An Educating and Enlightening Experience in Brazil

I know in my previous blog I said I would discuss Host Milan in my next blog, but I’ll have to cover it another time as I must talk about my recent trip – my first – to Brazil. The government of Minas Gerais invited media, roasters and importers from around the world to attend International Coffee Week (25-27 October) in Belo Horizonte and then visit several coffee-producing regions.

Although the goal is to become an international trade show, the show that takes place during International Coffee Week, which is producer-driven, is still an overwhelmingly Brazilian event in terms of exhibitors and attendees. There was a symposium with lectures and educational sessions designed to help farmers to produce better-quality coffee that featured Brazilian and international speakers, but the focus was on cupping Brazilian coffees — both commercial and specialty. More than 30 cuppings were offered over the three-day show. After ICW ended, we headed to four coffee-producing regions in Minas Gerais in separate groups.

I admit that I had my reservations about flying in a nine-seat Cessna plane – during which “Caution: Terrain Ahead! Pull Up!” came over the speaker in English not Portuguese, further elevating my apprehension – but we made it to our destination without incident, and it was well worth it. I visited mountainous Mantiqueira de Matas — a beautiful region filled with warm, hospitable people, fabulous food (of which I ate entirely too much) and many, wonderful, hand-picked specialty coffees (and we cupped a lot!).

Since joining T&CTJ in 2012, I have visited several coffee-producing countries, but this was not only my first trip to Brazil, but also my first with buyers – roasters and importers – who were cupping coffees to purchase while we were at the cooperatives and association. It was a rewarding experience to watch the buyers go through the cupping and coffee-selecting process. Every roaster and importer in my group took home samples and some actually placed orders — one roaster ordered a container from one cooperative and has interest in coffees from other farms on our tour as well.

Brazil is responsible for producing approximately a third of the world’s green coffee (per MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity) but it is still growing its reputation for specialty lots, which is why the visits to the farms and coops were so important for the producers — they are still learning how to produce better-quality specialty coffee. In many instances, the roasters explained to the producers that the coffees for the cuppings were not prepared properly — the grinds were too coarse (the result of a faulty grinder), some coffees were over-roasted while others were under-roasted, thus not allowing the coffee to achieve full extraction. One roaster even showed the association (of small producers but part of a larger cooperative) how to prepare pour-over coffee.

These lessons and demonstrations were invaluable to the producers as they work to improve the quality of their coffee and try to create direct-trade relationships with roasters and importers. I enthusiastically observed, participated and generally “soaked it all in.” The roasters and importers took the time to educate me as well, for which I am eternally grateful (I have a terrible coffee palate, but it improved immensely thanks to the knowledge they imparted to me on this trip — and because of the myriad cuppings).

I hope I have the chance to return to Brazil and visit a different region — perhaps Cerrado Mineiro, a newer coffee region where mechanical harvesting takes place (it would be a treat to go during harvesting to see the machines in action but I’m not picky…). More importantly though, no matter the coffee-producing (or tea for that matter) region, I’d welcome the opportunity to once again go with buyers because it is truly an educational and enlightening experience.

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