Reality Coffee

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In fall 2012, Todd Carmichael helped bring specialty coffee to a bigger stage with “Dangerous Grounds,” a TV show on the Travel Channel that tracked him to far corners of the world. Carmichael, who co-owns Philadelphia-based roasting company La Colombe, also has a jones for extreme travel, and he combined those interests by taking the cameras into little-known coffee-growing regions including Madagascar and Borneo, and the occasional precarious situation—for example, dodging armed middlemen in Haiti.

But as “Dangerous Grounds” prepares to return for its second season—scheduled to premiere Jan. 29—Carmichael says viewers can expect a slightly more refined presentation. “The first season of TV is full-on shock and adaptation: The gear, the reactions to the camera, the anxieties and just the challenges of being filmed 16 hours a day are pretty intense,” Carmichael says. “Now that I’ve had time to digest it all, we’re now able to tell a wider story about cultures, people, food and even specialty coffee in a more mature, less freaked-out way.”
Season two will venture to a few more traditional coffee-growing regions than did season one, including Mexico, Guatemala and Uganda. “We hit all the regions—Asia, Central and South America and Africa—and truly found some insane coffees, some of which are being served in cafés all across the country,” Carmichael says. But the show’s adventurous side remains—for example, one episode will follow Carmichael to Nepal, which he calls “a place I had been for climbing but never coffee.”

Carmichael says that the first season of “Dangerous Grounds” was met with some criticism by the specialty-coffee industry, and he thinks the new episodes’ increased focus on the core product may be more pleasing to those who work in coffee. “While everyone in the community realizes that an hourlong show on what might keep us coffee geeks stimulated is not possible, some still think the show should gear more toward pure coffee,” he says. “I think we responded really well in our offering in the second season.”

While Carmichael wants the show to please coffee professionals, he recognizes that they aren’t necessarily the main audience for “Dangerous Grounds”—that would be the average Travel Channel viewer, who may not know a whole lot about coffee. Carmichael says he’s excited to walk those watchers through a deeper understanding of the bean. “I think folks intuitively know that coffee is grown in foreign lands without the show,” he says. “The real impact I’m proud of speaks to the more geeky part of my nature, like how many tens of thousands of viewers now know natural from washed, for instance. … That’s the best any coffee nerd could ask for.”

As the second season nears its debut, Carmichael says he hopes that nerdiness will help cultivate an appreciation in viewers for specialty coffee. “At the end of the day, I’m like any other roaster or barista interested in turning people onto something better than the non-transparent C-grade stuff in the grocery stores,” he says, “and into a wider world of meaningful flavors and relationships.”

Chris Ryan is Fresh Cup’s former editor.