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Brazil – The hidden detail behind ‘coffee’ coffee

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Sao Paolo is a huge city, up there in the top 15 largest cities in the world with a current population of around 12 million people and covering a vast area even for those of us starting in London. Landing at 7am with a few bumps on the way myself (Jamie), Diana and our guests headed off to the city to ground ourselves before the next stage of the journey at an equally early starting time the next day.

The coffee scene in Brazil is quite interesting – speciality roasters there are unable to import green beans from other countries and so concentrate on the regionality and spread their own country offers; swinging up to the hip area around Via Madelena and Beco do Batman we popped in to say hello to Coffee Lab, sampling a number of pour overs, jam and cakes. It gave us a good introduction to a country that is often overlooked as ‘coffee coffee’.

Daterra - Cerrado

Monday morning we were off to Uberlandia, Minas Gerais and back to Daterra, a farm we visit every year. I was happy to return –revisiting a farm as an individual not just a company is a great way to appreciate the growth and changes that have occurred.  In some ways not much has changed, the same dusty red soil and very blue skies, the colourful Mercedes trucks moving the mornings pickings to the washing station, the flowers lining the way to the lodge that we stay in whilst on the farm. What would become noticeable this year over last though was the sheer amount of birdlife flying through. Last year it was not sparse, but this year we got a visit from the toucan, saw a couple of species of hummingbird as well as the David Bowie-esque Rufous-collared Sparrow and the great Kiskadee (which sounds like a story in its own right).

Jumping straight in to the tour, we headed to the coffee quality lab after a quick fill of our water pouches. Part of the continual improvements Daterra strive for is the phasing out of disposable plastic cups for water. Instead they have made thicker, reusable pouches with carabiners attached and invested in filtered filling stations around the farm and buildings for people to top up from. This is on top of previous work they have done, such as having large bins spread around to collect rubbish and promote recycling and growing their own timber to ensure it sustainable.

This is not just a box ticking exercise. News from the agronomists’ office on the farm is that the gradual closing of the temperature difference they have previously talked about is continued – it’s not so much that it is getting hotter, but rather that it is failing to get colder. (You can read about that in last years report) More importantly this year was the unpredictability of the rain – this year the irregular rainfall has led to numerous flowerings with the threat of more  – and this is causing not so much a drop in quality of the higher grades, but an increase in the harvesting and sorting which is the main cost drivers on farms.

Continual improvement was also evident as we toured the fields with Juliana and Joao. A third wet mill is under construction to process the lower grade coffees, predominantly the cherries that are picked up off the ground and the last pickings. It’s easy to focus on the top end of coffee, but these beans play a role in the final mix for any farm’s earnings too. At Daterra, the thought process is that as these are dirtier, a dedicated wet mill can better sort and clean these beans, as well as reducing the cross contamination and clean out time required for the main wet mill.

A reduction in water use had also been made on the main wet mill, with the addition of a filtration system allowing the water to be reused for initial sorting and the cleanest water saved for the most impactful parts. Take this with the reduction in cleaning due to the new mill and there should be a meaningful saving of water.

There will be more on this very shortly, and we’re working with Daterra on some very exciting projects for you, so keep an eye out for updates, or make sure you are on our mailing list!

Flying out to Campinas afterwards for a quick overnight before heading off to Guaxupe, we briefly split to allow the planning of the new projects whilst Diana took the lead and went to visit a long-term supplier of ours, Palmital, with Maria and Priscila from Guaxupe based exporters SMC.

Fazenda Palmital

The ride from Campinas to Cabo Verde, where Fazenda Palmital is located, was going to take about three hours, which we thought of as a perfect amount of time for a little nap. But as we got closer and closer to Fazenda Palmital we noticed the landscape taking shape into something quite different than we had experienced in Cerrado. With hills that began to carve out the sky and banana leaves paving way alongside the highway, we found ourselves uninterested in napping, preferring to just gaze out of the window and watching Brazil go by. It felt like no time had passed when we finally arrived to meet Carlos Augusto, the owner of Palmital and the current president of the Cooxupe Cooperative, and his son Augusto Cesar.

