We started our 10-day trip in Sao Paulo…no, wait, our flight from Chicago got cancelled, so the airline booked us into a hotel, conveniently located about 30 minutes away in one of the seedy industrial suburbs. Fortunately, Marc from Kickapoo picked us up and took us to a great sushi restaurant!
Next day…we started our 9-day trip in Sao Paulo. Jim (DOMA), Monika (Co-op Sol), Derek (Peace Coffee) and Caleb (Kickapoo Coffee). Even though we quickly left the city, it bears a few words. First of all there are over 11 million people in the city and 20 in the Sao Paulo metropolitan area. This is amazing. It is the largest city in the southern hemisphere. By comparison, the population of the state of Idaho is 1.5 million and the population of the state of Washington is 6.5 million. Even if you add them together, you still don’t have as many people as the city of Sao Paulo.
We met our guide and translator at the airport and headed straight for Alfenas. This would be our base of operations for the first few days. Coincidentally, there was a huge, week-long celebration in the town (live music and parties every night) and the annual “Festival of the Potato” festivities. Oh, yeah, Johnnie Walker is really expensive in Brasil (but available everywhere).
Driving to meet our first producer group, I began to get a real sense that coffee farming in Brasil is very different from any other country I have visited. Most coffee farms here are very big (like many thousands of bags/year). It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the neatly spaced rows of coffee go on for as far as you can see in every direction.
We first went to Machado, where they were getting ready to host the national Transfair cupping competition. Nice facility for events, really cool sample roasters, plenty of hot water and blinds that make you think you are in the Matrix.
Here we met with several producer groups we would be visiting during the trip. We wanted to get a sense of their cooperatives, their coffees and whether or not they would be a good fit for Cooperative Coffees. The first thing we saw was that there is not much organic production coming out of Brasil. The price of labor and cost of living is so high that production levels must be very high for each farm. This causes several things to happen. In Brasil, coffee is picked once a year (where most countries pick several times a season selecting red cherries only as they ripen), this means some are green, some are red, some are overripe, etc. If these are not sorted properly (on the patio or at the dry mill) the coffee will not be good quality.
The yields are lower using current organic production methods and prices for organic aren’t much higher to compensate. Most farmers have no incentive to switch to organic production. It’s clear that a good relationship is needed to get quality organic coffee year after year.
There are some farmer groups who really believe in organic production. We visited several co-ops, Coopervitae, Dos Costas (Asscostas), Poço Fundo and Coorpol. They each had some great things going in their organic programs. There is definitely some great potential in Brasil for outstanding organic coffees, but it will be a long term project for some of the groups we visited.
Poço Fundo had a great, fully plumbed, cupping table. You sit on the stool and just spin the table as you taste around.
Cupping at Poço Fundo.
visiting one of the Dos Costas organic farms with head tecnico, head of the producer family, president of Dos Costas and roaster from Idaho.
View from farm at Dos Costas.
This is a family farm. Here is the next generation of coffee producer.
Here is the next, next generation.
Still flowering here.
Derek shows how tall the coffee trees are here.
Cupping lab at Bourbon Specialty Coffees.
Cool, digital, hot water gun for cuppings
Head cupper at Coorpol (his farm produces some fantastic coffee)
Sample roasting with Flavio at the National University at Lavras. Flavio is one of the world’s foremost experts on post-harvest processing and its relationship to quality.