Multinational coffee companies now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil.
But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields.
Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price.
Against the backdrop of Tadesse's journey to London and Seattle, the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world's coffee trade becomes apparent. New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organisation reveal the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for his farmers.
"Black Gold brings together both parts of this story. On the side of production, the film takes you from the processing plant and warehouses in Addis Ababa--where women hand-sort the good beans from the bad for 50 cents a day--down to Ethiopia's southern mountains, where Meskela meets with coffee growers whose richest aspiration is for clean drinking water and a school for their children. On the side of circulation and consumption, the film goes onto the floor of the New York Commodities Exchange (where world coffee prices are set), into the Illy packing factory (where the CEO speaks almost mystically of the perfection of coffee), over to the World Barista Championship in Seattle (where great coffee is celebrated by fist-pumping and hoots). The contrasts are sometimes ironic and sometimes heartbreaking. A cheery scene shot at the original Starbucks is followed by views of the Therapeutic Feeding Center in Sidama--the region that supplies Starbucks's Ethiopian beans--where low coffee prices have left growers desperate, and their children malnourished or worse. "