Fazenda Palmital has been owned by the family since 1922, currently being looked after by its fifth generation, and with its 100th anniversary on the horizon.  We were lucky enough to be hosted by the whole family with even the newest generation of the family, the children, enjoying a bit of lunch with us in the house after taking a walk around to see the processing facilities as well as driving up the highest points of the farm. The entire farm is handpicked due to the altitude and character of the land, and they have several natural animals including monkeys, snakes, wild cats, spiders, birds, anteaters, toucans, jaguar, horses and chickens.

Pictured: Augusto looking out over the farm

Palmital grows predominately Catuai and Mundo Nuovo varieties, with 8,000 square meters of drying patio. Coffees are first dried on patio to 25% moisture content, and then transported to mechanical driers and brought down to 11% moisture content. They have hooked an app up to their mechanical driers which allows them more control over the drying process. Some of the pergamino from the hulling machines is used to fuel these app controlled mechanical driers, with the aim to reuse waste product and spend less energy and time to create homogenous results. Alongside fuel, pergamino is also used as bedding for the chicken coops. This layer is then collated with chicken poop and is moved to the compost because it is rich in ammonia and phosphate.

The end of the day finished with a small surprise as the family had caught wind of the fact that Elle, of Yellow Bourbon Coffee Roasters, had never been horseback riding.  After enjoying several delicious dishes cooked on a charming wood-fired stove, we ventured back out onto the property and were greeted by two saddled up horses. It was quite the magical experience, having the opportunity to ride on one of the family’s horses while overlooking panoramic view from the patios.

Pictured: Tom from Redbank, Elle from Yellow Bourbon, Diana, Carlos Augusto from Palmital, Maria from SMC and Augusto from Palmital on the drying patio.

SMC, Guaxupe

Reuniting at the offices of SMC, there was time for a quick group cupping before the end of the day. We’ve worked with SMC for a number of years, and it was great to hear from Maria Dirceia Mendes about the success of their speciality programme designed to inspire and reward farmers wishing to build and push their quality. As last years’ hosts of the Brazil Cup of Excellence, this year saw the realisation of their vision and hard work. Dr Flavio Borem (see his talk at Re:Co symposium on processing) has been spending the last three years working with the 40 agronomists that SMC employ, helping them improve their understanding of processing. Combined with a financial incentive from the coop for getting in to the speciality programme as well as the reward from Cup of Excellence recognition itself, Especialissimo as they have named it, is starting to yield some interesting results.

As much as we look forward to tasting the array of coffees we are out here looking for, this is also an important opportunity to calibrate with the exporters and relatively young team Maria has been building. Understanding what characteristics we as importers or roasters are looking for helps identify lots that we may be interested in, and tasting the same coffees together makes things so much clearer when trying to identify flavours that perhaps don’t culturally cross. Table finished it was spoons down and off to check in to the hotel for a quick break before heading out to dinner for the evening.

Morro Cavado

One of the key aims for this trip was to better connect with the producers from some of the new farms we bought from this year. The first of these was Morro Cavado. Like many farms that are passed on through the family, the death of a patriarch or matriarch can cause turbulence in the following months. Equally, tough times often form strong bonds, and it was with this in mind that we were welcomed by Venerando Cavalho and his son Natan at the local SMC office before being taken along the road to their house and introduced to Pollianna, the final member of the family to meet. After a quick breakfast (that is not to belie the nature of that breakfast, the pao de queijo here were great) and conversation over the family’s plans for the farms, we headed off.

Farms is in the plural rather than singular, as the family own four farms under the one umbrella of Morro Alto – Monte Verde, Vera Cruz, Morro Cavado and Monte Alto itself. All four use the one wet mill and processing facilities. Natan is very enthusiastic in his approach to looking after the farms. He has an eye on moving towards a more organic and sustainable method of production – already in the position they can get Rainforest certification if they need it, the farms practices have recently seen an increase in the amount of wildlife appearing on the farm, and a return of some endangered and rare species too.

Part of this involves the production of their own compost. Mixed with manure, they take the dried cherry husks or cascara and apply the water runoff from processing, churning the mass to allow it to dry out on red soiled patios similar to coffee drying patios further round the foothills. This is monitored and applied by their current engineer agronomist Alba. Lots of trees have been planted new around the farm, and so production is growing and from trees in the 3 to 5-year age, where quality tends to be higher. They grow Mundo Novo, Arara, Rubi, red and yellow Catuai, Catucai, Acaia Bourbon and Topazio, and plant each varietal in its own section of the farm.

