Interview: Director Vishal Solanki Talks His Latest Movie “Caffeinated”


CAFFEINATED | Available in select theaters and on VOD July 14th | Directors: Hanh Nguyen & Vishal Solanki | Stars: Jeremy Adams, Andrew Alcala, Sarah Allen, Graziano Boldrini, Sandro Feliziani, Danny Glover and Katie Leclerc.

Caffeinated tells the story of coffee through the perspectives of people who have dedicated their lives to it. At every step of the process, it’s the hands that planted the seed, that roasted the beans, that crafted the drink that makes every cup of coffee a story worth telling.

I spoke briefly with director Vishal Solanki about his latest movie, “Caffeinated,” which debuts today in select theaters and on iTunes, Amazon, Googleplay, Xbox, Vudu and all major cable providers including Time Warner, Comcast, Directv and more.

  • Q. What is it about coffee that makes it such a special drink?
  • A. I think the reason that we precisely don’t know what’s special about it, but we know we love it, makes it special. There is something indescribable and indispensable about the satisfaction and inspiration it brings in our daily lives. Now, more on the rational side, it is a beverage which connects people together in every which way. It is grown in the tropics but consumed all over the world. There are many hands which touch coffee from bean to cup, and no other beverage goes through as extensive a process from farm to cup. The beauty lies in the connection it makes from one pit-stop to another; let’s say for example, a roaster meeting a farmer, or a consumer chatting with a barista, coffee is always creating new relationships on its way from bean to cup.
  • Q. What differences did you find in coffee culture from one country to the next (Italy, Nicaragua, Guatemala, India, U.S.)?
  • A. Generally, the coffee culture is a subset of the culture of the country itself, so whatever are the driving forces of their culture and tradition, are also the driving forces of their coffee culture. For example, India still lacks a coffee culture per se because tea is still prevalent in our culture. Italy on the other hand has a strong espresso culture, which again was born from the idea of getting a quick drink on the way to work. Nicaragua, Guatemala etc. do not have a strong domestic culture of coffee consumption when it comes to good quality coffee. They still drink instant coffee for the most part, because everything is getting exported since its a way of survival. Most farmers in Nicaragua and Guatemala may have never seen an espresso machine in their life, and most Italians may have never been on a coffee farm in their life.
  • Q. Were there significant differences in processes, such as roasting, tasting, etc. from place to place?
  • A. Yes. I like to think of it as the way we have a culinary difference in the cuisines from place to place, same way coffee preparation has its significant differences in processes like roasting and brewing. Of course it also depends what we are comparing. For example, a poor farmer in Ethiopia is going to roast the coffee on a pan over a stove while a roaster in a big city like Portland will have a state of the art roaster to roast batches of coffee. There is a significance difference, but the difference is directly proportional to the social, cultural and economic difference from place to place.
  • Q. What led to a documentary on specialty coffees?
  • A. Both (co-director) Hanh (Nguyen) and I were fascinated by the idea of making a film about coffee. At first it wasn’t about specialty coffee per se, but about the coffee cultures which exist in various cities within the US. Then our perspective changed and we focussed on specialty coffee.
  • Q. What do you see happening in the future for coffee farmers, especially in poor, rural areas?
  • A. It depends upon what action we take right now. We are really at a junction where we can act upon it, so it’s too soon to say what will happen because the choice is still in our hands. On a positive note, I would like to see us creating more sustainable farming practices to ensure longevity of demand and supply.
  • Q. What US branded company rates well overall for coffee quality and corporate responsibility?
  • A. I am sure there are more than one doing a great job. We interviewed more than 60 companies like Starbucks, Illy, Peet’s, Cafe Coffee Day which are all corporate companies and play a crucial role in corporate responsibility. That being said, there are other labels like Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture etc. all doing their part with as much vigor, without the mandate of a corporate responsibility.
  • Q. What was the greatest logisistical challenge in putting this film together?
  • A. Money. We could talk about many other things, but at the core of it, it was really the intermittent funding which would rock the boat every now and then.
  • Q. How will global climate change affect the coffee industry?
  • A. The rise in global temperature as a threat to coffee supply is the most discussed topic within the coffee industry. Coffee thrives in a cool and stable environment, and the increase in temperature will render many areas unsuitable for coffee production. This warmth also creates ideal conditions for pests and leaf rust fungus which can savage harvests. Also, overall global climate change will also increase the frequency of other weather events making coffee farming more vulnerable and unpredictable.
  • Q. Describe the perfect coffee bar.
  • A. Simple, warm and welcoming, well-organized. Something which allows the barista and consumer a space for intimacy and dialogue at the same time, makes the consumer enjoy being part of the ritual the barista is performing.
  • Q. Other than what we see in the film, what programs are in place or in the planning stages to assist struggling farmers and farm workers?
  • A. There are many of them varying from organization to organization but generally they deal with topics such as training, education, standards, protocols and sustainability. Some are uniquely designed for specific regions. For example, something may be organized to help farmers and poor children in Uganda, while an electricity project may be in the works for a different farming region of Nicaragua. There are many of such programs and a huge part of the specialty industry is investing time and effort to assist struggling farmers.


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