I saw the first episode of Dangerous Grounds on the Travel Channel purely by mistake. The reason I started watching at all was the journey through Bolivia’s infamous ‘Death Road”, often called the most dangerous road in the world. This insane adventurer, Todd Carmichael, travels the world in search of the best coffee. The TC is trying to call him the Anthony Bourdain of sustainable coffee. And who would ever think that television would have an adventure show based on the search for great coffee beans?
Todd Carmichael is an adventurer that puts me and Mike to shame. He holds the world record for the fastest unsupported trek to the South Pole. He also tried to be the first person to cross Death Valley unaided. Now that makes our trek through most of Chile look like a walk in the proverbial park. But this quest is not about being an adventurer, it is about finding a great cup of coffee.
He travels around the world with a camera guy, nicknamed, “Hollywood.” Where have they gone? Try this for a list of places you might never go. His ports of call: Bolivia, Haiti, Borneo, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and Columbia, hardly tourist destinations. Of these, I have been to Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Malaysia (Borneo).
Nevertheless, Carmichael was probably vaccinated with an even more virulent adventure vaccine than Bourdain. The show is aired on Mondays at 9pm on the Travel Channel. Is he the charming and charismatic host that the Scripps Network relishes? You decide. Yes, he is successful, this man who has adopted four young children. He ran his first ultra marathon at the age of 20. He is also a humanitarian, raising money for the Orangutan Foundation, as well as the Clinton Global Initiative to raise funds and awareness for a coffee university in Haiti. When not sailing solo across the Atlantic, coffee is his passion. His mantra: taste always trumps novelty.
He does have his own company, called La Colombe Torrefaction, a $25 million business. But he would rather chase down the world’s best coffee. But does the best coffee in the world always grow in the most dangerous places in the world? Personally, when I encounter anyone with a single passion for an objective (no matter how deranged), I stand and applaud, even wish I could share in it in some small way.
For me, the best part is not the travel adventure, but the roasting and tasting process. Carmichael carries a portable roasting device, and a hand grinder. So, when he does find the “green” coffee, he can roast it up on the spot,, grind it, and taste it within an hour or so. The episode that intrigues me is in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. He heads south, to Jimma, the biggest city in southwestern Ethiopia. The coffee is roasted dark and served with sugar.
So, nearly a billion people drink coffee every morning, making it the second most popular commodity after oil. But the beans Todd looks for are grown in high altitudes, remote regions, and from colonial strains originally spread by European explorers of long ago. He ends up buying the beans directly from the growers, often despite language barriers that we can only imagine in a nightmare. He also must dodge the middle men in the coffee equation.
Could I do this if money were no object? I doubt it, as I just do not have the passion for this journey. I am perfectly happy to buy my coffee beans at Peet’s on a monthly basis. Is coffee that important? Would I sleep under my rental car during my search for the best coffee? It is to some, like Todd.