the 2003 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Conference in Boston, Carlos Henrique Brando and his QualicafeX* associates invited me to find out about their new approach to Brazilian Specialty Coffee; it focused on the identification of exceptional quality, celebrating the grower and coffee origin, and ultimately interest in establishing long term coffee relationships based on economic transparency, traceability and price premiums that reach growers.
Shortly after this meeting I was in Brazil, learning about what this new approach really meant and how it was to bring benefits to specialty coffee growers. I was eager to establish the potential of QualicafeX to build sustainable coffee relationships partnerships with roasters. During July 2003, I spent 10 days in a field visit to the coffee region in Brazil and toured 18 farms; as well as dialoged with some 40 coffee growers and their families in the traditional regions of Sao Paulo (SP) and Sul de Minas (MG). QualicafeX arranged several cupping opportunities with growers in its home office in the town of Pinhal.
It rapidly became apparent to me why the quality evolution or “revolution” in Brazil’s coffee industry that begun in the mid 1990s with the adoption by leading growers of the Pulped Natural system and technology (a key contributing factor among others), is so significant. A new high-end market category for Brazilian coffee now appeared in the market.
Perhaps the most significant effect from the advent of Pulped Natural is a noticeable trend among many Brazilian growers and regions focusing in production, processing and differentiation of single quality and origin coffees. This is remarkable change in attitude, in an otherwise volume-oriented coffee industry.
The new breed of specialty oriented growers is expanding rapidly; from an experimental phase in the early 90’s to an estimated three million bags in 2003 of coffee processed as Pulped Naturals. Some of these growers have indeed been producing consistent exemplary specialty coffee grade for a couple of years now. In fact, many of the new high-end coffees and individual growers are eager to be recognized as top specialty quality growers and are willing to be judged in open competitions by the specialty industry. The 5th Brazil Quality Cup of Excellence Coffee Competition (version 2003) accepted samples from some 975 farms from several regions. All these individual producers clearly profess that they have something special to offer. The Brazilian judges for this competition initially pre-selected 174 coffees as semi-finalists and at the end of all the eliminatory rounds, some 60 coffees will be presented to an international jury of industry cuppers who will then select the finalist.
Analysts of the Brazil Quality Competition are becoming aware of certain individuals and groups of producers in small geographical origins and regions that have been present in the finals each year. These repeat winners and finalists are frequently small family farm operations, use innovative processing systems and technologies, and/or grow their coffee in higher altitudes.
What is happening in Brazil?
It seems that an increasing number of Brazilian coffee growers are learning about and adjusting to the specialty requirements and concepts. So, more and more attention is being paid by growers to correlating variables like altitude, varietals, microclimate, processing and drying technologies, and to the determination and differentiation of exceptional coffees. This “pursuit of the source of quality” across various regions in Brazil is helping growers and consumers to identify farms and origins that prior commonly were offered bulked under generic geographical denominations.
In this respect, the work of QualicafeX to select discrete origins (see map) within larger traditional generic coffee regions is yielding good results. For instance, out of the 174 semifinalists, 38 are associated with QualicafeX in different areas, but all are producing coffee with outstanding sensorial attributes and physical characteristics.
It is clear that with the advent of the Pulped Natural System and technology in Brazil, in a ways is the lens helping growers to search and distinguish between top from average quality. And, that the recent surge of exemplary Brazilian coffees from Brazil is related to the Pulped Natural trend and the existence of competitions that give these fine coffees a platform where to be discovered.
What is Pulped Natural?
|Ailton Santos of the Fazenda Cachoeira do Cambui, MG, holds up a sample of the pulp natural Coffee.
For economic reasons, Brazil follows a strip harvest methodology so that green, ripe and overripe beans arrive successively the processing facilities.
Essentially, the Pulped Natural system begins with the separation of cherries by quality after the post harvest. The effective separation of green and overripe from fully mature, red cherries presented the Brazilians with the opportunity to implement a new process not used in Natural production: pulping only 100% ripe cherries, and immediately drying without washing or removing the mucilage out from the parchment. Sorting cherries and pulping in this manner works because it is simple and adds value to the grower who implements it.
Drying seems to be the Achilles’ heel of the Pulped Natural System. Farmers opting to process coffee as Pulped Natural must have a strong quality attitude. The parchment, impregnated with the sugar of the mucilage, is very sticky and tends to agglomerate as the drying takes place. Thus this procedure uses important production resources, both in term of physical patio drying infrastructure, as well as need of costly labor to handle intensive drying operations. It takes about two to three days of patio handling before a Pulped Natural parchment lot is ready for the mechanical driers, and during the first day or so the sticky parchment literally has to be scraped out from the patios in order to turn it around as proper drying procedures oblige.
Sadly more often than not, the traceability and market recognition that these great “new” coffees and farmers need and deserve - more than anyone - is lost underneath the world of commercial branding, and proprietary marketing schemes.
In special marketing events, like highly international publicized auctions and competitions, discrete Pulped Natural lots fetch important prices. However, so far, it seems that the specialty and traditional marketing channels - both in Brazil and in North America - are somehow inflexible to embrace the Pulped Natural in its own right. In consequence, seldom top quality Pulped Natural producers and farms sell their coffee to regional operators who trade these unique fine coffees blended with those of other producers.
There is a lack of appropriate and continuous marketing channels for coffees like the top Pulped Natural Brazilian that clearly gravitate towards the high end of the coffee quality pyramid. This confirms an apparent disconnect between the specialty coffee industry constant “quality call” to growers, and its shortcomings in meeting grower’s expectations.
Alejandro Renjifo works with Fairfield Trading Brokers LLC,in the creation of coffee relationship Partnership between producers and roasters. He can be contacted at: Arenjifo.com
Fairfield Trading LLC and the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC) have a Coffee Relationship Partnership Brokerage Agreement licensing Fairfield to offer, intermediate, sell, and distribute to the North American Specialty Market Coffee Origins from exclusive Designated Coffee Regions in Colombia.
Since June 2003, Fairfield Trading Brokers LLC and QualicafeX have an Agreement to promote top Specialty Coffees from Brazil in the North American Market.
QualicafeX is the recommended Exporter of Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA)