Coffee Origins: Brazil – For over 150 years, Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee grower. Brazil currently produces about one-third of the world’s coffee, despite having a market share of up to 80% in the past.
While Brazil was still under Portuguese administration, coffee was brought to the country by French Guiana in 1727.
Francisco de Melo Palheta planted the first coffee plantation in Brazil in the Para region in the north of the country. Palheta, according to legend, went to French Guiana on a diplomatic trip, seduced the governor’s wife, and was handed the seeds hidden in a bouquet by her when he left.
The coffee he planted when he returned home was likely only for domestic consumption, and it remained a minor crop until it began to spread south, being handed from garden to garden as well as farm to farm as a crop.
Commercial production begins
Coffee was first commercially produced along the Paraiba River near Rio de Janeiro. This area was ideal for coffee because of the land and its proximity to Rio de Janeiro, which would make exporting easier.
Brazil’s initial commercial farms were enormous, slave-driven estates, in contrast to the smaller coffee farms that thrived in Central America. This industrialized method of coffee production is stillrelativelye uncommon in the rest of the globe, and Brazilian coffee production isprettyy distinctive.
The most powerful, or forceful, would win arguments over ill-defined property lines, and a single enslaved person would look after four to seven thousand plants. The farm would simply move on to something else when the soil became depleted due to intensive farming.
Coffee production boomed between 1820 and 1830, overtaking the demand of Brazilian coffee drinkers and beginning to feed the broader global market.
Those controlling coffee production became incredibly wealthy and powerful and were called ‘coffee barons.’ Their needs would significantly impact the government’s policies and its support of the coffee industry.
By 1830, Brazil had produced 30% of the world’s coffee. By 1840, it had risen to 40%, even though the the significant increase in production had resulted in a decline in the global price of coffee.
Brazil’s coffee business relied on slave labor until the mid-nineteenth century. Enslaved people were imported to Brazil to work on the coffee plantations.
After the British outlawed Brazil’s slave trade with Africa in 1850, the country resorted to migrant labor or its internal slave trade. The abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888 sparked fears that the coffee industry would be jeopardized, but the harvest proceeded successfully that year and after that.
A second boom
A second coffee boom occurred from the 1880s until the 1930s, named for the two most prominent products. The political atmosphere known as the café com leite period was influenced by both coffee barons from Sao Paolo and dairy producers from Minas Gerais.
During this time, the Brazilian government implemented valorization, a protectionist policy to stabilize coffee prices. When the market was low, the government would buy coffee from growers at a premium and store it until it was high. This meant constant prices and no oversupply for coffee barons due to reduced prices.
Brazil produced 80% of the world’s coffee by the 1920s, and coffee helped fund much of the country’s infrastructure.
Thisrunawayd production resulted in a tremendous coffee excess, which added to the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Brazil’s government burned over 78 million bags of hoarded coffee to boost prices, but it had little effect.
During World War II, there was rising fear in the United States that with European markets closed, falling coffee prices might encourage Central and South American countries to sympathize with Nazis or communists.
An international agreement was drafted, based on a quota system, to stabilize coffee’s price. This pact drove up coffee prices until they steadied in the mid-1950s. It is said to be a forerunner to the much larger International Coffee Agreement (ICA) signed in 1962, which would eventually include 42 producing countries.
The International Coffee Organization determined the indicative coffee price, which was used to set quotas (ICO). Ratings were reduced when prices fell and increased when prices rose.
This agreement lasted until 1989, when it collapsed due to Brazil’s refusal to accept a quota decrease. Brazil believed it could prosper outside the accord since it was a very efficient producer.
The ICA’s demise resulted in an unregulated market, and prices decreased substantially over the next five years. This resulted in the coffee crisis that sparked the Fair Trade movement in coffee production.
On and off years
Because Brazil is the world’s largest coffee supplier, everything that affects production ripple impacts global pricing. The alternating cycle of Brazil’s annual crop was one such element.
Over time, it became evident that Brazil’s harvest would alternate between huge and minor crops each year. In recent years, some work has been done to reduce this effect, resulting in less year-to-year volatility and higher consistency.
This fluctuation in yield is caused by a coffee tree’s natural alternating cycle of large and small crops, which can be regulated with mild pruning. In Brazil, a light pruning is not widespread, with producers preferring to prune back heavily.
There have been spectacular events, such as the 1975 black frost, which cut the yield by over 75% the following year. The price of coffee nearly doubled almost immediately due to the frost. Two off years in a row in 2000 and 2001 resulted in a large harvest in 2002, resulting in a massive coffee yield. This occurred during a second extended era of low coffee prices due to a global coffee surplus.
Modern coffee production
Brazil is undoubtedly, the world’s most advanced and industrialized coffee-producing country. With a focus on yield and output, it hasn’t earned a good reputation for producing high-quality coffees.
Most large farms use crude picking techniques like strip picking, which involves simultaneously removing all the cherries from a branch. They utilize harvesting equipment to shake the cherries away from the components if the plantations are vast and flat (as is usual in Brazil’s larger coffee fields).
Because neither method considers ripeness, the harvested coffee may contain a substantial percentage of immature cherries.
Brazil used to process much of its coffee by sun-drying the whole cherries on patios for an extended period (see The Natural Process).
The Pulped Natural Process, introduced in the early 1990s, helped improve quality. Still, for years, Brazil’s specialty coffee producers – who can pick by hand, wash their coffee, and grow interesting varieties at higher altitudes – have battled against the country’s reputation for producing coffees with low acidity and increased body that is best suited to espresso blends.
While much of Brazil’s coffee is grown below the elevations that are ideal for quality, some extraordinarily intriguing and tasty coffees still exist.
Similarly, the country produces some very clean and sweet coffees with slight acidity, which many people find pleasant and approachable (quite correctly).
While not a focus of this book, it should be noted that Brazil is one of the world’s primary producers of Robusta, along with Arabica. In Brazil, Robusta is usually called cotillon and is produced in regions such as Rondonia.
With increasing success, Brazil has been aggressively attempting to expand its domestic coffee consumption. While offering coffee to children at a young age may raise some eyebrows, Brazil’s coffee consumption currently matches that of the United States.
Because raw coffee cannot be imported into Brazil, a considerable portion of the coffee cultivated is consumed domestically. However, the quality of coffee for domestic use is often poorer than that for export.
Coffee shops have sprouted across Brazil’s main cities, despite their prices being comparable to those found in better coffee shops in the United States and Europe. They have become yet another emblem of the country’s growing wealth difference.
Brazilian coffee of high grade may usually be traced back to a specific farm (Fazenda), whereas lower-quality coffees are sold in bulk and are not traceable.
Coffees labeled ‘Santos’ were sent from the port of Santos, and the name has nothing to do with the origin of the beans.
Because there are farms in Brazil that produce more coffee than the entire country of Bolivia, the rule of thumb that traceability is linked to quality is likely to be broken.
While the coffee may be traceable due to the large manufacturing scale, it does not necessarily mean it is of superior quality.
Better Brazilian coffees tend to have low acidity, heavy body, and sweetness, often with chocolate and nutty āavours.
Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 55,000,000
Different coffee varieties grown across Brazil were developed or evolved there, including Mundo Novo, Yellow Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai.
This large state in the east of Brazil is one of the northernmost coffee-growing areas in the country.
In recent years there have been more and more exciting coffees from this region, and many people sat up and took notice when in the 2009 Cup of Excellence competition, five out of the top ten lots came from Bahia.
This beautiful area of Brazil, known for its national park, is named after its geology: Chapada describes the cliffs in the region, and Diamantina, the diamonds found there in the 19th century.
Many farms in the region are producing coffee biodynamically, an organic method of production developed initially by Rudolph Steiner.
Altitude: 1,000–1,200m (3,300–3,900ft)
Cerrado de bahia/west bahia
Large-scale, industrialized, and irrigated coffee productions are possible in this location. This area was part of a government scheme to stimulate agriculture in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which gave low-interest loans and other incentives to roughly 600 farmers who relocated here.
By 2006, over 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of land had been planted, with coffee accounting for only a tiny portion. Because a consistent, warm, and sunny climate encourages bigger harvests, finding something truly remarkable in this section of Brazil is a bit more challenging.
Altitude: 700–1,000m (2,300–3,300ft)
This coffee region focuses more on small-scale production, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and higher altitudes to produce higher-quality coffees.
Altitude: 700–1,300m (2,300–4,300ft)
In the country’s southeast, the state of Minas Gerais has some of the highest mountains in Brazil, providing a good altitude for coffee.
South of minas
Historically, this region has produced much of Brazil’s coffee and has been home to many generations of smallholder farmers. Perhaps this is why there are so many cooperatives in the area.
Despite small farms, the area is heavily industrialized, with a high level of mechanical harvesting. Carmo de Minas, for example, has recently gained increased interest within the region.
This municipality, which includes the village of Carmo, has a significant number of producers whose the soil and climate to grow excellent coffees.
Altitude: 700–1,350m (2,300–4,400ft)
Chapada de mines
This region is further north, away from the other coffee-growing areas clustered together to the south. Coffee growing took hold here in the late 1970s. It is a relatively small production area, with some producers exploiting the āat land to mechanize their farms.
Altitude: 800–1,100m (2,600–3,600ft)
This is a region where coffee was introduced early on and which prospered thanks to coffee and dairy between 1850 and 1930. Despite recent diversification, coffee still accounts for roughly 80% of the region’s agricultural income.
Harvesting is typically done by hand because of the uneven terrain and steep hillsides.
Despite many smallholders in the region (almost 40% of farms are less than 10 hectares/24 acres), the area lacks the established reputation for excellence that one might expect. However, this is changing for the better, and numerous farms are producing excellent coffee in the area.
Altitude: 550–1,200m (1,800–3,900ft)
The state of São Paolo contains one of the better-known coffee-growing areas of Brazil, Mogiana. The region was named after the Mogiana Railroad Company, which built the ‘coffee railroad’ in 1883, leading to better transport and a significant expansion of coffee
Altitude: 800–1,200m (2,600–3,900ft)
Mato grosso and mato grosso do sul
Only a minor portion of Brazil’s annual harvest is produced in this region. Thelargeficantt number of cattle rais as the extensive soybean crop are better adapted to the taste of flat highlands.
Altitude: average of 600m (2000ft)
While small compared to other coffee-growing districts in Brazil, Espirito Santo produces the second-largest portion of the annual harvest. The capital city, Vittoria, is a vital port for export.
However, cotillon accounts for roughly 80% of the coffee it produces (Robusta). Farmers in the south of the region tend to grow Arabica. Therefore there may be some more exciting coffees there.
Altitude: 900–1,200m (3,000–3,900ft)
Some argue that this state is the world’s southernmost coffee-growing zone and a significant agricultural region for Brazil. It produces approximately 25% of the country’s agricultural output despite having only 2.5 percent of its territory.
Coffee was formerly the most important crop in this region, but following frost damage in 1975, many farmers switched to other crops. The area used to produce 22 million bags of coffee yearly, but today only has around 2 million.
The first colonists arrived near the coast, but coffee drove many of them inland. Although the lack of altitude prohibits truly high-quality coffees from being grown here, the colder temperatures aid in the fruit’s maturation.
Altitude: up to 950m (3,100ft)