Sourcing coffee and visiting our farm partners can be one of life’s most rewarding and fun experiences. It can also be exhausting as I learned on my trip to Brazil this past month where I slept in a different city every night for 9 days and never went to bed before midnight. My trip to Brazil followed 9 days in Colombia where I was an International Judge for the Cup of Excellence. By the time I returned home from Brazil I had worn every piece of clothing, twice, and was ready for some sleep.
Brazil trip started when I departed Colombia on a red eye into São Paulo, Brazil, arrival time 4am. Unfortunately my luggage did not show up, I lost my contacts (lenses), my cell phone was dead, and I quickly learned Spanish would not sub for Portuguese. Such was the beginning of a trip with many highs and lows, and this would be just the first of many long days with little or no sleep. Thankfully I am in the coffee business so sleeping is overrated and drinking a lot of coffee can keep me going.
After finally getting my luggage and meeting other roasters and friends, we departed on another flight to Uberlandia to visit farms in the coffee region of Brazil known as Cerrado. Coming from the state of Nariño in Colombia where the average farm was less than one hectare in size, the average farm in Cerrado was over 100 hectares. Many of the farms were still run by families, nonetheless, the larger farms were also run like a business, with every effort to increase yield and control costs. While some were geared more to commodity coffee (not for us), their systems and traceability were highly efficient and optimized, an example for all. This trip was the first time I witnessed machines that picked coffee. Each machine was very large and efficient, though expensive, they cut labor costs and allowed the farmers to meet the demands of the harvest.
As I had in Colombia, I asked the farmers what the higher prices meant to them and what they would do with the extra cash flow. The smaller farmers in Colombia response was the ability to provided better food to their children, better education, and better fertilizer for next crop. In Brazil I asked these larger farmers the same question and they said -- pay off bank loans, upgrade equipment, and put away to save for future needs. They told me how a previous season many years ago had destroyed much of their farms and they learned the need to save for such a rainy day.
Though mostly all naturals (where the cherry is left on the bean to dry), many farms also had equipment and did some pulp naturals (or honey processed) where the cherry fruit was removed from the bean. Each would then be dried on patio’s, then moved to larger dryers for an even and consistent moisture content, before being moved to tulha’s for resting prior to additional sorting and bagging. All fully traceable to the exact lot on the farm. Once completed, the farmer would send the coffee to a cooperative for cupping and storage.
The Cerrado region was very warm during my visit, about 90 degrees, and the farmers said they had not seen any rain in 5 and 1/2 months. Generally their dry season works well to harvest and dry the coffee, but water is needed so the trees can flower for the next crop and needed by now or early October at the latest. Fortunately these large farms have irrigation to use in a pinch, though more costly than mother nature, they were all watering their trees while my stay.
It was at the cupping table I learned that not all of the coffee was commodity (below 80 points). I found a few diamonds in the rough and will have samples shipped back home for approval. When I tasted one cup I thought someone had poured sweet orange juice into the cup and in another cup was full of milk chocolate. In general, the taste profile from Cerrado is chocolate with a hint of orange citrus plus great body. Any wonder why I visited Cerrado?
After 4 long days of visits to farms followed by cupping at cooperatives and dinners past midnight each day, I returned to São Paulo to begin the 2nd part of my Brazil visit, including a visit to Santa Mariana.
View all images from Brazil, here
Read Part 2