Brazil – Land of opportunity

There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, this much we know.  Historically known as the global powerhouse of the coffee world its production has by and large been focused on commercial grades and quantity. Sadly this has often come at the price of innovation within the specialty sector as its often more profitable for farmers to work within the commodity framework. But, there are always exceptions to any rule and this is something that we would discover when we met with the Naimegs, the producers of one of our favourite and most familiar coffees, and spent some time cupping with them at their labs.

We’ve been working with the Naimeg family from Minas Gerais for three seasons now. A chance cupping of a lot of coffee from their Ouro Verde farm has led to a long relationship with them and their coffees. This year our travels took us to meet the Naimegs at their home on their farm in Patos de Minas , Minas Gerais, Brazil. 

The well-known characteristics of Brazilian coffees lend themselves so well to our Market Blend Espresso. Typically sweet and clean with a cocoa body and subtle nutty nuances, these hallmarks have earned it a place in many roasters hearts.

Our travels began in late July. At this point in the year the main harvest is near to complete and all that remains to be done is the drying and milling of the parchment.  We started out in Rio from where we took a quick flight to the interior of Minas Gerais to begin our intensive tour of farms, mills and co-ops looking for the lots that we would be featuring in the upcoming seasonal re-blend of our Market Espresso.

 Upon arriving in the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah eco-region,  the contrast between the dry, savannah like interior of the country and the lush verdant, rainforest of the coastline is striking and often leaves you wondering where exactly you are. Intensive agricultural practice has clearly transformed the landscape leaving a scenery that could be anywhere in the world. Farming here is done on a massive scale with equally massive machines and seems to have taken a lesson or two from the wine industries large scale vineyards even to the point of borrowing technology from grape and olive industries, as we would find out later on our visit.

 

Our first stop in the Cerrado was to visit and cup with AC Café, a respected specialty exporter, well established in the region since the 1970’s.  The highlight of this part of the trip was a visit to their superstar farm Santa Lucia in Araxa. It was a real eye opener and an education to see just how large a major coffee farm can be. Coming in at a staggering 5,300 hectares of which 3000 hectares are reserved for natural forest cover and with an annual production of 65,000 sacks per year, it became our benchmark for what a large farm looks like and is in fact the largest farm in Brazil. The production here is managed almost entirely mechanically, from the picking to the drying then to the milling.  200 staff man the fazenda year round to keep it running smoothly. 

On the flip to this epically scaled production there were also smaller more focused trials were taking place. Andrezia Mazarodo the farm’s manager explained to us that she had implemented a program of experimental varietal lots and processing techniques and it was heartening to see carefully laid out rows of African style raised beds a little beyond the enormous main patios. This willingness to experiment and diversify was something that we would see again and again at various farm visits. It became quite clear that there is a lot more happening with specialty coffee in Brazil than simply bulk production of pulped naturals. In some cases, as we were about to see at the Naimeg farms, the envelope was really being pushed out with some serious experimentation and thought going into achieving the most out of their cherry production and processing.

The Naimegs are based in Patos de Minas in the West of Minas Gerais and have been there since the late 1950’s. The family is made up of five siblings and their families who are all active in the day-to-day management of their farms operations. 

Our visit focused on two of the four farms that the Naimegs own, Fazenda Pantano and Fazenda Ouro Verde. Both farms total only 630 hectares collectively with Ouro Verde being the smallest of the two at 130 hectares. 50% of the land mass is planted with coffee and 20% cultivated for cattle feed while the rest left as natural forest cover.

Ouro Verde, managed by Jorge Naimeg, was a tranquil, calm farm when we visited. Considerably smaller and more homely than what we had seen in Brazil so far. The main harvest had finished several weeks prior and the focus had turned to maintenance of the property and the trees whilst a general feeling of a job being done, prevailed.  We have a strong relationship with this coffee, having cupped it more often than any other. During several months through winter and spring we cupped daily numerous different production roasts of various Ouro Verde lots, most recently the Yellow Catuai. It was a good feeling to meet with and connect with something that up until that point had been more of an abstract concept. Here were the people who produce our coffee and here is the coffee growing. Such a simple thing but an often overlooked aspect of our daily coffee routines. 

Following our visit we left to cup some of the seasons lots with a view to secure potential blending lots to put together a larger allocation. The Naimeg family are extremely organized and maintain a clean, well stocked lab on the larger Pantano property, a short drive away. At the time we visited, the lab was firmly under the control of resident agronomist Professor Virgílio Anastácio da Silva from the Universidade Federal de Lavras. Virigilio.  His lab assistants had efficiently laid out two tables for us to grade and score and they took the time to showcase a table of experimental lots that he had been working on that season with his Phd students. Viriglios experimental lots were hands down the winners of everything we cupped on this trip. Intensely bright, flavourful naturals and pulped naturals that were more like Ethiopians than anything one would expect to cup in Brazil. Virgilio and his students have been maintaining careful trials and tests with anaerobic fermentation by introducing different species and quantities of brewers’ yeasts to the small purpose built tanks that the cherry is soaked in. This is the kind of exciting thing we w had come to see. We had been told we wouldn’t find this in Brazil and yet here it was on the very farm that we had been working with for two years already. 

We left the lab extremely happy and spent the last remaining hour or so of daylight wandering the property and visiting the raised beds that they use for drying parchment. Meanwhile Jorge and his family were busily stoking up an enormous barbecue for the evening festivities of cold beer and steak whilst we sat contemplating an amazing trip and planning our next visit….


By Sam Langdon