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.
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
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.
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