Brazil

Frank Sinatra sang, "They grow an awful lot of coffee in Brazil." It is unquestionably true; it's the largest producer of arabica coffee and not a small amount of robusta too. Brazilian coffee is nutty, sweet, low in acidity and develops exceptional bittersweet and chocolate roast tastes. There's a long tradition of roasting Brazil in the United States. Brazil is roasted and sold as a single-origin coffee -- by region, cooperative or Fazenda -- but it is often used in blends for the sake of cost control. Brazil coffees are common in espresso, both in high-end blends and in commercial coffees like Dunkin Donuts. Even the broken fragments of beans and the dust from the dry mills is sold, ending up in some awful coffee product somewhere, most likely instant.

There's the big push on behalf of Brazilian coffee growing associations to create the image of their coffees as a distinct flavor profile, but there just isn't the extreme distinction that identifies one Brazilian coffee from another. Attention to good farming and processing techniques has helped, but the coffee is grown at lower altitudes than most Specialty coffee, in poor quality soils, in open areas that were often originally grassland (a reason why the "shade-grown" criteria really doesn't apply much to Brazil).
What is true with Brazil is true with all other coffee-producing origins as well. People outside the coffee trade want clear distinctions about quality: Is Brazilian coffee good? Those within the coffee trade are happy to provide the answer roasters and consumers want to hear: "Yes- it's good!" But the question itself is flawed. Every origin with the capability to produce good coffee can produce horrible coffee as well. Farms side-by-side can produce differing qualities of coffee, and within the a single farm or cooperative there is a full spectrum of coffee cup quality. The real question is to ask is whether each lot tastes good, where a "lot" means one batch of coffee processed through the mill. That question is answered in comparative cupping of the coffees for taste quality.

As far as Brazil goes, the issues are complex. Here is a country that produces relatively few containers of coffee that truly cup from 84-87 points, and a staggering quantity of coffee that cups below 80 points, commercial-grade coffee. As far as coffees that are truly 88+ points, I feel this is not only rare from Brazil, but nearly impossible, given the varietals and bean density. Yes, relative to other Brazils and the classic flavor profile of these lower grown, soft coffees, they can go higher. But on a global scale, can a Brazil reach the ranges of the best Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia or Guatemala wet-processed coffees? I don't think so.

Then again, Brazil coffees are solid, crowd-pleasing coffees with outstanding body, and nut-to-chocolate roast tones. They also appeal to the palate than finds acidity, the flavorful brightness in better coffees, somehow annoying. And nothing touches a really good Brazil coffee as a base in espresso blends, for the ease with which they produce good physical characteristics (mouthfeel and crema) as well as nice base flavor.

Brazils are not complex coffees, and don't have impressive acidity that adds a vivid brightness to coffees from higher-grown areas of Guatemala, or Ethiopia. But Brazils are a different sort of beast than those origins. Brazils are not dense coffee seeds: they are grown at lower altitudes than Central American coffees. Hence the very dark roasts of Brazil coffees pick up ashy, bittering flavors. For espresso, you can roast Brazils lighter, separately, or keep the entire blend at a Vienna roast or lighter.

There are 3 methods of processing Brazil coffees of interest to us; Dry- Process (Natural), Pulped Natural, and Semi-Washed. They produce different types of cups. The Natural has great body, chocolate, possibly fruity notes ... and it risks being earthier and more rustic in the cup. The Pulped Natural is created when the coffee cherry skin is removed and the parchment, with much of the mucilage attached, is sun-dried on patio or raised drying bed. This coffee cups like the more like Natural coffee, but is a bit cleaner in the cup. The Semi-Washed uses a demucilage machine to remove the skin and the mucilage. The Semi-Washed ranges in character from being close to Pulped Natural in flavor profile, to being similar to a wet-processed coffee (clean cup, uniform, less body, less chocolate, a bit brighter).

I like good naturals and pulped naturals (called cereja descascada in Brazil). They have more intensity, produce more crema, but I have to cup them rigorously to watch for defective cup character. On the other hand, really clean Semi-Washed, where a lot of the mucilage is removed, do not have typical Brazil character to me. Yes, these coffees score higher and they are now totally dominating the Cup of Excellence competition. But if you want a cleaner, brighter cup, the standard is set elsewhere, not Brazil. Go buy a good Central American coffee.

For espresso, I used to employ natural Brazils in blends, then changed them in favor of more consistent (and less quakery) pulped naturals. Now we only use Brazils in a couple blends, and I could imagine a day when we don't use any! The coffees are soft (the opposite of dense) and can lack the kind of sweetness we hold dear in espresso.

The trick is that Brazils prefer a lower initial roast temperature and can turn quite ashy tasting when roasted too dark. My personal preference is that Brazils for espresso are rested quite a while after roasting -- in fact I had a straight pulped natural I roasted to a light Vienna for espresso, and I kept testing the cup because 2 days after roasting it was too lively, nippy - almost like a baking soda effect on your tongue. After 18 days it became one of the deepest. heavy bodied espresso I ever had! I am not saying coffee should be rested that long after roasting (especially other methods like French Press, Drip etc, which fade after as little as 7 days!), but if you don't have a good initial experience with a Brazil espresso, don't toss it - try it after a week, or even two. As far as the type of Brazil, Illy is said to use 100% pulped natural and semi-washed.

