Coffee from Brazil

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Brazil is the global leader in coffee production and export and has been for 150 years. Various Arabica varieties and a few Robusta plants are grown on over 2.3 million hectares of cultivated land. Brazil is not only a giant in terms of coffee production, but also in terms of its size and population.

More so, Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America and has a population of over 200 million. It borders the Atlantic Ocean and shares a border with every South American country except Ecuador and Chile. Brazil consists of a total of 26 states, 17 of which are grown in coffee. 

The capital Brasília is located in the south-east of the country on a central high plateau and has around 3 million inhabitants. The center of Brasília has even been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. During the colonial period, which lasted for more than three centuries, immigrants of various origins came to Brazil, which explains the current ethnic diversity of Brazil.

The north of the country is dominated by the rainforests of the Amazon lowlands, while the south is dominated by mountains and plateaus. Most of the major cities in Brazil are located near the Atlantic coast, where a large part of the population lives. In this region, between Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte, is also the main growing area for Brazilian coffee, the so-called Ciclo do Café.

THE HISTORY OF BRAZILIAN COFFEE

The history of Brazilian coffee began in 1727 when a Portuguese smuggled coffee seeds from Ethiopia to Brazil for the first time. Initially, the coffee plant was only planted in a home garden, but from the 19th century, it developed into a major economic factor. 

SLAVE LABOR ON BRAZILIAN PLANTATIONS

Large landowners began cultivating huge coffee plantations and producing coffee industrially. During the 19th century, the coffee barons brought African slaves to Brazil and used them for work on the plantations. Not only the people were exploited, but also the soil of the plantations. 

Slavery was finally abolished in 1888, but many African workers continued to work on the plantations because they had few alternatives. In the years that followed, coffee growing was heavily promoted by the government, which ultimately catapulted Brazil to the top of global coffee production.

COFFEE IS AN ECONOMIC FACTOR IN BRAZIL

With the construction of the railway network at the beginning of the 19th century, coffee could be transported from inland to the ports and sold worldwide. As a result, Brazil became the world’s largest coffee producer and exporter at the beginning of the 20th century. Until 1989 the coffee prices were kept stable by a coffee cartel.

Since 1990, however, green coffee prices have been subject to fluctuations in the free market economy, and the global coffee market is mainly dominated by major corporations. Due to the instability of prices and competition from large farms, many small farmers find it difficult to survive in the coffee market.

The support of the small Brazilian coffee farmers is particularly important because, unlike in African countries, the farmers in Brazil work more independently and not always in cooperation associations. A full 85% of Brazilian coffee farms are made up of so-called “Small Holder Farmers” who own less than 20 hectares of land.

THE REGIONS WHERE COFFEE IS GROWN IN BRAZIL

Due to the size of Brazil and the different climates and soil conditions, Brazilian coffee is extremely versatile. Robusta coffee (called Cornillon in Brazil) is only grown in a small part: on the coast in Bahia and in the Amazon region of Rondônia. Most of the Brazilian coffee, on the other hand, is made up of Arabica varieties that come from different growing areas.

CICLO DO CAFÉ – THE COFFEE TRIANGLE

The Brazilian coffee triangle, also called Ciclo do Café, is located near the Atlantic, between Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte. These coffees are characterized by a special seawater aroma and are particularly popular in North Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. 

THE SAVANNAHS OF CENTRAL BRAZIL AND PARANA

In addition to the coffee triangle, the savannas of central Brazil and the state of Paraná are among the largest coffee growing areas in Brazil. In these two areas and in the Ciclo do Café together around 98% of Brazilian coffee is produced. In the savannas in the interior of southeast Brazil, the so-called cerrado, a delicious old Arabica Bourbon Santos coffee variety was rediscovered, which has a mildly spicy aroma with a hint of vanilla.

THE COFFEE HARVEST IN BRAZIL

The large-scale, professional coffee cultivation in Brazil also has a downside: monocultures, depleted soils, and the use of pesticides is the result. Due to the enormous competition and the tough pricing policy, the focus has long been more on quantity than on quality.

In the meantime, however, there are government regulations that a certain proportion of the land owned by large landowners must be preserved as a mixed culture. In addition, more and more consideration is being given to the needs of the soil, and Brazilian farmers have also become more cautious when it comes to using fertilizers.

THE MECHANICAL HARVESTING METHOD

In contrast to many other coffee-growing areas such as Ethiopia, Colombia, or Guatemala, harvesting in Brazil is rarely done by hand, but mainly mechanically or semi-mechanically. The coffee cherries are simply shaken off the branches of the trees. It’s faster, but since the coffee cherries on the same tree are not ripe at the same time, cherries of all degrees of ripeness are harvested.

After the harvest, the unripe, green cherries must be separated from the ripe, red cherries by additional machines, otherwise, the quality of the coffee will be enormously reduced. Since these machines are very expensive and can only be used on flat cultivated areas, semi-machine harvesting is often used on small farms.

THE SEMI-MECHANICAL HARVESTING METHOD 

With the semi-mechanical harvest, the trees are only gently shaken so that only the ripe cherries fall to the ground. The cherries are then manually sorted according to their degree of ripeness. After the harvest, the coffee beans are either processed and fermented wet or immediately dried in the sun for several days and then often dehumidified by drying machines.

THE TYPES OF COFFEE IN BRAZIL

The classic Brazilian coffee tastes chocolaty and nutty, with the spectrum ranging from milk chocolate to hazelnut to dark chocolate. Basically, Brazilian coffee can be divided into two categories:

Milds: The Brazilian “mild” coffee is made from coffee beans with a uniform degree of ripeness that has been carefully sorted out. The beans are processed wet – i.e. cleaned, fermented in tanks for several hours, and only then dried in the sun. 

Brazils: This type of coffee is processed dry and not fermented. The coffee beans are pre-sorted by machine and immediately dried in the sun. This enhances the strong taste of the bean and the caffeine content

Nowadays, more and more high-quality specialty coffees with special flavors are being produced. These Arabica varieties have complex, fruity aromas such as apricot, grape, fig, or are characterized by a note of ripe peach, mango, or kiwi.