodies of coffee buyers do land some deserved punches, and I think there is good reason to assume the position of the skeptic, and have a dialogue about the logic of coffee buyer travel. Is it to create Direct Trade marketing? To seem more authentic on a web site? To sell a product with more flair? Or is it to understand the source of a product you sell, to get access to a good reliable coffee source. Are these things all intertwined in a way, the noble aims and the not-so-noble benefits of the coffee trip? In fact, my experience is that the way different buyers travel, what they achieve, the visual materials and stories they come back with, the way the represent themselves and what they do ... there is really quite a range of players out there in both style and substance. (And style and substance seem not unrelated). I have traveled with people that are incredibly focused and skilled, who understand the hard job at hand, and who know how to have the difficult conversations with coffee producers that ultimately form the basis for a mutually beneficial business relationship. I travel with others who are "coffee tourists" (we all are a little bit, I would say), who just want pictures of red cherry,  video of themselves with the locals, or just to drink a lotta beer and whoop it up. Fine, but that get's old really fast. And it's a big waste of money, time and a very finite amount of energy I possess. Frankly, it's the reason I usually travel with one or two people I know well, or alone. Let me say that I absolutely DO try to amuse myself and others when I travel, usually as a way to bear with my jetlag, and the anxiety of being in a new place and missing home. And I do find humor in what I do. But when it comes down to it, I am there to use any observational and intellectual ability I have to make those 3 days, 5 days or 10 days the most meaningful, most informative, and most valuable in terms of sourcing better coffee. I am amazed at the courage some other travelers have, the stories they spin, but I don't feel like some hero out there, some Indiana Jones pushing through the jungle, all alone (or pretending to be), on a quest, and in the typical Hollywood denouement, "winning" by slinging a sack of fine coffee over my back and coming home. No, it's frustrating to deal with language barriers, I am anxiety-ridden to take on the huge risks of a more direct purchase, it's exhausting to have so little time and try to do so much, and it's a big bummer to lose so much sleep. Oh, and and I hate missing good surf in OB.

From Indonesia, far away from

From Indonesia, far away from your place, instead, I learn a lot from your stories, videos, website, your frustration as well. You partly create "me" about coffee in my damn country.



[quote comment=""] My problem

[quote comment=""] My problem now is this - how am I going to do a video in my own voice now that I have done a spoof. I am not sure I can even find it. Consequences of being jokey - we'll see... -T[/quote]
What I got out of the parody and what I've experienced was the video was about the "Me" factor. Where I know you as not being the "it's all about me" type business man.
In America we have trivialized farmers and farming. It started with the industrial revolution when farm kids had to be enticed to leave the farm and work for other industries. That the romance of Jeffersons agrarian society had to change for so called progress.
Until recently with the revitalization of the local small farm movement, this attitude has perpetuated. At present, consumer attitudes about food systems, farmers and farming are a mixed bag depending on exposure.
In the video you traveled a nearly impassable road to come upon a rather impressive and appropriately laid out mill. This is rather incomprehensible to most Americans. What no highway off ramp leading to a spiffy factory?
In the same way some consumers are thinking differently about farmers and farming in the new local small movement I think the need is similar in the specialty coffee Direct Trade coffee movement. It shouldn't be merely about an image of Tom with his arm around Juan Valdez with his donkey.

Hey Peter - thanks. I agree

Hey Peter - thanks. I agree that there is a way to inform people through travelogues and video, and its an opportunity to make it about something more than just the resulting cup of coffee. I think its great there are a lot of different people doing it, including La Colombe. I actually deeply enjoyed that video in Haiti, which is why I called it an homage, not to mock it. Sure, it has a certain style, but that's Todd. Watch his Antarctica stuff. I mean, you can't deny it is intense things he takes on, and even in Haiti. The "followed the truck" thing is a straight rip off from him, but I am in awe of anyone that would do that - just get on the back of a coffee truck to find the mill. The style of the reportage definitely affects the content. My problem now is this - how am I going to do a video in my own voice now that I have done a spoof. I am not sure I can even find it. Consequences of being jokey - we'll see... -T

Loved the video! I agree

Loved the video!

I agree that the whole "Indiana Jones of Coffee" thing is tiresome, self indulgent, and self-aggrandizing. It's a perfect thing to parody, and you've done a great job, Tom.