Pictured: Morro Cavado farm looking over the new planted areas cropping for the first time this year. On the hill are rows of three-year-old trees with reflections of tarpaulins used to collect cherries when hand picking. In the foreground are five-year-old trees that will be experiencing their first season under a machine picker.

Maturation on the farm defines when the cherries are picked. Contrary to the common misapprehension of strip picking, there is a lot of understanding that is applied to this. No branch is fully ripe at any one time, and so the percentage of fully ripe cherries will often define the amount of under and over- ripes, tree dried naturals, and green beans. Each has its own role to play and market to go to, and so picking at the exact right time is key to what each farm will be able to offer at the end of the season. For Morro Cavado, they pick with around 70% fully ripe, but as with the multiple rain issues they have had this year that has caused many flowerings, this is at 40% ripeness. What this means is that the areas under mechanical picking have to be done very lightly so as not to disturb the roughly 20% green still on the branch, and a second picking a couple of weeks later. In hand picking areas they need to be more selective, and of course that is easier to do, but this slows down the process and the cost of repicking a field by hand is much higher than by machine. The result of this is an increase in the price that we see.

Once picked, coffee is taken to the mill and separated via water, then density and screen size into five categories. Coffee is dried in thin layers to ensure evenness and spaced to allow the rakers to not walk on the beans themselves. After two days on the patios the coffee is finished in the mechanical driers – five giant cylinders with wood burners at the end to deal with the sudden volume that a harvesting farm generates – controlled by an accurate digital thermometer system and a strict temperature guide for each quality being produced.

Process understood and with a final visit to the office to sign the visitors book we headed back for dinner with the family before saying our thank-you’s and jumping in the vehicles to head off to our next visit.

Ferradura

The afternoon saw us head late over to Ferradura, another farm with good ties to our exporters, SMC, but a reasonably newer farm for us. Situated slightly novelly behind a sugar mill and through sugar cane fields, the farm itself has existed since 1927 in one form or another, and encompasses some of what used to be Fazenda Lagoa, a renown early adopter for speciality coffee before breaking up a few years ago now in the mid 1990’s. Tadeau Sequalini, the current owner of the farm used to work at Fazenda Lagoa, before renting some of the farm for himself, and buying an additional 10 hectares. The older, rented acreage he maintains through pruning and stumping the heritage trees, whilst the newer land he has planted with Mundo Novo, Icatu and Catuai.

The red soil of Brazil blazes here under the setting sun, which we were to witness as we arrived. As much as possible of the coffee here is patio dried, the naturals for around 15 days, and the pulped coffees around 8 days. The mill itself is the original to the farm, and for fans of agricultural machinery, it was a treat to see an old tilling machine neatly parked up under the avocado tree. Often you come across these beautiful objects in Brazil, be it the purported first ever Pinhalense machine, with its blue paint contrasting with the varnished wood, or an old train carriage preserved for posterity; family heirlooms living on in the current generation of farmers.

Pictured, left: Vintage ‘Desbravador’ from a manufacturing company in Sao Paolo. Right: Tadeau Sequalini in front of the earthy red tones of Ferradura’s original building and drying patio.

With the sun setting and a drive back to Guaxupe ahead of us, we left the farm with the mill still going. Picking may stop at 4pm but work at the patios can and will run into, if not through, the night. There is no pause button on quality, and once the cherry is picked, the processing defines the schedule.

Corrego Grande

Next morning we were with Priscila again heading off to Corrego Grande, where we met the current owner and agronomist Sergio Dos Reis. His Grandfather inherited the farm from his father, and the ownership has continued in this fashion since. The subject of certified organic production (or lack of, in Brazil) came up again, as on this farm too there was a desire to move towards what we recognise as more sustainable practises.

There is an important distinction to be made between the ‘treat sparsely and when necessary’ non organic farming and the world of non-stop application of treatments, and it is the former category that this farm falls in to. As we stood in the shade of an avocado tree with fruits as big as your head, Sergio explained the methodology of zero cropping that he employs to manage the variation between on and off production years as well as maintain the health of his coffee. He also uses organic products, is 4C certified as well as Minas Café certified too, and has aspirations to move to UTZ.

