Mr. Todd’s Wild Ride: The Carmichael Interview
As first reported on Eater, La Colombe Torrefaction owner Todd Carmichael’s reality television show Dangerous Grounds will premiere on November 5th, 2012. Sprudge.com caught up with the globetrotting Mr. Carmichael, currently grounded in Haiti, drenched by Tropical Storm Isaac. Borrowing a nearby NGO’s WiFi connection, Mr. Carmichael was able to candidly answer the following questions we had for him about his new series on the Travel Channel.
What follows is the transcript from that interview.
Sprudge: Mr. Carmichael, congratulations on your new Travel Channel television program. How would you describe the series? Is it No Reservations meets True Lies? Is it Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern meets Rambo?
Todd Carmichael: Ha, no. Its adventure travel with an ultimate purpose, to find a coffee I like. Its a series about a guy that tends to march to his own drum – marching to his own drum – in origins often neglected.
Sprudge: In the first episode, you travel to Haiti. Can you tell us about the brew battle that occurred during the shoot?
Mr. Carmichael: The Haitian mountains seem to change weekly, nothing is as it first seems so every run is a whole new experience, and that one proved the point. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but I’m fairly confident others have experienced the same when trying to open new troubled regions.
Sprudge: For folks watching this series at home, this may be the first time people watch “green buying” in action. Do you think it’s a fair portrayal of the job? Do you fear that it over-sensationalizes the business?
Mr. Carmichael: I’m sure it does – but it’s my way. In short, I really don’t think many buyers operate the way I do. No second tier COOPs, no reps, no starting at the mill, no drivers, no calls to exporters, no guides. I’m a fruit farmer and an adventurer at my core, and nothing pleases me more that just getting in a truck and going up and finding out for myself. In short, I take the harder route when given an option, because that’s where real life is – that’s were I feel my best, and that’s how I fall in love with a coffee. No, I don’t think your average cupper/buyer approaches the job that way.
Sprudge: We find the process of scouting new coffee growing areas to be truly fascinating: getting a border crossing day visa to travel in the DRC, traveling across Borneo in tiny two-seater prop planes… how do you “discover” these remote places? Do you rely on exporters, or do you have a sixth sense about the whole thing?
Mr. Carmichael: Exporters, no. Don’t you find them limiting? (They are like attorneys, call one once you’ve done the crime, not before.) For origins, each one is different. Ethiopia doesn’t take much more than a truck and a map, a goal and your personal flavor profile preference. As for off the radar regions, its broader logic and a topographic map. Take DRC for example: Anyone visiting the Belgian dry mill near Lake Kivu can speak to any of the cats working the hullers and they will tell you, a significant amount of parchment is coming over from the DRC. Bingo. The rest is curiosity – pure undiluted curiosity.
Sprudge: Are there any Direct Traders who’ve inspired your quest?
Sprudge: Will La Colombe customers be seeing coffees from Malawi or Madagascar available in their favorite La Colombe cafe? Is the show going to be integrated to drive customers to your cafes?
Mr. Carmichael: No, none of us want this to be some schlocky infomercial. Having said that, when I find something I love, I’ll share it. In the end, my hope is that people enjoy, even just for an hour, being a part of a travel experience outside their own comfort zone, and mostly just get a little more curious about where their coffee comes from, and hopefully, make a simple connection to a farmer or two.
Sprudge: How did you get hooked up with the Travel Channel? Was your Haiti video from last year a demo for this show?
Mr. Carmichael: The movie “Race to the Bottom of the Earth” drew their attention – a guy alone in the wilderness. The Haiti video was a sort of appeal to other roasters – come, its here! I still haven’t given up on that yet.
Sprudge: What other kind of coffee TV shows would you like to someday see? How excited has The Travel Channel been about putting specialty coffee into the homes of millions of Americans?
Mr. Carmichael: I’m jacked about the opportunity, to share what I love, we love, in my annoying unique way. I am, however, terrified of the coffee community blow back – its not as though I’m not a controversial figure already, right? As for Travel Channel, they seem genuinely excited about the series – being given 8 episodes is testimony to that, and an honor.
Sprudge: Thanks for the time, Todd! Stay dry!
Todd Carmichael’s series Dangerous Grounds premieres November 5th on the Travel Channel.