When I first started travelling for my work, buying coffee across the globe, Brazil was the first origin I got to visit. When it was proposed I hop on a plane and head across the South Pacific to the tropical countryside of Brazil, it sounded a little like a clip from a 1950s movie. Maybe I would find myself in a bungalow with an in the depths of the jungle like the stories my mother tells of growing up in the plantations of Ceylon, long before civilization and progress changed the landscape forever.
Although the modern landscape of Brazil is much less romantic than in my head, it is still a place you can fall in love with easily. It is colourful, lively, filled with friendly and beautiful people, and most importantly to me, filled with a wonderful array of coffees.
The most wonderful thing about Brazilian coffee is sheer variety you can get from this beautiful country. We all well know the big creamy chocolate and nut coffee that is Brazils signature. But this is an unfair cliché that Brazil carries around with it still to this day. There is so much more to its coffee, so many layers complexity, sweet juicy fruits and crisp bright acids.
There are no less than fourteen micro regions across seven states in Brazil. Most of the coffee is grown in the central and southern states. Just like the famed coffee of the Central Americas, each region has its own unique taste, and each as interesting and complex as the next. It is hard for me to choose a favourite region in this special country but I want to take the time to tell you about a few of the standouts, for me at least.
The state of Espirito Santo is my first love in Brazil. Its steep mountains hold some of the most vibrant and complex coffees in the whole of Brazil. They are sweet and tactile, reminiscent of a fresh tropical juice. The yellow varieties like Bourbon and Catuai from this area are particularly special and typically some of my favourites. It is pretty usual for Cup of Excellence winners to come out of this region and it is no wonder when you see this place. My theory is that the more beautiful a region, the better the coffee. Espirito Santo only proves that theory.
I can’t have this conversation with you without mentioning Minas Gerias. It is probably the best-known region in speciality coffee and has a huge concentration of amazing farmers. The high mountains and cold nights make for great growing conditions. There are four micro regions in this state the conditions are so good. Typically coffee from here is really sweet and floral with an elegant citric acidity. Minas Gerias coffee pretty much always features in Cup of Excellence competitions and is home to a lot of the major speciality coffee exporters. It sums up exactly how amazing Brazilian speciality coffee is with a broad range of flavour profiles available in one small region.
A little further south is the Sao Paulo state that includes the micro regions of Mogiana and the Mid West. Coffee is grown here a little lower so it matures a bit faster since the days and nights are a bit warmer. This means coffee here is pretty much the opposite of what you find in Espirito Santo and Minas Gerias. The beauty of these coffees is their incredible balance, syrupy mouthfeel and sugary sweetness. The quality here is absolutely incredible considering the altitude. Some of this coffee is grown as low as 850 meters above sea level! The thing that makes them stand out is the amazing farming techniques they have adopted, beautiful mineral rich red soils, and the absolute focus on quality in the whole region. One to take note of for sure, in my mind, a bit of a quiet achiever.
Standing out on its own in the North is the state of Bahia. We have not really begun to see a huge amount of coffee from this region in the speciality market, but this is pretty surprising to me. I have never set foot in this part of Brazil nor cupped its coffee but I am dying to try it. Most of Brazil is covered in massive coffee operations. They are highly industrialised and truly are legitimate commercial farming operations. Rumour has it though that Bahia is the “little Ethiopia” of Brazil. I have heard the whispers among our coffee community of a place where coffee grows under the shade of rainforest, it is picked and sorted by hand and the quality is unsurpassed in Brazil. To add to the “Ethiopia” reference, coffee is grown on the savannah highlands where it is quite dry and cold at night. The coffee allegedly has a highly complex mouth feel and crystal clear tartaric acidity. Hopefully I will venture into the region later this year and bring us home our first Bahia coffee!
They grow a hell of a lot of coffee in Brazil. Most of it is plantation coffee, grown at really low altitudes, mechanically picked and processed in huge bulk quantities. This is the stuff that tastes like chocolate and nuts. Not a bad thing but not exciting by any means. I am a huge advocate of Brazil speciality; it is exciting, dynamic and GROWING. I want to shake the concept that all Brazilian coffee is only good as espresso in blends. I want to shake the preconceptions that it will taste like a Snickers bar. You can find me touting the awesomeness of Brazil speciality on a regular basis around a cupping table somewhere in Melbourne if you want to hear more!