The Bitter Taste of Coffee

Students will use the documentary ‘Black Gold’ to look at issues surrounding the production of coffee, and work on an awareness raising campaign.

Skills Focus:

Research, planning, global awareness, teamwork, communication, campaigning.

Starter: Coffee quiz to assess previous knowledge of coffee.

Click here to download the quiz

Click here to download the answers


Main Activity: Using a documentary about the international coffee trade as research, plan an awareness raising campaign about issues within the trade.

Students watch the 2006 documentary ‘Black Gold’ about the international coffee trade. It is available both on Youtube or DVD, and is 78 minutes long. It follows the story of Tadesse Meskela, the General Manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union as he visits Ethiopian coffee growers and then Western buyers in the hope of promoting the sale of Ethiopian coffee, without the need for middlemen. The documentary highlights many issues within the coffee trade, a few of which are outlined below:

  • The price paid to the coffee farmers fluctuates according to the market price, and is sometimes below the cost of producing the beans.
  • Coffee farmers often have to bring their children to work with them in order to pick enough beans per day. This means the children don’t receive an education and, because they are not officially employed, there are no measures in place to keep them safe.
  • Western countries place high tariff barriers on finished products coming from developing countries, meaning they cannot export packaged bags of coffee as it would be too expensive for the customers. This means they have little choice but to export the beans for processing in the developed countries, and it is these businesses involved in processing which gain the high profit margins.

Following the documentary, students should do some further research about the issues within the coffee trade and what well-known businesses are doing, and not doing, about it. Some useful websites to look at are:

They should then work on an awareness raising campaign to promote understanding of these issues. This could include designing posters, lobbying the canteen suppliers and local cafes to sell only Fairtrade coffee, writing to local MPs about the issue or planning an awareness event.