Brazilian Coffee: Story behind the cup
Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Brazilian green coffee beans that exhibits a flavor that has become extremely popular in the world of coffee.
The History of Brazilian coffee
In the 1700’s, the coffee plant was introduced to Brazil. Francisco de Melo Palheta planted the first coffee tree in the state of Pará in 1727 and coffee then spread south reaching Rio de Janeiro in 1770. Coffee was initially planted only for domestic consumption but during the 19th century demand for coffee started to increase in America and Europe.
Brazil has been a massive contributor to the global coffee market for many decades now. Plants originating from Ethiopia were brought to the country as French settlers settled in Pará in the 18th century. The farming of the bean emanated from the North and quickly spread along the coasts. At that time, sugar cane was Brazil’s biggest crop and the main contributor to Brazil’s economy. When the Caribbean sugar production boomed, Brazil was unable to compete with their prices so production declined sharply. Following this, Brazil then shifted its focus to coffee production to satisfy the rapidly increasing global demand. Coffee quickly overtook cane sugar as Brazil’s most exported product by around 1820.
By 1820, coffee plantations began to expand in the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, representing 20 percent of world production and, by 1830, coffee became Brazil’s largest export.
The demand for Brazilian coffee grew rapidly, particularly in the United States and Europe. By 1840 Brazil had become the largest coffee exporter in the world. The owners of Brazil’s largest coffee plantations now held all the power economically, socially and politically. These ‘coffee barons’ even contributed to the proclamation of Brazil as a Republic on the 15th November 1889, a historic day celebrated annually to remember the end of rule under the old empire. The coffee era contributed to an era of wealth and progression for many Brazilians. Coffee attracted investments to railway infrastructure, credit expansion, development of banking infrastructure and industrialization in general.
However, there was a dark side to Brazil’s coffee era and it is slavery. Slavery was and unfortunately still is a concerning issue in Brazil. Only now slavery in Brazil refers to sex slavery and human trafficking, back then it was slave labour. The abolition of the slave trade in 1888 nearly destroyed Brazil’s coffee industry as many coffee slaves were rightly freed. However, the government in Brazil implemented new programs that actively encouraged European workers to come over to farm coffee on Brazilian farms. This provided a stronger link between Brazil and the European nations who consumed its coffee.
In 1929, Brazil’s coffee industry adapted after the abolition of the slave trade, but it faced a new difficult challenge during the Great Depression. Due to the USA being the primary buyer of Brazilian coffee, followed by Europe, the depression hit the coffee trade like a tonne of bricks. Prices plummeted, trade diminished, and because of this many thousands of bags of Brazilian coffee beans were burned. Although it may have seemed like the end of the great coffee era in Brazil, the wealth and industrial progress which coffee brought laid the foundations for other industries to flourish and adapt to changing economic demands.. Brazil still struggled both economically and politically for the next half century, but the coffee industry was not entirely destroyed and would rise again one day.
Having overcome economic and political struggles to become a flourishing economy, Brazil still remains the largest producer of coffee in the world. Brazil contributes 30% of worldwide production and produces almost three times as much as the second largest producer – Vietnam. Coffee represented 10.2% of the total production exports from Brazil in 2011, bringing in around 7,841 billion USD. And in case you were wondering – Brazilians themselves love coffee, it’s the most consumed product by individuals.
Brazilian green coffee beans have a sweet and chocolaty flavor that has become extremely popular in the world of coffee. It also includes strong taste of honey, vanilla, molasses, cashew and malt.
Coffee arabica, the species of coffee plant that grows the highest quality beans, predominates and can be further broken down into varietals. Varietals are hybrids or natural mutations and they keep most of the characteristics of their subspecies but differ from it in at least one significant way. Typica and Bourbon are the parents of almost all the coffee varietals you’ll hear of. Bourbon is typically more productive and is part of the reason Brazil became one of the world’s coffee super-producers in the 1860s, when it was introduced to make up for the supply loss caused by a leaf-rust outbreak in Java. Slightly sweeter with a sort of caramel quality, Bourbon coffees also have a nice, crisp acidity, but can present different flavours depending on where they’re planted.
There are several uniquely Brazilian varietals:
Bourbon - has coloured varieties including red (Bourbon Vermelho) and yellow (Bourbon Amarelo). Confusingly, ‘Brazil Santos’ is sometimes referred to as a varietal but it is usually used as a grading term for Brazilian coffee rather than a variety of arabica.
Mundo Novo - varietal accounts for about 40 percent of Brazilian coffees and is a hybrid between Typica and Bourbon that was found in Brazil in the 1940s. It’s particularly suited to the country’s climate and farmers like it because of it’s resistant to disease and high yield. Coffee drinkers like it because it produces a sweet cup with a thick body and low acidity.
