By May 10, 2010 Read Article

Mission Coffee – Web series about coffee?

Coffee has never been successful on TV. We keep trying, but thus far, I think it’s fair to say that the beverage coffee just doesn’t translate well to the screen. Why I’m not sure, having a foot in both subjects, as a producer for much of my adult life, and a coffee lover and writer. I’ve been to all the major cable TV networks and heard the same responses when I brought them coffee concepts. The Food Network told me flat out that “liquids don’t do well at Food” – they always call it Food. When coffee is featured, it seems to get short shrift from the so-called celebrity chefs. I’ve never seen Rachel Ray do coffee. Emeril looked sheepish using a press pot, with none of his usual aplomb. Even Alton Brown, who I honestly expected to apply his OCD-style, seemed positively casual in his segment – and it was a segment, not a show. That says a lot to a producer.

Just so you’re not thinking I’m calling out my colleagues and leaving myself out, my own Coffee Brewing Secrets DVD, features editor Ken Davids, George Howell, Oren Bloostein, Christy Thorns, Donald Schoenholt and Erna Knutsen both doing hands-on tutorials demonstrating their favorite methods and interviewed about the various other aspects such as storage, grinding, freshness. Any coffee magazine that featured an equivalent cast list and that scope of information would be a sell-out issue. Imagine having this “A” list of coffee icons at your house telling you step-by-step how to brew with each brewer. It sells a couple of copies a month on Amazon. It’s a coffee success, but to date, a market failure. My backers are still asking when they’ll start seeing a return. Hopefully, they won’t call after reading this article.

I’m perplexed.

Just over a year ago, my son told me of a project his college club, Students in Free Enterprise or SIFE, was involved in, where they were in a business competition. They were going to Guatemala to visit a coffee cooperative that supposedly offered growers the best of everything. He’s mentioned my name and my interest in coffee to his professors. Meanwhile, a second mention from a local coffee roaster sealed the deal for the professors, who wanted to see me and brainstorm if I could help with their project. The project was of interest, but it wasn’t until my wife Patricia suggested I produce a video that my enthusiasm rose.

Well, the series is completed. It’s running at and we’ve been uploading a ten minute episode per week. There are currently 14 episodes. The show has several aspects of it that I think are uniquely applied to make the coffee subject hopefully finally achieve viewer success.

First, it is a reality show, a true documentary. The students are real, we didn’t even cast them, although we did get lucky, as they are charming. While a coffee obsessive will find much to see and learn about coffee, it’s wrapped around a personal interest plot of the students competing in a national (worldwide really) event. It’s as much about business as coffee, and as much about the emerging third world where it’s grown as about the culture where it is consumed.

There are the first-choice episodes to attract the coffee connoisseur. While, as a producer, my favorite episode is “all of ‘em”, there are some standout moments if you just want to sample highlights and go back for the story and watch it full, which of course is out intention for the general viewer.

But, before I list episodes and their coffee-centered blurbs, let me say there are certain historic moments in art, where products have achieved their rightful place. Sideways is a cinematic success about wine. MTV, after years of Hollywood’s misunderstanding (and outright dislike) finally made rock music work on television.

Maybe will be a move towards coffee’s success as a web series.

Here’s a rundown, with a quick guide to the best coffee-related scenes, like dog earing a magazine to mark the articles you want to read first.

  • Episode 1 – Intros of the students. No coffee, but couple of references. Start elsewhere, if coffee’s the thing.
  • Episode 2 – Here we go, after a couple of minutes waking up in Guatemala, and the usual paradise shots to warm up wintry US Midwesterners, we get an initial tour of the co-op, where we’re told a few unusual factoids, including one explaining the need for reforestation to prevent mudslides – I thought is was for shade. A couple of nice coffee shots. The first time to farmer smiles, I’m ready to just buy Guatemalan coffee.
  • Episode 3 – Reforestation – a whole episode on digging and planting. Once, you like the students, and you will, it’s a great episode and highlights social work the co-op does. More about environmental concerns than coffee.
  • Episode 4 – This episode has a nice visit to a Mayan shrine and climaxes at a small planting of coffee at the top of the mountain. Even I knew enough Spanish to understand when the farmer tells us he uses no herbicides or pesticides (we learn they don’t need them this high up, later in the show).
  • Episode 5 – Cruising by boat to various towns features just about the most beautiful footage we’ve ever shot, intercut with an interview with one of the farmers, who explains coffee botany from his perspective. Coffee lovers won’t want to miss.
  • Episode 6 – Now we’re picking coffee and it’s upfront and personal. Just seeing the ruby red coffee cherries makes it for me. You’ll get to see one of our students pulling branches down so children and others (Mayans customarily reach 5 feet tall at adulthood) can reach the top branches – we didn’t see a single ladder. Then we get to see a coffee processing, part of coffee lore that most consumers never get to see.
  • Episode 7 – Kristina is a beautiful Mexican-American princess who was one of the students. She is also extremely smart and ambitious – high energy all the way. She talked the farmers into giving us a special visit to one of their model farms. I call it Kristina’s Coffee Tour. This one will be a standout for many coffee hobbyists.
  • Episode 10 – Three students visit the Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA) conference in Atlanta. This episode is full of coffee obsessive beauty shots and coffee celebs. Ken Davids makes a cameo appearance and if you ever wanted to meet the Technivorm’s inventor, he’s here too.
  • Episode 12 – The students go to Bunn-O-Matic headquarters in Springfield. Bunn became the sponsor, but their proximity and the fact they are perhaps the only major US manufacturer might also have been a factor. Bunn was totally hands-off (not typical for sponsors) on every episode but this one. They kept saying, “people aren’t interested in all this coffee stuff”. I kept more than they wanted, but it’s interesting to hear Bunn’s resident coffee guy (Randy Pope) suggest the students “lighted up their roast”. The sales and marketing tips from Bunn execs to the students may or may not thrill you, but I found the fact that a roomful of six-figure-paid executives at a major coffee maker company would spend an afternoon with some college students – kind of touching, actually.

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