There’s a 1-in-3 chance the coffee in your cup is from Brazil. It’s a huge country with a staggering coffee export — over 33% percent of the world’s coffee supply comes out of Brazil — and that doesn’t include the coffee they keep to drink themselves. 2020/2021 was a good harvest, with over 60 million bags produced in the “on-year” of the biennial rotation cycle of high and low production.
Brazil has been at the top of the coffee export chain since the early 1800s when coffee farming overtook sugarcane as a cash crop. At one point in the 1920s, Brazil was supplying up to 80% of the world’s coffee, though the market share has since settled to a steady 30–40% since the rise of global production. Today, coffee accounts for 5% of Brazil’s agricultural exports.
Coffee is important to people in Brazil in every touchpoint of the supply chain, from growing to drinking, and the country consumes a little over 20 million bags domestically. They tend to keep back the beans that don’t meet export quality standards though, making darker roasts with lots of added sugar the more popular way to drink local coffee. Here, the coffee supply chain generates over 8 million jobs (around 4% of the total population). Despite the pandemic, Brazil is still thriving and experiencing its lowest interest rates and inflation ever.
Brazil has six main coffee-producing states: Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, São Paulo, Bahia, Rondônia, and Paraná. Some of these states are so big (Minas Gerais alone is nearly the size of France and Bahia the size of Spain) and the concentration of coffee found here just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Brazil produces both Arabica and Robusta (aka — conilon) and the variety available would excite any coffee connoisseur. The yearly coffee export generates over US$5 billion and more than 80% of the FOB price goes to the growers.
Volcafe Brazil, Genuine Origin’s sister company and sourcing partner in the region, has a presence throughout all of the coffee states. Founded in 1954, Volcafe Brazil is one of the top five coffee merchants and exports over 1 million bags of coffee internationally while also distributing over 1 million more bags domestically. The company is ahead of the curve when it comes to sourcing coffee from responsible programs, with 25% of exports coming from certified labels in contrast to the country’s overall 17% certified coffees.
The sheer size of Brazil adds complexity to coffee logistics. For a green coffee supplier like Volcafe Brazil to move coffee across the different states and to the export ports, they need to have a thorough understanding of the tax requirements and laws of each state. Their huge warehouses, located throughout the coffee regions, can hold up to 590,000 bags in a certified and carefully regulated storage facility. Around 80% of the country’s coffee goes out through Santos in São Paulo, where Volcafe Brazil’s head office is established.
Country-wide Production of Specialty Coffee
For Volcafe Brazil, the most important thing is that they do what they do with passion and to do it properly. Since 2015, they have been ramping up their practices in coffee purchasing and training with the Volcafe Way, strengthening their relationships with producers through knowledge-sharing and technical support to achieve sustainable profitability.
The three main pillars of their work include 1) increasing productivity through more efficient resource consumption; 2) improving production of high quality coffee; and 3) supporting farmers to become more profitable. In non-pandemic times, Volcafe Brazil technicians would visit one or more farms every day, reaching nearly 600 farms across 67,000 hectares.
The total acreage of coffee farms in Brazil continues to grow, with the new addition of around 300,000 hectares that have recently come into production, for a total of 2.2 million hectares country-wide. Brazil is a one-stop-shop for every kind of coffee there is, ranging from commercial grade Robusta to high-end specialty beans, with a wide variety of processing treatments. There are farms of all sizes, though the majority are considered small growers with areas of less than 20 hectares.
Brazilian farmers have been doing this for a long time and they’re highly sophisticated when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of coffee farming. One of the challenges Volcafe Brazil is facing is trying to motivate farmers who have been successful for the past six or seven decades to embrace more sustainable practices or improvements for quality and productivity.
But this sophistication is a huge advantage when it comes to bringing their coffee to market. For the farmers, Volcafe Brazil, and Genuine Origin, the dynamic and faithful relationship between all parties have allowed some future coffee harvests for the next three years to already be purchased. The direct trade between buyers and producers allows everyone to plan ahead of time to address pricing and exchange rate concerns and ensure future profitability.
Any disruption to Brazil’s coffee production could have a major impact on the world coffee supply and its pricing environment due to the region’s massive market share in coffee exports. Climate change, with the threat of more drought in particular, is a big concern for coffee flowering, and changes to farming practices like an increased reliance on irrigation may be in the cards for the harvests to come.