Caturra - is a natural mutation of the Bourbon varietal and was first found in the town of Caturra in Brazil. This varietal produces a higher yield than its father; this is mainly due to the fact the plant is shorter. It’s also more disease resistant than older traditional varietals and shows a more citric acidity like lemon and lime notes. Maragogype is a natural mutation of Typica varietal and was also discovered in Brazil. This varietal is known for its very large bean size and has a lower yield than the Typica and Bourbon varietals. Catuai is a hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra bred in Brazil in the late 1940s.
‘Natural’ and ‘pulped natural’ processed coffee are kings in Brazil with naturally processed coffee by far the dominant method of processing. The legend goes that because coffee was traditionally processed this way for 150 years before de-pulping machines were introduced that there is a distinctly “Brazilian” cup. In Brazil, the fully washed process is done in very small amounts despite being the dominant processing method across the world.
Some Brazilian beans especially those that are pulped natural or “Brazil natural” have a pronounced peanutty quality and heavy body that makes them common components in espresso blends. Chocolate and some spice is typical and the coffees tend to linger in the mouth with a less clean aftertaste than other South American beans.
This coffee is naturally processed yet does not resemble the characteristics of any other natural coffees. With Full Bloom, the cherries start to dry on the trees at the Daterra farm in Brazil. Full Bloom possess an explosive taste of raisins and plums with a subtle hint of vanilla. Full Bloom’s low acidity and sweet taste it really brings the vanilla out as the coffee lingers in your mouth. The depth of flavour is incredible and it is still complemented by a silky milk chocolate undertone. The outstanding flavour is a result of the many efforts of Daterra, The Coffee Collective and the varieties contained within this lot, Mundo Novo and Catuai. Full Bloom is also grown in the Cerrado region at an altitude of 1.150 masl, and harvested by mechanical means. All these factors play a role in the final taste experience.
A Story of a Farmer from Brazil
Minas Gerais, Brazil is the main producer of coffee and milk for Brazil and the landscape being marked by mountains and fertile lands in the country. In the small city Cascalho, lives a coffee farmer named Sr. Jesus. He owns 3 hectares of land here, where he lives and works together with his wife and their child.
Sr. Jesus dedicated 0.7 hectares of his land to coffee, 3000 trees are already planted. In addition to coffee, Sr. Jesus has 2 hectares of native pasture and 0.3 of natural forest for permanent protection. Next to this, he is keeping a small part of his land free to have space for drying his coffee. Sr. Jesus also works in a large coffee farm near his property to offer better living conditions to his family. Eager to expand his own knowledge, he always accompanied the agricultural engineers during their visits on the farm. Sr. Jesus also invited them to his own small fields, but none ever visited his plantation.
The project made technical guidance accessible for him. Sr. Jesus used to apply fertilizers without previous soil analysis, and lacked control of diseases and pests. He changed his practices and by now, the first positive changes are becoming visible on the small coffee plantation: the crop has improved remarkably. The project helps Sr. Jesus to perform soil and leaf analysis which allows him to use appropriate fertilizer and dosify it much more accurately.
One of the first steps for Sr. Jesus was to join the Producer Association of the region. The region’s coffee trade used to be handled by local brokers. This year, the project staff has performed an extensive analysis of the coffee quality, providing the farmers with knowledge on their coffee and thereby improving their bargaining power with the broker. Sr. Jesus’ coffee had always been of a good quality. Yet, this season, he was able to reduce the number of defects even further, thanks to applying best practices in coffee drying and separating the high quality beans of those of minor quality. And thanks to the classification of the quality, Sr. Jesus now receives 2.25% more income per bag of coffee.
Sr. Jesus’ house is modest but well maintained. At the moment, there is no current water yet, the family uses a water tank. However, the local sanitation company has recently started expanding its pipes to the region where he lives. His family aims at growing vegetables, but as water still is scarce, they are considering to merely plant vegetables in the rainy season. The family’s son has recently left the family to work in one of the bigger cities in the surrounding, as Sr. Jesus’ land is too small to feed all family members. Sr. Jesus dream is expanding his grounds so to enable his son to move back to them and see his grandchildren grow.
“It’s time for the coffee producers here to plant more coffee – the project is giving considerable support to us.” Sr. Jesus says. His plans are set: he wants to plant 2000 new coffee trees this year, expanding his coffee fields to 1.2 ha. The project staff is closely accompanying Sr. Jesus, tracking his costs with the Farmer Field Book. The central idea: reduce his costs, maximize his profits – help for self-help.