After cropping has finished, the tree is stumped or skeletoned – all productive branches are removed but the root system and trunk left intact. The following year on from this, the tree spends all its energy on re-growing branches which will turn into producing branches the next year. This means there is one whole year without any production.  The reinvigorated tree produces much more cherry over the next couple of years that mitigates the on/off cycle (as well as the fallow year) and gives a much more consistent output over the farm. At Corrego Grande, this is done five acres at a time and is in constant rotation.

Pictured left: Yellow Catuai cherries almost ready for picking. Right: Healthy growth on an area where zero cropping has been previously carried out. Below: Sergio Dos Reis (centre), his father (Ademar), brother (Gustavo) and youngest daughter (Maria).

Another sign of a healthy ecosystem was evident as we toured the fields of coffee and were mildly alarmed at the number and size of spiders lurking in the trees. A bit of bug hunting later, we next travelled to the farmhouse to meet the family. Sergio’s parents live on the farm, his brother on the farm next door, and Gustavo is the farm manager, so it was a family affair as we turned up. One great use of the empty patio is for playing football, and his daughters made sure we joined in, giving us the opportunity to burn off the excellent pao de quiejo and cake that was waiting our arrival. Sergio explained a little more about the farm and his family, and the crop diversification they have to balance income throughout the year.

The farm initially was devoted to cattle, but this requires a large amount of land to be profitable. This is particularly apposite at the moment given the situation with Bolsanaro and the Inpe over deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil. There are still a few cattle present on the farm as a link to the past, but in 1990 the switch to coffee came in. This was actually something we saw a lot of and is certainly not the only farm that has made the switch. They also grow crops that do not demand much attention when coffee is cropping, as they exhibit an alternative growth cycle. Wheat, soya, corn, and avocado all play their part, and it was over this discussion that you really got a feel for the quiet planning that went on at the farm.

Not only were the crops themselves considered, drying and fermentation research was occurring with the assiduous Dr Flavio Borem. A small building had been built with a perforated floor to create ‘boxes’. Here the pulped coffee was put to dry briefly on the patio before being placed in the box, where a steady stream of warmed air rises through. It is thought to lead to a slower fermentation occurring and improvement in cup quality, but results are still ongoing so it’s too early to call.

Flowering here too has been intermittent: again there was the increased workload of picking, and the effect of this for the coffee was that the naturals had a little more raisin content than usual, and so were expected to have a slightly fruitier profile this year. There was also an anticipated increase of visual defects in the lower grades of coffee that come from the green beans and unripes.

Morro Agudo

After a quick lunch at the ever-resplendent Monte Alto, an historic farm that purports to own the first ever Pinhalense machine and has a history that involves a very straight and tall tree, we ventured on to almost the exact opposite, Morro Agudo.

Founded by Heber Bueno Alves and his mum in 1998 when they bought the land and started planting coffee, it has grown to 19 hectares as Morro Agudo and is joined by a sister farm, Peireiro, that has 39 hectares. Between them, they produce around 1,000 bags per year of a mix between Catuai, Mundo novo, Catucai and Tupi. As with many farms we visited, the yellow varietals are more favoured, with the yellow Catuai seen as sweetest here.

In Brazil, the law states that at least 20% of the farm has to be given over to nature reserves (though this can change upwards slightly from region to region). Here the farm ascends towards the solitary forested peak that afforded a spectacular view of Guaxupe through the frayed banana leaves from where the coffee grew. Around 40-50% is maintained as a reserve.

Pictured: Morro Agudo gains its name from the characteristic hill at its heart.

Initial progress was hampered when an outbreak of Broca occurred, leading to the trees being stumped heavily in order to resolve the issue. This worked, and since then the farm has largely been problem free. The hill plays quite a role in the farms crop cycle even though no coffee grows high up on it. Composting is done with the parchment and coffee cherry, but also using leaf litter from the forest at the top. The shade it casts, and the wooded side, affect the maturation of the coffee in different areas meaning harvesting is a longer, slower task than flat open farms. Shade can bring its own problems too, particularly if there is too much rain, but this year had seen less dramatic problems than was anticipated. One interesting nugget we did glean was that the visual difference between shade grown and sun exposed coffee trees is in the leaves. Shade grown coffee will have matt, dark green leaves whilst those under the full glare of the sun will be shinier and lighter green.

