Monday, January 27, 2014

The Coffee Trail with Simon Reeve

The Coffee Trail

I happened on this documentary by doing some general reading on coffee lately. Its a BBC thing, and not readily available in the US, but with a VPN routed through the UK, you can watch iPlayer content.

Its not exactly legal, but its what we have for the United States for this kind of thing. For some reason, American documentaries tend to be lacking.

Here we have an exploration into coffee growing and production in Vietnam, a country that is bound and determined to grow mostly Robusta for instant coffees. Apparently, it mostly goes into NesCafe. (I'll get into NesCafe one day when I'm bored.)

It is a pretty evenhanded documentary exploring both sides of the issue around the cultivation, the crushing poverty growers have endured before growing coffee, the ecological damage wrought, and the political repression the country is facing as a consequence of this economic policy.

From a connoisseur perspective, it would make more sense to grow Arabica, but from a business perspective, growing Robusta works. This is, until climate change and massive deforestation finally take over.

Still, Vietnamese coffee is grown mostly by small farmers. As part of their communist ethos, they tried mass farms, but it did not work. Therefore, they went to a more competitive based market, small farms owned by farmers struggling to get by. Its making some very poor people better off than they were before. Unfortunately, because of the mass farm scheme, and because of favoring the ethnic majority over the minority groups, it caused a hell of a lot of repression.

I almost wish this series was able to go more in depth into these issues and the history. Fortunately, they were very honest that there were certain questions they couldn't ask with government minders around. They also touched on Vietnamese coffee culture and cafe culture, briefly profiling one of the big exporters and shop owners, Dang Le Nguyen Vu. (He's looking to become as big as Starbucks worldwide.)

Alas, I recommend watching the program if you've got a chance. It is always good to know where things come from. I find I appreciate it a bit more.

As a bonus, here's a look at Vietnamese style coffee over on CoffeeGeek. I haven't read it yet, but I will.