Most quality Brazil I have found comes from the Sul de Minas: Carmo de Minas, Cerrado and Matas de Minas. Cerrado region is, apparently, not a name many Brazilians recognize ... at last not those I have spoken with. Cerrado is a savanna-like area, dry and flat, in Minas Gerais state. They produce a lot of coffee, and there are some un-blended single farm lots that are good. Two micro-regions in Cerrado were of special interest to us: Chapadao de Ferro and Serra do Salitre. Now we focus efforts to the southeast of there.
People ask me about "Santos" coffee: Santos is a port, not a producing region. Coffee labeled Santos is pooled from market-grade lots and the lowest common denominator expresses itself as the primary cup character.

I have older travelogues of Brazil Cerrado Cupping Competition and trips through the Sul de Minas, Mogiana, and Matas de Minas coffee growing regions. You might also be interested to read the Jan-Feb '03 issue of our Tiny Joy newsletter: Brazil-O-Rama: excellent choices in Brazilian Coffee.

Brazil Fazenda Santa Ines - Samantha Junqueira
$6.50
$12.35
$28.28
Pulp-natural coffee drying on the beds at Sertao
Arrival dateMarch 2014 Arrival
Appearance.4 d/300gr, 15+ Screen
GradeEstate
ProcessingPulp Natural
RegionCarmo de Minas, Sul de Minas Gerais
Varietal(s)Bourbon, Catuai, Mundo Novo
Intensity/Prime attributeMild intensity / Bodied, fruit nectar, complex chocolate
RoastThis coffee cups great at City+ and Full City. The profile holds up to more roast too, but loses a bit of complexity to flavors or roast.

Fazenda Santa Ines is managed by a now fourth generation coffee family, Familia de Pereira. We've had many lots from Nazarath Dias Pereira and Jose Isidro Pereira, and this particular lot from Fazenda Santa Ines is managed by daughter in-law Samantha Junqueira. The Pereira family is responsible for the Sertao group, based around one of the the first coffee estates in Carmo de Minas (Fazenda do Sertao), now consisting of multiple properties known for producing really nice coffees as well as their commitment to the surrounding communities. Fazenda Santa Ines sits at just about 1000 meters, and this particular lot is made up of Yellow Bourbon, though they also grow Catuai, Acaia, and Mundo Nuovo. Like most of their farms, the Pereira family does a great job of separating lots which enables us to select based on quality and varietal.

A very sweet set of scents found in the ground coffee, with light roasts smelling sweet bran muffin with raisin and walnut. Dried fruits like cherry and plum also come out especially in Full City roasts, and even harbors a hint of green herb. The sweetness really builds with the addition of hot water. More baked goods are sensed in the aromatics, with cinnamon roll, and date paste, as well as a strong smell of brown sugar and marzipan on the break. This coffee cups with thick, inky body, and a dense sweetness to go along with it. Light roasts have lots of caramel flavors in the cup, a malty sweetness, and a distinct apple flavor. Much of the fruit in light roasts come off as thick, and like nectar - with flavors of peach, pear, nectarine. There's a faint walnut flavor too, that seems to be most in focus in the finish. Full City roasts retain a dark cacao sweetness that sits well with smokey flavors of roast, and a slight, apple juice-like acidity peeks through. Dark roasts will make great espresso, but the lighter end of the roast spectrum highlights this coffee's complexity.

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Brazil Fazenda do Serrado PN Yellow Bourbon
$5.45
$10.36
$23.71
Stripping shrubs at Fazenda do Serrado, Carmo de Minas
Arrival dateJanuary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.4 d/300gr, 16+ Screen
GradeEstate
ProcessingPulp Natural
RegionMinas Gerais - Cerrado Mineiro
Varietal(s)Bourbon, Catuai, Mundo Novo
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium intensity / Body, balanced cup, layered cocoa, mild acidity
RoastCity+ to Full City+ is recommended; very versatile

Fazenda do Serrado is a family operated farm located in the Carmo de Minas region of Brazil. At roughly 90 acres, the farm produces a healthy amount of coffee each year and a good portion that is exported is "specialty grade" (they've placed in the Brazilian Cup of Excellence twice). It's a good sized operation - even by Brazilian standards - with most of the business overseen by the two daughters of the family. This coffee is hand-picked, not machine stripped as many farms in Brazil. The PN in the name stands for Pulp-Natural process, meaning the skin is pulped off leaving much of the mucilage intact when transferred to the drying patios. This is called Cereja Descascada in Portuguese. They grow several cultivars on the farm, but this lot of Yellow Bourbon was separated from the rest.

