November 18, 2015


Ever-Elusive Quality.

Ever-Elusive Quality

When I am out on the field buying coffee, building face-to-face

relationships and engaging in projects in origin countries. I invariably

absorb many unique pieces of information along the way.

This series of blog posts are really about me sharing that information

in the most compact form I can, giving you access to information that

can only be gleaned from experience rather than textbook lessons.

In this entry I reflect on my recent trip to Brazil where I was lucky

enough to take part in the Cup of Excellence.

CLIMATE CHANGE


Most of you would be aware of the Cup of Excellence program and

how it works. It is a great tool to help buyers like myself identify new

farmers to pay attention to, whether that be to buy out-right or to

keep on the watch list as a potential new producing partner. More

recently however I have been noticing that it is a more useful tool for

identifying regions of note. What I mean by that I a little more in-

depth than what area is producing the most winners. What I actually

mean is that it gives us an insight into which areas are beginning to

produce placing farms and which regions are starting to fade away in

the award ceremonies. Coffee regions like anything ebb and flow

with quality. No organic thing is ever sure fire year in year out. It is

an exercise in noticing the evolution of regions.

The Cup of Excellence has brought knowledge of Brazilian coffees

and producing regions where people had never imagined possible.

The Zona da Mata (‘Forests of Minas’) region, where the first

champion of the Cup of Excellence came out of, and the areas around

the Chapada Diamantina, in Bahia, such as Mucuge and Piatã are both

great examples of regions that a few short years ago we would not

have understood as having high quality coffee, if any at all.

This years Brazil Early Harvest COE is a great example of the ebb and

flow of regions in action. Norte Pioneiro do Parana took 3 spots in the

top 22. In previous year, Parana was unheard of. They have never

placed before.

Piatã as I mentioned before, is another interesting

region, it took out all top 5 spots last year, and this year they have

taken ownership of 4 positions on the board. The Brazil COE has been

dominated by Minas Gerias in previous years and is now seeing far

more regional variety than ever before. This of course is very exciting

for me as a buyer because it just cements more and more the great

diversity of profiles that can be found in Brazil.

Of course this leads us to why is this happening. The theory, at least

among the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association, is that recent weather

events have affected some areas worst than others, heavily effecting

quality and therefore allowing the more mediocre coffee of different

regions really shine.

Abnormal dryness has been problematic for Brazil over the past few

coffee seasons. If you had not heard, Brazil is currently undergoing

the most severe drought they have experienced in 35 years. This

major drought devastated a large part of the country in 2014 and it

has been a slow slog back to normality. As this year’s harvest has just

begun, it seems the rains have returned. 



Jose Dias of Fazenda Sertazinho is busy planting out a new farm with

drought resistant trees and is taking action to mitigate further risks

should the current rainfall not continue. He believes that climate

change is our immediate challenge and must be tackled head on.

Irrigation is a major move on his behalf, having recently built a 10

million liter dam that will be filled with his existing water sources to

irrigate the new crop.

The question remains if the drought in Brazil an old pattern, a new

trend with frequent occurrences, or an abnormal event. Regardless,

irrigation and shade will have to be considered to ensure long term

sustainability. Drought resistant varieties (ie Japi) are being

developed and grown by influential producers like Jose.

We have to learn to mitigate against drought and create ways to

circumvent future disasters. If any coffee producing country has the

creativity and ability to do it, we can be assured that it is Brazil.

We are yet to see the severity of the impact this season. Farmers

remain optimistic but cautious as the early rains fall. Traders are also

overall very optimistic. Since Brazil is such a major force in coffee

supply it causes some severe volatility in the market wen something

goes wrong (or right). The annual Brazilian crop and world coffee

prices are intimately linked. Brazil is reporting an extra high volume

of output for the ensuing harvest. Increased pruning and fertilization

on the back of ravaging droughts should see a very good yield,

potentially of unprecedented levels. The weakening of their currency,

the Brazillian Real, has also helped increase exports as well. All of

this should result in a decreased NY ‘C’ market, which has been

evident in the last few weeks of down trend. As with this years

quality, we will just have to wait and see how all this rides out.

 

PACKAGING


I want to move on from the dryer topic of climate change and what

Brazil specifically is doing about it and on to some of their other

creative solutions. I was lucky enough to attend a talk by well

respected Brazilian professor; Doctor Flavio Borem

Doctor Flavio Borem has been working for the past six years on a

project to produce a new packaging for green coffee called the High

Barrier bag. Coffee typically comes packed in Grain Pro, Innovation

bags, Vacume packs or plain jute bags. Professor Borem has been

trying to not only find out which is the best packaging material, but

improve on our existing materials.

The aim of his research is to have green coffee beans last a full 18

months in storage without showing signs of age. For those of you

who need a little brush up on this, coffee really only tastes fresh for

about 9 months after harvest (depending on where it is from, how it

has been dried and how it has been stored). When it looses that

freshness it begins to loose acidity and develop a papery taste.

Obviously this is not ideal but, if you really like a coffee you can only

get it once a year, you might want to buy a lot of it. The catch to this is

it won’t taste as great for a full 12 months.

If a coffee is processed properly, the theory is we should be able to

extend that life. To undergo this research Professor Borem and his

team has been tracking changes in coffee stored in all the different

packing options over the last 12-month period.

What Dr Borem has found is that coffee with lower sugar content, (ie

washed) have a lower respiratory rate in storage than thoses with

high sugar content (natural and honey process). The respiratory rate

is essentially the rate in which the cells open and close at rest, or put

simply, breath. The faster the breath the more CO2 is produced, and

in turn the more quality is lost, a big part of this is the change in cell

make up and the loss of aromatics. So you can determine by this that

washed process coffee keeps better than natural process coffee

Thus far his findings have indicated that an Innovation and High

Barrier bag is on par with the existing Vacuum pack. This is a good

thing as the Vacuum Pack, previously believed to be the best form of

packing, has an unfortunate habit of breaking.

The studies are far from over but it is a very interesting project to

continue to follow. I really do hope that Flavio can crack the code to

give us delicious coffee all year round from our favorite producers. It

would be a true game changer for specialty coffee.

 

- Lucy Ward