And I agree that it is possible to get good green coffee without travel, although good strong relationships with farmers- especially long-term, mutually respectful ones- is essential to maximizing quality and doing the kind of development that Specialty coffee needs.

But it's not just about quality. I believe that origin reporting CAN serve another important purpose. Coffee is a unique food that connects consumers in the North with people in remote places like Papua New Guinea. When people are curious about their coffee, they do some research. If that research makes them aware of, say, language diversity in Papua New Guinea, or ethnic conflict in Burundi, or deforestation in Bolivia, it makes them a more informed and responsible global citizen. I believe that good origin reporting should never be about the explorer/great white hunter (as the video you parody is), but should instead be an exploration of the culture and environment that produced the coffee. This is a delicate balance, and that's why it was so hilarious when Carmichael got it so terribly wrong.

We should care about the quality of our coffee reportage.

Peter G

So you are saying you are not

So you are saying you are not going to come over and have a fire on our roaster, just to make a point? I'm down with that...

I really appreciate your

I really appreciate your comments. I absolutely agree that we need to encourage a variety of viewpoints and perspectives and backgrounds. I am not so old or experienced to not remember that I was that person, and still am in a lot of ways. -T

Thanks for the really

Thanks for the really interesting perspective, Ed!

What's happening in Specialty

What's happening in Specialty Coffee with Direct Trade is nothing new or unique. It's been happening in other areas of farming for many years. I've been on both sides of it as the hunter/buyer and the hunted/farmer for 40+ years(in the breeding/seed stock livestock area). The advantage I had was the wisdom of those who had experiences for many years before me. I've dealt with hyped auctions on casino stages, production auctions of top farms, and selecting certain individuals from remote area herds 10,000 feet in the mountains. I've experienced the assortment of smaller scale buyers the same as is now happening in specialty coffee. As farmers of prized product we learn to make the best of the assortment of buyers and selling options. Not every buyer got to see the entirety of what I had to offer. Those buyers with the desire to truly better understood my farming operation and worked WITH me got the better product and the better price. Those who thought some simple BS would get my best product for a cheap price would be taught some valuable lessons whether they ever realized it or not. Farmers need a whole assortment of buyers. Their product will vary from year to year and thus the appropriate buyers will also vary. Booms and Busts are a given. Sometimes it's nature, sometimes it's about a farmers gamble and sometimes it's the effect of economic systems trends and politics.
I enjoyed Tom's video and though there are some serious messages within it, please be careful not to over react to it. I'd take a broad base of an assortment of buyers over a smaller refined group anyday.

Who has this kind of time? 9

Who has this kind of time? 9 minutes plus!!!

Had a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.

That's a long time.

There is high risk/reward for a roaster to go to origin for purposes of getting better green. If getting better green was the sole goal I usually discourage it as it takes a mix of stubbornness, persistence, and luck to have a slim chance of coming out ahead with this plan with out experience. And the only way to develop experience is time. Lots of it. Many many trips over many years. And lots of lessons learned through mistakes and failures that most never hear about.

Getting marketing material and learning about more about the core product you work with is guaranteed to happen if you pursue it. But for most it does not ensure you get a better green. In fact more often that not I see an investment made and an unspoken sense of obligation to follow through. And one spends a lot more time and money only to complicate a process and the focus shifts from trying to get a better product to simply getting the product you were trying to get.

If I was half as creative and witty as you Tom I would put together a video about the heroic trip a farmer makes to visit a "consuming" country.... maybe hitch a ride on an unsuspecting coffee delivery truck to discover consumers in their natural habitat, take pictures of myself with real live tattooed baristas in skinny pants to demonstrate my relationship with them. Oh wait. I sort of do, do that.

Never mind.

Hey Tom, fyi, in my first

Hey Tom,
fyi, in my first paragraph i was referring purely to this post...didn't realize you had actually homage-hyperlinked to the real thing in your youtube caption! feel free to moderate that out if that wasn't clear. keep these good stories coming.

