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Paul O’Toole and I set out with a number of different objectives for our first trip to Brazil in a few years.  Making and building on relationships at origin is the lifeblood of our coffee company, something we’ve done for many years.  Trips to Panama, Peru and Bolivia on the UK side and a decade of work in Nicaragua on the Irish side have been of particular significance to us in recent times.

So to Brazil; a country that has not only been the source of much news in recent months but has also been even more on our radar than usual.  Brazil (the world’s largest producer) pretty much sets the tone for world production quotas, which affects price and has a potential knock-on in quality too.  It is therefore vital for us to get a realistic picture of what’s going on, especially when earlier this year it was reported that a particularly poor harvest may be coming.

Another aspect fuelling our interest is the fact that the specialty sector of the market is really making inroads into a producing country that has built its coffee industry on volume.  We saw a lot of evidence of this; from increased lot separation, differing and experimental varietals, to better management of drying, processing and grading – it was almost like finding a new and fun aspect in an old and trusted friend! I had expected to see a little of this kind of development, and in all probability we were probably seeing more than is typical due to the people we visited being so clearly motivated to work towards it, but these are the people we already work with and will likely start with others.

Due to the size of the country and by the extension of the area available for agriculture, including coffee, the farming process, particularly around harvesting, is a little different in Brazil. The majority of coffee is grown without shade in vast open flat fields that are then harvested by machines that strip the coffee from the tree. The ripe (also under and over ripe) cherries are captured before falling to the ground. Selective hand picking (i.e. picking only the ripe cherries by hand) is not an option for most farms as their size means it would simply take too long and coffee would be left on the trees. As with any origin, the coffee is then taken to the mill and it is at this point that the quality sorting, via density, size, colour and other factors, takes place. This process sorts the coffee to the point where it would have been if selectively picked by hand.  It is separated out – just at this later stage. Less ideal grades of cherry are sorted to match lower grading criteria – there is a market for almost anything, so beware cheap imitations!

At the mills we visited, the grading and assessment of the coffee was to a really pleasing standard, although one chap was only loosely introducing the coffee to the concept of heat for his sample roasting – i.e. a little underdeveloped to say the least!

This again demonstrates the real need to go and see in order to understand the processes and ensure you really have the coffee you want. More often than not, specific lots, specialty preparations and experimental productions are already available, or a completely new selection can be put aside.

I will talk about the individual farms we visited in my next blog entry so log on again to find out what else we discovered on this eye-opening trip.

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