Growing More Specialty
Brazil’s traditionally moderate temperatures, heavy rainfall, and distinct dry season are all advantages when it comes to growing coffee. Flowers tend to bloom uniformly and cherries mature all at once, so in order to manage this short harvest period, a majority of Brazilian growers have mastered the use of machinery to make the most of the season.
It’s a common misconception that machine-harvest coffee is of lower quality than hand-picked cherries. Machine-harvest is no less meticulous, and a separate machine carefully sorts ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries before being further processed. This is preferable to having cherries fall to the ground because they couldn’t be picked in time. With a production scale like Brazil’s, there just isn’t enough time to have individual pickers only going for the ripe cherries day after day.
While experienced farmers may be reluctant to embrace change, they are at the same time very proactive about experimenting with the latest trends if they see a market opportunity. Brazil green coffee is traditionally natural and washed processed or pulp natural processed, where cherries are pulped and left to dry. The recent trends in fermentation and anaerobic processes have also reached the region, as well as a more controversial flavored fermentation where coffee is left to ferment with orange, grape, or cinnamon additives. The farmers are very active in testing these new processes and eager to deliver creative coffee offerings to interested buyers.
Brazil Green Coffee Quality Control
New processing methods definitely contribute surprising flavors in the coffee cup and these surprises keep things fresh for the Volcafe Brazil quality control team. The team is constantly cupping — sometimes up to 500 cups in a single day. Every bag of coffee is cupped again and again, from farm gate to buying house to head office in Santos, before it leaves the country. In a busy year like 2020, 100–150 different coffee samples were tested every day and the quality control rooms were stacked floor to ceiling with coffee waiting to be cupped.
The quality control team, which includes five Q-graders, purchasing specialists, and roasting assistants, also works closely with customers to develop custom specialty coffee blends. One of the blends to come out of Volcafe Brazil’s research and development is the highly popular Salmo Plus Natural, which tastes like a deliciously chocolatey peanut butter cup is a favorite of customers of Genuine Origin.
The blend, first crafted in the early 2000s, was inspired by the best highlights in sweetness, body, and acidity of the Minas Gerais state. The Genuine Origin version is a more selective version of the original blend, combining coffee from 12 producers in the Cerrado region that was purchased directly at farm-gate.
While the Minas Gerais states produces around half of Brazil’s total coffee, the Cerrado region in the western area is known for some of the highest quality specialty coffee in the country. It’s also the newest, developed in 1975 when farmers in Parana and São Paulo were experiencing crop devastation due to frost and pests and were searching for a new region to start over7. The warm temperatures, intense sunlight, and dry winters proved to be the perfect environment for coffee growing and the area has since been thriving. With Volcafe Brazil, Genuine Origin is thrilled to exemplify the quality and variety of flavors each of these 12 Cerrado growers produce in a blend that’s fully traceable.
Genuine Origin & 20/21 Brazil Green Coffee
The successful 2020/2021 harvest year in Brazil is particularly exciting for Genuine Origin. We’ve tasted some of the best flavors we’ve had in the past few years coming out of the region and Volcafe Brazil reports that the Salmo blend is seeing one of its best-ever yields.
In this blend, the combination of ripe and raisin cherries (cherries that are left to dry on the tree) are collected together and cleaned, then separated during the sun-drying process. The drying is completed in mechanical driers to homogenize the coffee together before it’s hulled and rested in wooden boxes. The coffee is so good that Volcafe Brazil has struck up a contract to purchase the coffee from these 12 producers for the next three years; they’re that confident in the quality and consistency coming out of the Cerrado region and hope to see more relationships of this kind develop among farmers throughout the country as they keep working with Genuine Origin on quality and sustainable green coffee sourcing.
Volcafe Brazil continues to implement the Volcafe Way to help farmers achieve sustainable profitability and at the same time, help Genuine Origin and its customers understand the impact we’re making by drinking a cup of coffee. Roasters can anticipate incredible flavors and highly consistent quality lots in Genuine Origin’s Brazil portfolio.
To learn more, watch Genuine Origin’s Brazil Origin Report Webinar on YouTube.
Written by Tigger Chaturabul, copywriter for Curious Typhoon about all things coffee and beyond. Copyright Genuine Origin — Find out more about our Brazilian coffee collection on our website — https://www.genuineorigin.com/brazil