Cocarive, Sao Lourenco

Another outstanding spread later, along with a brief cachaca tasting (The family used to be involved in the cachaca trade and old habits die hard) and we were headed back for our last night in Guaxupe, enjoying the local take on barbecue before we would spend the next day driving to Sao Lourenco, a spa town and Brazilian tourist destination particularly popular with Cariocas. Famous for its waterpark where nine separate mineral water streams emerge and lying on the ‘Circuito das Águas’ it’s just down the road from the offices of Cocarive and neighbouring Ascarive, our Fairtrade supplier.

Sunday in Brazil is a day to spend with your family, and it was appropriately where we met up with two more roasters to add to our party. Tired from so much time on the road and with an even busier schedule ahead of us it was nice to have a bit of breathing space, so after checking in to the hotel it was time to visit the local craft beer joint and see what changes had taken hold since last year. Sao Lourenco now has two craft breweries, and a speciality roastery of its own too, with more on the way. Minas in general is a foodie state, and as we were to discover over the next few days that was as true here as anywhere. Catching up with Baba, export director at Cocarive and a familiar friendly face we bumped into a couple of other coffee folk and caught up on all the news. An impromptu busking session and a bit of dancing in the square later we headed back to the hotel rested and ready to get stuck in to mountain life.

The name Mantiqueira derives from the Tupi language and translates to ‘mountains that cry’, in reference to the many streams that are found there. In fact, the mountains are source to a number of rivers in Brazil and South America, and despite some clearing for cattle, the topography itself has protected a lot of the forested areas and allowed a lot of native wildlife to find small sanctuary. The area has grown a strong reputation for being highly awarded for the quality of coffees grown there, at one point producing over 80% of the Cup of Excellence awarded coffees (including the highest ever scored coffee from any CoE at 95.18) before stepping back from the programme to focus on building their market.

Being joined by Álvaro Antônio Pereira Coli, owner of Sitio Da Torre and in charge of the Cocarive warehouse, we finished our first cupping of the early lots and headed off to visit a farm that I missed last year, Três Barras. José Wagner Ribeiro Junqueira is also current president of Cocarive, and so it makes sense that his farm is one of the foremost in quality and reputation.

Três Barras

The 206 year old farm has been handed down through the family with 180 hectares now under coffee on the 600 hectare property. We paused on the way up to discuss the merits of Yellow Catuai and Catucai. They grow red and yellow Acaia, but yellow Catuai, Yellow Catucai and Yellow Bourbon, and although he prefers the bourbon, it has a lower productivity than the other varietals, and they find the Catuai and Catucai give a better balance between cup profile and yield. Certainly this was to prove true to my taste buds in the following days of cupping. Discussion over, we headed through a mini forest of banana trees (used as wind breaks primarily and common in exposed areas), a plethora of spiders’ webs and summiting to great views of the rumpled landscape below. This can be its weakness too though as the altitude that gives us the views and allows slower maturation leaves the area susceptible to sudden cold snaps and they were aware of an expected frost coming through a couple of weeks after we left. This did not happen as severely as they were expecting thankfully, though was not without impact. You can often see the yellow-white leaves where cold winds have scorched them at the facing edge of a prominence or where wind is channelled up the hills.

Pictured: Halfway up Serra das Três Barras looking across the hazy blue mountains back towards Carmo de Minas.

Três Barras is another proponent of zero cropping, coupled with a light 2-3 year pruning programme in other areas. Although they had experienced a similar problem with multiple flowerings, they were not as hard hit as some of the other areas we had visited. The most interesting thing this had caused was a pause in harvesting, to allow the greener cherries on the trees to catch up. It’s interesting to note that in these circumstances, the later ripening cherries will mature at a quicker rate than the first ripe cherries. No one we spoke to had really investigated if that had any impact in the cup, but also, as no-one had noticed an impact in the cup this was assumed not to. Indeed, a lot of the higher scoring lots from this area come from the later harvest, and by the time we left there were people interested in trying to understand this better. Because of this acceleration in maturation, it would not be too long before things were expected to restart.

Heading down to the patchworked patios we could see plenty of 3-10 bag microlots being prepared. Cocarive members excel in the production of microlots, and we saw plenty in production here as a good introduction to this. The raked mounds casting geometric shadows across the cherries gave a great visual, the darker natural processed coffees against the lighter, speckled pulped lots. The sun was however, against us and so we climbed back in the cars to visit Grota Funda, not too far up the road and with a treat in store.