Wow, lots of great stuff in

Wow, lots of great stuff in this video. I respect ya for putting yourself into the category of the very type you parody, although I believe the vid was a little more of a pointed response to another than you make this out to be :)

That said, the points you bring up are ripe for discussion, and many of us including myself in this part of the industry are guilty of over-fantasizing our work to the general public. As you said, there are noble and not-so-noble aspects to this all. Marketing in itself is a part of doing business, and (beyond increased sales, which is rad) there can be a lot of benefit to bringing pics and vids portraying stories, people, maps, beans, trees, mountains, etc to the general public. Opening up this knowledge to consumers, if done respectfully, can do a lot to reduce the "othering" that is projected upon communities in mostly impoverished regions by much of the consuming public. It also does a lot to help the public understand the challenges of farmers and exporters to produce quality coffee. Compare the portrayal of "farmers' challenge to produce quality coffee" with "white dude's 'challenge' to fly to an exotic destination and hike through beautiful scenery and meet smiling faces" and you can see what might be a good use of the travelog and what may be a bit over the top.

Let's also make sure we always provide an outlet where newcomers to our industry can travel to origin and talk or write passionately about what to them is new and exciting, without criticism by folks like us who've been to around a few times. Just because we've seen all this dozens of times doesn't mean that a newbie shouldn't be able to excitedly blog about ripe red cherries and muddy road travel. Unless you're totally numb to nature, culture and the-way-things-work, we were all there at one point, and I can't deny I'll always travel with a bit of that whirlin' in my head.

Clearly your vid was not targeted at the worthwhile travel log and the newcomer expressing excitement, but still wanted to point that out as a part of the larger discussion.

Again, loved the vid and the points you bring up above. You're challenging the industry to produce material that is, as you say, meaningful, informative, and valuable. Much needed.

Tom - you should get a

Tom - you should get a "greenie" for that - you know -the annual award given out by the coffee association for the best movie. Hilarious.

Tom, Your wit and wisdom


Your wit and wisdom even surpasses that of Snoopy.

"...Some of this coffee ripens to a green color, some of it ripens to a red color. What that does is produces a cup with a lot of complexity."


Not that the micro-genre

Not that the micro-genre isn't ripe for humor, but coffee has almost never made good story-telling video -- at least from a layman's perspective. That's the honest truth. Insiders might want to believe that the pursuit of perfection that goes into a global barista competition might make great entertainment television to honor their craft, but the reality is that it looks more like an homage to the repetitive stress injury.

So what videos we have out there at origin are, as you sort of imply, embellished for dramatic effect. But conflict makes good news stories, and what might be construed as artificial excitement unfortunately often makes for better video storytelling.

Totally agreed on your points that refute the silly notion that "you can't make good coffee without hanging out at origin". But parody works best when the audience recognizes the exceptionalism in what's being mocked. What doesn't work as well is when the subject of that parody seems more the tenets of what makes entertaining video than the tenets of what makes good coffee.

Good one, Tom! I used to

Good one, Tom!
I used to have to travel a lot for Zoka and I'd run into other "hard-core" coffee folks who would say, "Right on! We CAN'T have good coffee unless we travel all the time, eh?" And I would disagree, telling them all you need to do is taste well and buy well and you can have an awesome coffee won't have many original pictures for your blog, but.... Dudes used to say that I wasn't a roaster until I had a big fire, too. Which is bullshit, my friends. Fires only teach you how to deal with fires and how to kick yourself for poor maintenance

Hey mate, Got to admit,

Hey mate,

Got to admit, the humor in your video was lost to me at first, as I wouldn't put it past some in our industry to actually cry on film. Then it was pointed out to me that it was a spoof that was aimed (?) at someone that posted a vid that, guess what, did all BUT cry...

Tip of the hat to you for doing it and posting it, it was funny, ridiculous and makes me want to do one as well!

When does the second one come out?


Add another category ---

Add another category --- those new to the idea of a farming cooperative since they've imbibed in Maxwell House or Sara Lee stuff all their lives. Some only know coffee beans from viewing them in Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Our NGO supports a coffee co-op that grows shade grown, organic beans. They welcome those who want to visit and see (and taste) the difference.They leave with an understanding of why paying fair trade price is of importance. Let me add a small sales pitch: El Porvenir Coffee grown high in northern Nicaragua. Available through our website, where you'll also find The El Porvenir Story.

My favorite part by far is

My favorite part by far is the beginning, thrashing through the woods. Makes it clear what the tone is, I think anyway.