There are certain fun truths in life. The types of truths that wash over us in warm emotional waves. One of these is that coffee brings people together. Even people who don’t drink coffee will find themselves sipping tea in a cafe that smells of the blessed bean. But why? Why, after all the ad campaigns for Coke do we still return to our favorite hot beverage?
It turns out that Documentarian Brooke Bierhaus has taken the time to examine this question. Her documentary film The Connected Cup is a fresh take on something we all associate with our daily lives in some way. But Bierhaus examines this question on a world scale, with each location adding to our collective story.
Pick a Cup, Any Cup
A cup at breakfast, a few breaks during the day, and even a warming favorite at night, coffee has so engrained itself in our society that we hardly think about it. The one thing we do know is that we each have our favorite style. Do you like it black and unspoiled? How about with a few sugar cubes and almond milk? Maybe you’re an espresso lover or someone who can’t start a summer day without a carafe of iced mocha from your favorite cafe.
There is probably someone somewhere in the world who loves exactly the same thing. With over a billion people drinking at least one cup of coffee every day, there’s definitely room for conversation.
The Connected Cup aims to show that no matter where you put your finger on the globe, the bean has somehow found its way there. Whether grown in the region or brought there hundreds of years ago, people will crave not only the hot beverage but want to share it as well.
Journey From Bean to Brotherhood
In The Connected Cup, Bierhaus takes us on her four-year journey to seek out coffee culture around the globe. Her travels bring her from families of bean harvesters in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, to Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Europe.
One of the most spectacular groups she encounters on her journey is the people of Ethiopia. In a country that much of the world ignores or dismisses as third-world, Bierhaus not only shares cups of coffee but begins to truly envelop herself in the culture. It quickly becomes clear that the coffee itself has provided the doorway and bridge between her own background and those of the people in whose society she is attempting to ingratiate herself.
This is the essence of Bierhaus’ journey. Rather than play the tourist, her entire ethos seems to be that in order to truly connect with people you must find an initial connection. For her, that connection is coffee. The people she meets seem almost transformed by her interest in this particular aspect of their culture. She is not part of a tour group that proceeds off a bus just o purchase local crafts to show her friends. Bierhaus is asking to share an intimate moment with people whose entire culture is suddenly laid out before her thanks to a simple, steaming beverage. The transformation from would-be outsider to being truly accepted is fascinating to watch and empowering to witness.
Lives Joined By Leaves
Of course, there are non-coffee drinkers in the world as well. However, these people are also joined by the power of a hot beverage. Tea has been a staple of certain cultures for millennia and that tradition continues in nearly every culture on earth.
Bierhaus does not ignore this fact. Rather, she embraces the warmth of the cultures whose focus is on the aromatic joy of the leaf rather than the bean.
Her time with the Berber people of Morocco begins with tea. It also opens a world in which Bierhaus is not only accepted, but told of the struggles the local people face, how they see their own culture, and what the future holds for their children. These revelations do not simply arrive out of thin air but are earned through trust and the accommodations of visitors. The first cup of shared tea, prepared by the women of the group, seems to contain a key to a world that goes unexplored by much of the world.
This is the gift that The Connected Cup gives to viewers. Many world-traveling documentaries dip in and out of a set number of locations to simply take snippets about local foods. However, the Connected Cup chooses to utilize the mediums of coffee and tea to linger within these cultures. It gives individuals the time to describe not only who they are but why the warm cup in their hands means so much. To the viewer, the coffee and tea dip in and out of being the focus and often relaxes, taking a back seat to the places and people whose lives it has touched.
A perfect example comes when an elderly man in India invites Bierhaus into his small home. It is a small dwelling with no real adornments. However, it is this man’s home and he is proud to welcome her in. He explains that due to the fact that his wife is away, he cannot brew chai for his guest. But he does not just explain this fact. He laments it. For this man, the bridge that would bring his guest deeper into his home and life is no longer there. It is a poignant moment because although we understand that there are other ways to communicate, his inability to share even the most basic of welcoming customs hurts him. There are even hints of mournfulness in his voice even as Bierhaus sits beside him, obviously, a friend who wishes to partake in his company.
Warmth In All Forms
The Connected Cup is a passion project. There’s no other way to say it. However, it is not just the work of someone who felt deeply about their subject. With her documentary, Bierhaus has taken the time to show that the world has passion within it. We do not need to strip away differences to love and connect with each other when coffee and tea can link us in a way that allows us to enjoy those differences. We are a disconnected world full of individuals begging for a shred of connectivity. The Connected Cup is here to show us that the simplicity of coffee and tea can offer us connections no matter where in the world we may find ourselves.
For this reason, The Connected Cup is a must-watch for every fan of documentaries. The world is a big place and Brooke Bierhaus wants to take you on the journey through the medium she loves most. Brew a cup of your favorite coffee or tea and sit down with friends, or even strangers, and get to know not just what you’re drinking and where it comes from, but who else is doing the same thing in all corners of the world.
The Connected Cup is available on a variety of platforms but is best watched on Tubi. To learn more about the film and the director, visit www.theconnectedcup.com or meet Brooke in person at her coffee shop located in the Best Friends Animal Society in Bentonville, Arkansas. She’ll not only make you a delicious cup, but she’ll happily sit and chat. After all, that’s what it's all about.