Pictured, left: Microlots drying on the patio of Tres Barras. Right: A freshly opened barrel of an experimental fermentation lot before being spread out to dry at Grota Funda.

Grota Funda

Pulling up on the patio at Grota Funda, the farm belonging to Glaucio Carneiro Pinto, vice president of Cocarive, we were just in time to experience the opening of one of his experimental lots – a 72 hour barrel fermented lot that smelled delicious! The tiled fermentation and washing tanks were super clean, but we had no time to get a super detailed tour of the wetmill as it was straight back into the vehicles for a drive to a viewing platform to watch the sunset.

The top of the farm sits on a prominence affording views right up the valley. Neat rows of coffee contour the hillside punctuated by the misleadingly bare Ipes tree, with a wooden tribune sited to one side for us to address the (coffee) world. It is from this that we got to see an unusual sight – a flock of normally solitary toucans flying east to west towards the setting sun. We would often spot one flying like a penguin through the sky or perched on a branch, but even the farmers were surprised to see around 20 of the birds together.

As the sun set over the tied bags of the days pickings awaiting transportation to the wet mill we drank in the last views up the valley before heading back to the hotel. The cups on the table the next morning would have lots picked from here and it was great to find that these were amongst the ones we chose.

Pictured: Sunset over Grota Funda

Sitio Da Torre

Following on from the morning cuppings, we headed over to Alvaro’s farm, Sitio Da Torre. It was great to revisit here – last year they had planted a test field to carry out varietal trials specific to their own soil and conditions, so to revisit this and see the growth over a year was an interesting experience. Surprisingly, some young trees already had cherry, and whilst this would not be harvested it is an intriguing sign that conditions appeared to be very favourable.

What was also good to see was the ‘Torre’ of the farm had been rebuilt. Last year they had experienced problems with the more isolated nature of part of the farm. The top of the farm neighboured fields overlooking farms such as Tres Barras, Sao Francisco, and Ondas de Mantiqueira. Drug users had taken to intruding on the land and in particular congregating around the torre that had eventually been burned down. This had therefore been relocated a touch, and rebuilt from non-flammable materials and the view, though slightly different was still impressive, looking over fields of trees across to Carmo and Sao Lourenco.

Harvesting on the farm was about 20% of the way through, so there was still a way to go. They expected to produce an even split between the natural and pulped coffees this year, and as part of their appetite for the higher scoring lots, experiments were also being done with some cherries being bagged and fermented amongst the trees as a way of controlling temperature and exposure to the sun. Anaerobic experiments and plastic containers were also being compared to grain pro bags to see what the differences there were.

As well as innovating on the farm, Alvaro looks after the warehousing facilities for Cocarive. Over the last few years these have gradually upgraded to a newly built premises with weighbridge (that they allow other farmers in the area to use) and they have expansion plans for the rest of the plot they are based on too, though due to low prices and inconsistent weather patterns increasing costs, further investment is on pause for a year whilst they maintain their quality. The old warehouse at the side of the offices is now stores for spare parts, fertilizer, and products that are otherwise best not stored in a coffee warehouse.

The invitation was extended to meet with the rest of the family, so we headed over the patios to the family house and a feast – with some new additions to our rapidly expanding knowledge of Brazilian farmhouse favourites. It’s easy to think of cooperatives as separate from farmers, especially in a country that has a reputation for big, faceless production and to sit and talk with generations of a family that are so intertwined in the landscape and the business was a grounding point.

With a little surprise in store, it was soon time to move on from the homestead and head off to our next farm, one we have been buying from for a little while but also not quite. Santa Terezhina has been on our menu for a couple of years now but is part of a bigger family of four farms, including the one we would cup at the sample rooms of the drying patios, Baixadao.

Sitio Sao Sebastiao

Cristina has a reputation for the best of the best coffees within the Mantiqueira region, and it is here that Sao Sebastiao lies. Another farm that is a collection of other farms, this one is run by familia Afonso, with Baixadao, Santa Izabel, Santa Terezhina, Santa Martina, and Sao Sebastiao. Each farm is owned by the family and run by a sibling, and they bring the cherries to the pristine patios at Sao Sebastiao.

