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Part I — The History of Brazilian Coffees

Five Senses CoffeeGuest Writer 4 December 2013

Here is the first instalment in our new, three part series giving a unique perspective on Brazilian coffees, written by none other than our favourite Brazilian, Julz, herself. Parts II and III will be available over the coming months — so watch this space for more Brazilian insight!

A little teaser into what we have to look forward to:
Part I — The History of Brazilian coffees (you can start learning about this right NOW!)
Part II — Brazil: One Country, Many Flavours
Part III — Unveiling Mechanical Harvesting Brazil


Part I — The History of Brazilian coffees

By now you all should know that I was born in Brazil, right? So as someone who was born there, I always pay close attention to Brazilian coffees. Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world, producing approximately 50 million bags of coffee a year.

Ever since I started working with specialty coffee, I’ve noticed that there are many misconceptions surrounding Brazilian coffee. They often don’t receive the credit they deserve. Why do Brazilian coffees carry some kind of stigma? To help us understand this situation, I’ve put together a three-part article on Brazil. The best way to begin is with a brief history of coffee in Brazil.

Coffee was introduced to Brazil in 1727 when a few coffee seedlings were transported from French Guiana to Para (in the north of Brazil).

It eventually spread throughout the north and northeastern parts of Brazil and finally reached the southern regions such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais in the late 1700’s. Brazil quickly became the largest single coffee producer in the world, responsible for approximately 45% of the world’s coffee production.

For decades, coffee was synonymous with wealth and the crop accelerated the development and industrialization of the country, brought in European immigrants and established a social middle class. Access to slave labour and an abundance of land all contributed to the overall growth of coffee plantations and coffee production.

This eventually led to an overproduction of coffee in the early 1900’s followed by an inevitable drop in prices. This was when the government stepped in to help regulate the market by both reducing imports and purchasing and stockholding excess supply from farmers.

By the 1920’s, Brazil was supplying up to 80% of the total coffee in consuming countries.

Up until this point, coffee production was about meeting quotas based on the International Coffee Agreement. The ICA influenced supply from different growing regions, but placed little emphasis on quality.

The system of international quotas had its flaws, but it did a good job of keeping the prices stable for a long time. However, this quota system also slowed down the development of the specialty coffee in Brazil and put a huge emphasis on the commodity market.
So for many years Brazilian farmers produced large amounts of coffee in order to reach the quotas established by the ICA. They mixed high quality beans with lower quality crops, bagging and labeling their coffee according to the sea port where it would be exported (one of the most well-known ports is Santos). At the time, no attention was paid to where coffee was grown.

In 1999, only ten years after the quotas were broken, Brazil held its first ever Cup of Excellence programme, which was then called ‘The best of Brazil’. The focus of the Cup of Excellence programme was to promote traceability and direct trade, and to discover and reward quality in Brazil. The success of the first programme was proof that the market was willing to pay more than double the commodity price for quality coffee.

Since then, there’s been a distinct shift from quantity to quality in the market, with buyers demanding more acidic and distinct coffees. Suddenly Brazilian coffees were spoken about less frequently, although they were still in high demand as an espresso base component for many consuming countries.

Today Brazil has an amazing 14 distinct growing regions in seven different states in the country. The success of auction programmes like the CoE in Brazil have allowed different regions to establish their own identity, and within these regions, estates and fazendas have also been able to create their own identity, especially as the practice of separating particular crops, varieties, altitudes, farm, region, etc. has grown in popularity.

Although Brazil has a long history of producing and exporting large amounts of commodity coffee, a portion of producers have also embraced the quality market. When it comes to Brazilian coffees, the profile is one of the sweetest in the world and, due to its large landmass, there’s high potential for the country to create a diverse range of cupping profiles. However, the key to truly appreciating Brazilian coffee lies in discerning the unique Brazilian profile, and then understanding what makes Brazilian coffees different and exceptional when they are compared to those produced by the rest of the world.

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