Brazil is big, there’s no two ways about it. Big on dancing, big on football and big on carnival. Given that the world’s fifth-largest country lies exactly within the coffee belt, it is also big in the coffee business. So big even, that Brazil is the world’s undisputed leading exporter of coffee. But is size really everything – or does quality suffer somewhere along the line?
No, there’s no question, with some 35 per cent of total global production, Brazil is by far the world’s biggest coffee producer. If prices fall here, they also fall in every other coffee country. That might sound a little extreme, but in view of Brazil’s track record, the country’s share of one-third actually seems somewhat pitiful.
The taste revolution – Brazilian coffee over the years
In 1920, Brazil accounted for a whopping 80 per cent of worldwide coffee cultivation, but due to the continuing advance in cultivation in other countries, the former colossus shrunk more and more. And not only this – Brazil’s previous focus on quantity as opposed to quality has cost the country dearly, with advocates of the third wave of coffee consumption placing greater emphasis on culinary appreciation. The quick kick from Starbucks is a thing of the past. And the same goes for fast-track bean cultivation. These developments have not gone unnoticed in Brazil. It can be claimed – and with good reason – that a real revolution has taken place over the last two decades. And how did it come about?
The magic word is Embrapa. Contrary to how it might sound, this is not the Brazilian term for abracadabra but the name of a research institute responsible for developing new technologies in agriculture. Under the auspices of Embrapa, the Brazilian Coffee Research Consortium has the country’s best scientists working together to develop new methods for the coffee market – from cultivation and harvesting to preparation and further processing. They are the ones responsible both for the enormous efficiency with above-average yields and the corresponding improvement in quality. No wonder, then, that the giant is again enjoying a growth spurt from one year to the next – and the production volume is shooting up.
Coffee export at the port – the journey starts at Santos
Wanting to sell coffee is one thing, actually doing it is another. In Brazil, the best place for this is in Santos. Located in the state of São Paulo, the Port of Santos is the hub of the Brazilian export business. And has been since time immemorial. Or thereabouts. In any case, coffee has been exported from here since 1797. In addition to green coffee, Latin America’s biggest port also ships sugar, soya, maize, orange juice and coal. And incidentally, the street Quinze de Novembro offers a special insight into the old town of Santos. The heart of the Brazilian coffee world, it is well worth a visit – and not only for coffee-lovers.
Coffee cultivation in Minas Gerais – a huge area with vast potential
While the beans leave the country from Santos, the large majority of them are grown in the state of Minas Gerais, with over half of all Brazilian coffee coming from there. For many years now, we have been sourcing coffee for our Café Royal blends from the historical Fazenda da Lagoa, which has been UTZ certified since 2005. With 3,600 hectares, it is one of the country’s biggest coffee plantations. The huge expanse also comprises generous ecological compensation areas that serve to preserve plant and animal diversity and thereby help to maintain an ecological balance.
Thanks to its UTZ certification, emphasis is also placed on the working conditions of the workers. The large majority of coffee farmers in Brazil are smallholders, and many of these UTZ-certified farmers are members of a cooperative. The farmers benefit from these cooperatives through the training they receive in key areas such as cultivation and harvesting techniques. They are encouraged to take a more long-term approach, and to take on more responsibility when it comes to ensuring the traceability of their coffee. In concrete terms, on Fazenda da Lagoa, this also means that employees working on the fields always wear protective clothing. The families living in the accommodation on site also have access to clean drinking water, electricity and sanitation facilities.
From generation to generation – new areas benefiting from the expertise of the older ones
One of the newer coffee-growing areas is Cerrado Mineiro in northern Brazil. Here, productivity is particularly high thanks to favourable weather conditions, larger, flatter spaces and mechanical harvesting. More than half of the plantations are equipped with drip irrigation systems that provide the plants with small but highly accurate quantities of water. This is not only extremely economical – in combination with the ideal climate, it results in an excellent, consistent quality of coffee.
If the locals drink it ...
And this quality is also well-received by the Brazilians – who, after all, really know their coffee. They consume almost half of the coffee they produce.
Typical Brazilian coffee has a subtle acidity and a high level of sweetness, often combined with notes of chocolate and nuts. But, as with anything else, it all depends on the variety, the region and climatic and economic conditions. Investment is also increasing in high-quality Canephora beans (more commonly known as Robusta). Many of the Café Royal blends include Brazilian coffee, and with good reason, as the little beans from the coffee giant make a big difference to the taste.