Growing up around rice farming, Sebastião Afonso da Silva started off with an idea to increase his and his family’s income. Getting just the one hectare in 1996, the farm is now 350 hectares in total with 80ha under coffee and 80ha under forest. The zero cropping methodology was becoming common to us by now and here was no exception with the farm having 35% under this process at any one time.

Pictured, left: Yellow Bourbon drying on the patio – the colour is the difference between two pickings, the darker yellow on the right-hand side being spread out before lunch, the lighter on the left, just after. These subtle changes are why attention to detail and homogeneity in a crop are so important. Right: Rows of coffee contour the hillsides down to the drying patios and cupping room of Sao Sebastiao.

What’s interesting here is that in any normal year they can still be harvesting up until the last day of December. The altitude is very high for Brazil, rising to over 1300masl at points, meaning the maturation is slower and therefore harvesting a bit more spread out. It is from these later lots that they have achieved – twice – the highest ever score in Cup of Excellence of any country with 95.18 in 2015. The farm is well segmented by varietal and facet -fields of red Acaia, yellow Catuai, Catucai, Bourbon and Arara are sectioned off with each having its own requirements and timescales. This means that it is perfectly suited to the production of microlots as well as its main crops.

We arrived first to the patios to see two lots of yellow Bourbon fresh from the days picking drying, some under direct sun on the patio, some under poly cover. Some more naturals on the lower patio were further on in their journey, having darkened and dried to the point they would be ready to mill.

A quick trip up to the fields to see the trees and get an understanding of the topography of the farm and the way the fields are segmented was precursor to a trip up to the offices and cupping room that have been purpose built on the drying patio for some more cupping. Here we met Helisson, Sebastiao’s son who is very interested in continuing the farm and learning more about coffee. Somewhat unsurprisingly given what we had seen and knew, the cupping he prepared for us was delicious, and happy to say there will be a couple of microlots that we will be bringing over very soon! These are only going to be 5 bag lots though and no doubt will go quickly.

Rancho Sao Benedito

The last farm to visit was perhaps one of the best, but also one that typified a model seen in the area of splitting high end speciality lots with Fairtrade certified lots that we buy through Ascarive. Located in Dom Vicoso, and as close to a town centre farm I have ever seen, Rancho Sao Benedito rises above the centre of the town with its white, steepled church and the sound of bells rolling up the hillside.

Planted by Mariana de Carvalho Junqueira in 1954, the farm was originally horses, bananas and cacao before converting to coffee. Starting at 2000 trees it has now grown to around 400,000 consisting of Arara, Yellow Catucai, Red Catucai, and some newer varietals developed by Instituto Agronômico do Paraná, a state to the south that borders Sao Paolo and Mato Grosso De Sul.

Pictured: Marcio de Carvalho Junqueira and Wellington Pereira inspect the cherry on the high altitude raised bed drying tables for Sao Benedito.

Annamaria is now 91, but still plays an active role in organising the farm and making decisions. It is due to her understanding and drive that the farm has been so heavily awarded, two whole rooms of awards lined the walls, with pictures of visits from the president amongst them. Her son Marcio is now the manager, and it was he we met and who would show us around. Stopping for a brief coffee we were granted a visit with a toucan that flew over and perched in the tree outside the window, before driving up through the farm for the last vista of the trip.

The lower elevations here are what provides the coffee for our Fairtrade and are still treated with the same care as the very top of the farm. Trees are currently being renovated at around 100,000 plants per year, a huge percentage of the farm, but again, the increase in yield is seen as balancing the on off years and controlling the coffee.

In ways similar to many other farms there is a light concern with succession. Their son Lucas will thankfully continue the farm, but their other children are more interested in becoming doctors, dentists and engineers. The aging population of coffee farmers is an issue that has not really made many headlines in the way that it has in tea, and though there are some discussions around it happening, it often feels like a long way off being fully addressed. Low pricing and pricing instability is not conducive to fighting this, so looking at how farms combine certified, commodity and speciality coffee in their mix is good to get a better handle on how best to progress. All the grades have a role to play and it’s great to be able to buy more than one from the same source and play a tangible role in shaping the future.

Pictured: The slopes down to Dom Vicoso that contribute coffee to our Fairtrade certified offering.

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