(AP) — You know you like your cup of Joe in the morning. But are you ready for a cup of Hugh?
We are, of course, talking about actor Hugh Jackman, who recently launched a coffee and tea company that raises money for charity.
Philanthropy is the driving force behind Jackman's involvement in the coffee world. In a telephone interview he talked about being inspired by the late Paul Newman and his company, Newman's Own, which has donated millions to charity. But it's not the only reason.
The other factor? Taste.
"Hey, I'm a coffee snob," says Jackman, who could drink coffee "all day, because I just love it," but limits himself to one or two cups. "If I'm buying it, I want a great cup of coffee. If you can have a great cup of coffee and the profits of that company are actually going back to different charities, I think it's a win-win for everybody."
Jackman's interest in creating a coffee company was sparked during a tour he took as an ambassador for World Vision, an organization that works with children and families. In Ethiopia, he met Dukale, a local coffee farmer, and was struck by how hard he worked to look after his family, and by how a little help could make a big difference in the lives of coffee farmers.
In a piece of synchronicity, he discovered that a friend, Barry Steingard, who has 25 years experience in the coffee and restaurant industry, was planning on getting back in the coffee business. "I said, 'Well, do you need a partner?'" said Jackman.
So far Laughing Man Coffee & Tea — chocolates were also recently added — is the first subsidiary under Jackman's umbrella company, Laughing Man Worldwide. The way it works is 50 percent of the subsidiary profits go to the parent company, which then donates 100 percent of its profits. Educational initiatives are the focus of the coffee company, which has partnered with Harlem Village Academies, the well-regarded charter schools in New York, and WorldVision.
And Jackman's not the only java star.
Leonardo DiCaprio is partnering with the La Colombe Torrefaction coffee company to create a special blend, LYON, with net profits earmarked for environmental projects supported by the actor's foundation.
Meanwhile, Newman's daughter, Nell Newman, partnered with Vermont's Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. to source, roast, package and distribute fair trade organic coffee under the Newman's Own Organics label. Green Mountain allocates at least 5 percent of pre-tax profits to social and environmental projects in the communities where it does business.
Celebrity coffees are just a fraction of the overall market. Still, the trend of celebrities working with high-quality roasters to make coffee for a cause "can only be a good thing," says Miles Small, owner and editor-in-chief of CoffeeTalk magazine, based in Vashon, Wash.
"Coffee is, and has always been an instrumental tool in bringing disparate folks together for a common cause," he said. "Buying celebrity coffee with a donation element helps toward achieving the charitable goals of the celebrity and also helps the over 25 million families worldwide whose survival is dependent on the growing of this 'not so simple' beverage called coffee."
In some ways, the coffee-celebrity connection seems a natural. Who hasn't seen umpteen paparazzi shots of stars clutching their Starbucks?
But Jackman laughs when asked if Hollywood has a corner on caffeine.
"Coffee is the world over," he said. "It's one of the oldest products known to man and it's one of the greatest crops ever. Traditionally, coffee is part of ritual and part of unity and community."
In Ethiopia, the families Jackman met roasted, ground, brewed and drank coffee together. "It's all part of community and being together," he said. "I think it's kind of a great product and underlines what our company is about."