The dry fragrance has a mild cocoa smell to it along with a hint of dried tamarind. There's a bit of spice too, especially in dark roasts with cinnamon bark coming to mind. There's a very sweet set of scents in the wet aromatics, with a healthy dose of brown sugar and butter emanating from the crust. The break shows bittersweet chocolate with a note of coriander rounding it out. Fazenda do Serrado has a creamy, root beer note in the cup that is laced with an apple-like flavor and acidity. It's mild, but sweet and notes of almond and caramel add depth. This is a relatively clean and full-bodied cup of coffee that will perform fantastic in both brewer and espresso maker. It cups best with at least a couple days rest (48 to 72 hours).

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Brazil Dry-Process Fazenda IP Yellow Bourbon
$5.95
$11.31
$25.88
$49.39
$94.63
Coffee flowing out from pulping
Arrival dateJanuary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.8 d/300 grams, 15-18 Screen
GradeEstate
ProcessingDry Process (Natural)
RegionCarmo de Minas, Brazil
Varietal(s)Yellow Bourbon
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium-Bold Intensity/Big fruits, layered chocolate, roasted nut, cocoa finish
RoastThis coffee cups well as light as City+, but I think that's about as light as I would personally go. Full City is very sweet and rounded, and beyond that will push body and chocolate roast flavors.
IP Farm is located in the city of Carmo de Minas, Brazil. It's a rather massive farm really, at about 130 hectares ( roughly 320 acres), and is owned and operated by the folks at Sertao, the Pereira family. The name Sertao is synonymous with coffee production in the area, as they were the first to cultivate coffee in the Minas Gerais region of Carmo. This family has a 100+ year history of growing coffee in this area, and the Pereira family lots grace the COE finals list year after year. There are several varietals grown at IP, but this lot is a separation of entirely Yellow Bourbon. It's dry-processed, which the climate in this region is optimal for this type of production.
The lot from IP Farms changes quite a bit with roast level, lighter roasts boasting fruited sweetness and darker roast profiles structured around grounding notes that are rich and chocolatey. Dry grounds smell of hazelnut and dried tropical fruits. Full City roasts have a heavy smell of cacao nibs and roasted almonds. The wet grounds are potent, and without even leaning too far into the cup, smells of sweet chocolate syrup, butter pecan, and a fruited caramel note waft up strong in the steam. The break is saturated with cocoa, dried cherry, and dark roasts have a slight note of sherry. The cup varies quite a bit along the roast spectrum. City+ roasts have a nice malt sugar note with flavors of hazelnut, baked peach and a slight pineapple note. There's even a gentle, but present acidity to it that plays more of a role in mouthfeel than flavor. Full City roasts are very chocolatey, and have a big of raw cacao nib flavor as well, that pairs well with flavors of roast for those interested in taking it to an even darker level. Like most Brazils, this is very versatile in the roaster and shows well under various brew methods. Great SO espresso.
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Brazil Dry-Process Familia Campos
$6.50
$12.35
$28.28
3D glasses needed - leaf and branch explosion at Conquista Farm
Arrival dateJanuary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 15-17 screen
GradeEstate
ProcessingDry Process (Natural)
RegionCarmo de Minas, Brazil
Varietal(s)Catuai
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium / Complex sugars, subtle fruits, bodied
RoastCity+ to Full City+ will cup well; espresso is best at least Full City

Family run Conquista Farm has quite an operation. It's a mid size farm - just about 50 acres - and the mechanization of harvest rivals many of the larger, modern surrounding farms. A little more than 1/4 of the entire harvest is manually picked and processed, where the majority of cherry is separated from branches via a large chipper-like machine. Workers basically all but stump shrubs and feed them through this machine that separates cherry from branch, spitting the remaining wood material out the other side. A seemingly brutal procedure, we are shocked by the careful separation coffee cherry is actually subjected to. From there coffee is further sorted, and then laid out to dry for about 10 days. Jao Silva Campos bought the land with two children Fernando Silva and Luciano Jose about 15 years ago, and together they own and oversee daily operations from picking to processing, continually growing the farm to it's current size. Conquista Farm sits at a range of altitudes from about 1200 - 1400 meters, and is planted almost entirely in Catuai. Located in the Carmo de Minas region, this area is ideal for producing really nice naturally processed coffees, and along with careful preparation on the part of the the Campos family at Conquista, the fruits of their labor are literally tasted in the cup.

Right out of the grinder, this coffee has a nice smell of honey and wheat. For a natural it's on the 'mild' side of the fragrance spectrum, but nearing Full City you'll find malty sweetness, caramel, and bit of nut butter. Aromatics are bolstered when adding hot water, with brûlée crust, caramel candy, and a very subtle fruited smell. There's also a slight whiff of miso broth that comes up off the break. In the cup, the sweetness is up front and bold, with flavors of date sugar, molasses, raisin, and a bit of cooked banana. Hitting Full City brings on notes of red raspberry, green tea, and even a hint of coriander. This coffee has a unique acidity for a Brazil, that while not 'loud', it has an initial refreshing, mouth-cleansing brightness to it. It's a bodied coffee, with a weight and feel similar to whole milk. The finish has a dusty cocoa powder flavor and feel that is accompanied by brewers yeast. This coffee cups best with a couple days rest. We had good results at 24 hours, but even better at 48 and 72 hours rest.

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