In 2009, X-Men star Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, visited coffee farmers in Ethiopia in partnership with World Vision, a charity that provides aid to children around the world. On that trip, Jackman bonded with a young coffee farmer named Dukale, and the relationship sparked a coffee-centric crusade for Jackman that eventually led to the opening of his all-Fair Trade Laughing Man coffee shop in downtown New York. Now, the actor and philanthropist has released a film documenting that journey, called Dukale's Dream, which opened in theaters today. The release coincides with the launch of Laughing Man's partnership with Keurig Green Mountain, a line of four Laughing Man blends in K-Cup form, including one produced by Dukale himself. F&W had the chance to chat with Jackman about the film and why he believes Fair Trade coffee can save the world.
What about Dukale's story is so compelling?
When I went to meet him in the Yirgacheffe region—it’s like a six-hour drive south of Addis Ababa—he didn’t speak any English. I did not speak his language. But from the moment I met him, I felt this weird connection, like I’d known him—a brotherly type feeling. And I spent the day working with him. We shared coffee together, I spent time with him in his home, with his family, and I had a real understanding of how hard he works. This was just one day, and he works seven days a week. He had 800 trees, which is relatively small. And I saw how happy he was. His wife was pregnant, with I think his sixth child, and because of the help of World Vision, he had broken out of the cycle of poverty. You could see it on his face—he was proud of what he did. We planted trees there, which we named after my kids. They're now bearing coffee beans, which is exciting. I promised by the end of that day I spent with him, 'I’m going to get your story out there.' Because now I understand what Fair Trade means, and I understand what a difference it makes to someone like his life. And how what a relatively simple a choice it is for the consumer here, but how revolutionary a difference it is in the life of someone like him. Within a week of getting home I was invited to speak at the United Nations, and I said, ‘What a perfect opportunity this is.” So I first began to talk about him then. Then my friend said he was starting a coffee business, and it all flowed and has led to this really kind of fairytale ending, being able to scale out into millions and millions of homes with Keurig Green Mountain.
I made a pledge to go back with my children; they were a bit young for the first trip, but I really want to take them back. Now that their trees are bearing fruit, I want them to see that.
Has Dukale seen the film?
He has seen the film. He’s so thrilled and so excited. You see in the film his wife watching footage of me speaking at the United Nations, and she’s crying. What really touched me is when they asked her about it, she said, “I have never seen a room so beautiful,” about the room I was speaking in. I’m still very connected to him, he writes letters to me, I write letters to him. The promise that I would do something for him is a promise to me for life. And seeing his name on that blend just warms my heart.
Tell us about the blends that just launched for Keurig home-brewers?
We have four blends. We have Dukale’s Blend. The 184 Duane Street, which is our Laughing Man café here, and then we have a Colombian blend and another Ethiopian blend. My favorite is Dukale’s, maybe because I’m partial to Dukale! But it’s a slightly bolder blend, and Aussies, we like strong coffee.
How did that partnerhip come about?
Our café in Tribeca, Laughing Man, is small, but we do a lot of business, and people are very loyal. I get stopped more often for the coffee here in the city than I do for my movies! People say “Oh my god, I love your coffee, I love Laughing Man, thank you for that!” I love that, it’s really exciting. So I was being approached by people about franchising, and we were considering it because for me, the Paul Newman model is so smart. You can see the difference he’s made even long after he’s gone. It’s still helping people in so many different ways—from employment to philanthropically. And right at that time I was introduced to Brian Kelly from Green Mountain. So I went up to Vermont, and halfway through that meeting I knew that this was something that would work. Because the corporate social responsibility that Keurig Green Mountain has is extraordinary; if every company in America did that, the world would be a different place. Their commitment to Fair Trade coffee, they’re the number one seller of Fair Trade. It’s started as a small company in Vermont, by lovers of coffee, and it’s grown organically. And Laughing Man had a similar beginning: It was small, we loved coffee, it mattered to us where it came from and how we were making it.
What's your coffee preference?
I take my coffee black. I'm fully aware, because I’m a coffee lover: As much good as you’re going to do for the planet, if it’s not a great cup of coffee, I’m not buying it. So part of starting Laughing Man was selfish, I wanted to make sure I could get a great cup of coffee. That’s very sort of movie star, isn't it? I built my own.
What are the tangible benefits of Fair Trade coffee?
You'll see in the film, I went to the coffee exchange after having worked on the farm for a day, so I found myself rooting the way you might for your favorite football team/ I was like, “Come on, get the price up!” It’s a ritual that’s been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. Fair Trade gives you confidence as a consumer that first of all the quality is great and the farmer is getting a price they can live by. You also know that all the workers are being looked after, there’s no child labor. And very importantly, that the earth is being looked after, everything is being done in a sustainable way.
For me, this is a labor of love. 100 percent of my profits go back to the foundation. I believe in social business. I think it’s wonderful that Keurig is employing many people and doing wonderful things for people, and that we can also do wonderful things for the foundation. I want them to be as successful as they can be, and I want to be a part of it.