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Caffeinated Documentary Review

Published on under the Coffee category.

Caffeinated has been sitting on my to-watch list for a week and last night I finally got around to watching it. This documentary came recommended when I researched coffee documentaries to watch and I thought I’d give it a go. For only $4.99 (however much that was in British pounds), I rented the documentary, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Caffeinated starts like many coffee documentaries with a brief segment on why speciality coffee is so beautiful. This section reminds me of what can be achieved with speciality coffee. A great cup of coffee can make you feel good. Coffee is a drink over which we bond. It is so complex. Whereas coffee was once very much about the convenience and the caffeine intake, there are now people devoted to figuring out how we can best consume coffee beans.

The documentary then went on to talk about the rise of speciality coffee. One woman, Erna Knutsen, played a key role in the growth of speciality coffee. She worked as a secretary for a coffee brokerage who did not have relationships with small coffee companies. They were focused on bigger ticket clients. Knutsen decided to start selling some beans to the small coffee companies who wanted to roast beans. Speciality coffee would not be what it is without Knutsen.

As the documentary progresses, there is more of a focus put on farming. I liked this documentary because I got to see how coffee is processed on the farms. A large part of the documentary is subtitled because coffee farmers themselves are speaking. I got to see how coffee is fermented using the wet process. I saw coffee cherries picked from an individual tree. I mainly read about coffee and so I did not have this visual image up until now.

One of the strengths of this documentary is its focus on origin. Images of people hauling coffee bags over their shoulders manually and weighing coffee that is processed at a processing mill are powerful. There is, literally, a lot of heavy-lifting that has to happen before a bean is even packaged. Defective beans are picked out by hand in many cases. I could not help but ask myself: how can they separate these beans all day? This is why I think it’s so important to appreciate speciality coffee. Beans go on a journey. The people at origin deserve to be paid highly for their work.

There was a scene where off-grade cherries were shown. These cherries were not going to be sold. They were for local consumption. The documentary spoke about how it’s hard to find a great-tasting cup of coffee in many coffee-growing countries because producers sell all of their best beans. The industry has placed more of a focus on getting farmers to try their beans. Cupping at origin is very common among speciality coffee roasters so they can tell which beans are best, but farmers need to be involved too. They need to know what product they create.

Toward the end of the documentary, there was some talk about the Cup of Excellence. I learned that the competition was initially an online auction. The organisation had to buy beans from participants at C-price (commodity price) before the auction even began because farmers were sceptical about whether people would participate. The online auction went well and farmers were able to secure a good premium on their coffees.

Women were mentioned throughout the documentary, from the discussion about Knutsen to a bigger discussion about female coffee pickers. Many people that work on coffee farms are women. During harvest, the farms rely on all of the labour they can get to farm all of the beans at the right time. I saw children who looked young picking coffee cherries in baskets, albeit not as much as more senior members of the family.

The documentary talked about one coffee that was produced in co-operation with female farmers. The goal was to make it clear that females are heavily involved in the production process. They deserve recognition for their work. I liked this discussion about women and the coffee industry because it is not an issue I’ve heard as much about as others, such as climate change and coffee leaf rust.

I’d recommend this documentary to anyone who has a basic understanding of coffee and wants to learn more. But, you don’t need to have any knowledge of speciality coffee to learn something from the documentary. Caffeinated does not rely heavily on technical jargon. The interviews with coffee experts are easy to follow. There is a lot of great imagery to accompany what is being said on screen.

My biggest takeaway from Caffeinated is that I should take more time to think about where my coffee comes from. A name of a co-operative or a region on a coffee label is a good reminder that my coffee was sourced sustainably but I sometimes forget about just how much is involved from bean to cup. “From bean to cup” is not just a marketing phrase. It is a long journey upon whom many people’s livelihoods depend.

You can rent or buy Caffeinated on many steaming services like Amazon Prime (US-only) and the PlayStation Store or on the documentary website.

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