This is the start of a series of posts taking an in-depth look at various coffee producing nations.
We’ll be thinking about the history, geography, quality, production methods and social welfare of farmers and producers along with the environmental sustainability of coffee production and more besides.
We will begin with the Americas where more coffee is produced than anywhere else in the world and with the largest coffee producing nation in the world:
Where did it all begin?
Coffee came to Brazil, so the story goes, from French Guiana in the year 1727 brought in by Portuguese military sergeant major Francisco de Melo Palheta. It is said that Palheta was dispatched under the pretence of settling a land dispute between French and Dutch Guiana. He arrived intent on smuggling out the coveted coffee plants that were extremely valuable at this time and so very closely guarded. He set his eyes on the Governor of Cayenne’s wife, Madame D’Orvilliers. At a closing banquet, his amatory overtures clearly paid off, as she handed him a bouquet containing coffee seedlings. This was the incipience of the Brazilian coffee industry.
By 1830 Brazil was already producing 30% of the world’s coffee, making the people who controlled its production and distribution very wealthy. Today Brazil is the largest producer of Coffee in the World by some margin. To put this in perspective, there are farms in Brazil which produce more coffee than the whole of Bolivia. It is the most technologically advanced and industrialised in terms of coffee production, though this does not always lend itself to better coffee. Machine harvesting, for example, pays no attention to the ripeness of the coffee cherries which in turn leads to under-ripe or unripe beans in the final product. There are farms in Brazil which produce more coffee than the whole of Bolivia.
It is perhaps because of this massive scale, coupled with lower production altitudes not altogether suited to producing quality coffee, that Brazil does not have a fantastic reputation for producing top quality coffees. However, there are many excellent and delicious coffees produced in Brazil worthy of exalting. Diverse regions such as Piata, Araponga, Vale da Grama, Piraju, and Carmo de Minas have established themselves as unique micro-climates capable of producing world-class coffees. Typically these are traceable down to a single farm (Fazenda) and are often, though not always, made up of a single varietal such as Yellow Bourbon or Catuai.
Diverse regions such as Piata, Araponga, Vale da Grama, Piraju, and Carmo de Minas have established themselves as unique micro-climates capable of producing world-class coffees
Increasingly, at the Speciality end of the market, experimentation with crossing of varieties and with processing has lead to new and interesting cup profiles emerging from Brazil. Even the once recherche Geisha is now being cultivated in small amounts in Brazil, with an example winning this years Cup of Excellence in the Pulped Natural category.
Sustainability and the Environment.
Here Brazil is doing quite well. It is true that during the mid part of the 20th century large-scale deforestation took place to make room for coffee production and communities were displaced. It is also true that wider global climate change presents challenges for coffee production in Brazil. But amongst the worlds coffee producing nations Brazil is probably best placed to cope with this. In addition to Brazilian legislation, which is amongst the most rigorous in the world in this area, in March 2015 the new Sustainable Curriculum was launched, based on several coffee sustainability platforms and protocols. This curriculum consists of a set of common rules to produce sustainable coffees with quality in Brazil. Among the main themes contained in the program are water conservation in the farms, environmental management, farms management, information and traceability records, soil and water conservation, compliance to employment and labor laws, ensuring safety and health to workers, productive agronomic management and correct procedures at harvesting time.
So what do these coffees taste like?
Well, generic Arabica from Brazil, “Santos” for example, which is so named due to it being exported from the busiest container port in Latin America rather than having any divine character, is commodity grade and tends to have a full body with a vaguely nutty flavour and a bit of sweetness. Comparatively, the classic quality Brazilian cup profile is one of low acidity, full body, and sweetness, with hazelnut, walnut, or macadamia notes and chocolatey flavours. Top quality coffees from Brazil with higher levels of acidity tend to offer flavours of red fruit like, Raspberry and Cherry or sometimes citrus notes of Oranges or Clementines often with a pleasing praline or creamy finish.
What does the future hold for Brazilian Coffee?
It is the case that although many delicious specialty coffees are produced in Brazil, there remains a lingering association with more commodity coffee and mass market blends. It is true that whilst very good specialty coffees from Brazil (82-85 points) are commonplace today, genuinely exceptional coffees are still somewhat of a rarity.
There is a supply and demand aspect in this of course, and Brazil will continue to produce a lot of very average coffee but it is good news for the specialty coffee world that Brazil continues to build its reputation for producing exceptional top quality coffees, driven by terroir, technologically advanced processing and a passion for flavour.