’C for Coffee’—Overcoming Challenges to Make the First Specialty-Coffee Documentary in India

We find out how Binny Varghese turned his passion for coffee into an adventure and made a documentary on the state of specialty coffee in India.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos Courtesy of Binny Varghese

Binny Varghese has a great deal of things on his plate. He is a Q Processor, coffee trainer, and the host of Coffee Protocol Podcast, a coffee-centric podcast with a focus on the Indian coffee market and community. His latest project is C for Coffee, the very first documentary about specialty coffee in India. 

Without any prior experience in filmmaking, Binny encountered many challenges along the way, but he did not give up. We reached out to him to find what inspired him to pursue this project and how he managed to bring it to life.

BMag: What inspired you to make this movie? What were your initial thoughts about it?

Binny Varghese: Back in 2017, I took a motorcycle trip around India and Nepal, I met people from various walks and talked coffee with them. My wish was to understand the way people in India and Nepal consume coffee, and during that time, I had a vision that I would one day make a travel documentary, full of interviews with people from the coffee industry. There were two things that inspired me to make this movie: 1) There was no documentary about coffee in India; and 2)  Most people do not think of India as a specialty-coffee-producing country, and if they do, no one expects India to be a major specialty-coffee-consuming nation. I wanted to make an attempt to showcase both these sides of my country. 

Filming a coffee set up on a wall in the port town of Ratnagiri.
During filming in the port town of Ratnagiri: Pratik with Ajay Redij, founder of Kaffenum

When did you realize that this was not just an idea anymore and that you were actually going to do it?

I started feeling like this was possible when my previous employer asked me to move from Delhi to Bangalore. I managed to get a 15-day annual leave, and a month before leaving for the trip I realized that if I were to really do this, I needed someone to travel with me and record with a proper camera and voice recorder. I posted an announcement on my Instagram and asked if anyone would be interested in joining me. I got a response from Pratik Dey Chowdhury, a cinematographer with an interest in specialty coffee. I remember telling him, “I don’t have money to pay you, but I will take care of all your expenses, and I will make sure you will have a memorable experience,” and he replied saying, “Let’s do this,“ and that’s when I realized, it wasn’t an idea anymore.

How was it to produce a film for the first time without having any prior experience within this field?

I have this definition of what adventure is: It’s something that excites you and terrifies you at the same time. It puts you right outside your comfort zone. That’s exactly what I felt while producing a film for the first time. The moment you start producing your own documentary, you come across things that you never knew existed in that field of work. We needed much more equipment than I anticipated: tripod, lights, cameras, voice recorders, laptops, multiple hard drives to store footage, motorcycle emergency supplies, etc. And it was just the two of us traveling on one motorcycle. Eventually, I also had to hire a movie editor, a musician, a sound designer, a poster designer, background voice narration, graphic designer, and many more. The pandemic didn’t help either. The documentary was filmed in 2019-2020, but it took two years to finally reach the post-production stage. 

What was the feedback from the interviewees? Did they like the idea of a film about specialty coffee in India?

Coffee people in the country never really got a lot of focus. Everyone who agreed to be in the interviews was excited, and I was really lucky that they agreed to do it; it was actually quite an humbling experience. Right from the planters, to coffee chain founders, everyone liked the idea, and were very happy to be a part of it. Most of them also appreciated the effort it took in bringing this documentary to life.

Binny Vargheses and Vaibhav Bindal pose by a coffee roaster.
During filming: Binny (right) with Vaibhav Bindal (left), founder of Quick Brown Fox.

What were the challenges, and what are you most proud of?

Challenges … where do I even begin? Right from managing costs, all the way to getting approval for a work leave and trying to convince my ex-company to let me do this. 

Imagine driving a total of 7000 km on a motorcycle within 15 days. We had to wake up early to start driving, sort accommodation and food, stay sharp for the interviews, stay up late editing the footage, and plan for the next day. When I finally managed to do everything that was on my mind, just by using a small budget and within a short time frame, that was the moment I felt very proud of myself.

What message are you hoping to convey through this film?

When I started, I was hoping to convey that the Indian specialty-coffee-consuming community is also big and there is a lot happening in the country. We are not just a coffee-producing nation. But as we were filming, other important things came up, like defining what specialty coffee is, or what the current state of the barista profession is in the country and much more. Everyone has their own take on things; it’s all subjective, just like every cup of coffee. I hope you will enjoy the documentary!

The film will be released this month. Before its release, you can watch the trailer and follow Binny’s adventures on his blog.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine, and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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