Subjects: Environmental Studies, Food Studies, Latin America
Panama is a very small country and seemingly insignificant player in global coffee, exporting less than one percent of the world’s beans. Up until the 1990s no one even knew that Panama grew coffee. Yet in the past two decades, Panamanian coffee has broken every public auction price record, starred consistently in international competition wins, and is now the most sought-after bean in the world. Panama has accomplished this against a decades-long backdrop of international coffee prices hovering around $1 a pound, a price that forces many producing families into lives of extreme hardship. Higher Grounds tells the story of how Panama is reimagining coffee, and driving new standards for both quality and economics.
The film explores variety, farming practice, and processing innovation—notions traditionally associated only with winemaking—and shows how through collaborative competition, the Panamanian growers are banding together to raise the bar for coffee worldwide. Featuring interviews with award-winning coffee producers in Panama and global coffee celebrities, as well as stunning footage of Panama’s breathtaking highlands, Higher Grounds concludes with a hard look at the sustainability of specialty coffee, the implications for developing-region producers, and how Panama offers a model for the rest of the world.
“The first serious documentary about speciality coffee in Panama... it brilliantly captures the essence of the growers' journey" – Plinio Ruiz, President, Specialty Coffee Association of Panama
About the filmmaker
Born to a Panamanian mother and an American father, Stuart grew up between New Orleans and Panama. He majored in Latin American Studies at Tulane University, later earning a Master’s degree in Comparative Culture at Sophia University in Tokyo, where he met and married his wife Nanette. After leaving Japan and living in Barcelona for a couple of years, Stuart and Nanette moved to Panama where Stuart founded Panama’s first foodservice distribution company, Proserv, in 1999. Stuart’s foray into film-making began through the food business and led to the founding of D&G Productions. His hobbies include cooking, drumming and sailing. He and Nanette have two daughters, Christina and Sophia, who live and work in California.