Campinas, Sao Paulo. This past week I had the good fortune to participate in the early stages of a very interesting project lead by Dr. Gerson Giamo of the Instituto Agronimo de Campinas (IAC). Over the course of 3 days, we evaluated around 150 coffees.
Brief Background of the IAC
For the past century the IAC has been a bulwark for coffee research worldwide. In many ways, we all owe the IAC a debt of gratitude since who knows what coffee prices would be without their work in the areas of productivity, vigor, and disease resistance. It is estimated that over 80% of the current coffee planted in Brazil stems from their research, mainly in the form of the Mundo Novo and Catuai varieties.
IAC Genoplasm Bank
The IAC also has a germplasm bank of thousands of coffee varieties. These varieties arrive at the bank either through plant development research at the IAC, discovery, or through exchanges. The first I mentioned briefly above. Regarding the second, when an interesting variety naturally occurs and is discovered, these plants are sent to the IAC for evaluation and preservation. An example of this is Maragogipe, a variety that was discovered in its namesake city, Maragogipe, Bahia. Regarding exchanges, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), part of the United Nations, conducted a major exchange in 1964, with varieties from Ethiopia arriving in Brazil via Costa Rica. These plants have been left wild in the genoplasm bank.
Quality vs Quantity
The major focus of coffee research has and continues to be focused on plant vigor, resistance, and productivity. Because of this little work has been done to integrate more flavorful but less productive/resistant plants, and a homogeneity in plant varieties has been the result. Cup quality has mainly been evaluated as pass/fail, a passing grade being defined as lacking strong astringency. The Classificacao Official Brasileiro (COB) evaluation system is still used and is based around this, with higher grade coffees falling into the vague categories of apenas mole, mole, and estritamente mole. “Mole” means soft, or smooth, so you can see how important astringency (or lack thereof) is in evaluating coffees. Acidity, body, exotic flavors and aromas remained outside the purview of what was important, and developed.
Due to the increased demand for Specialty Coffee, Dr. Gerson Giamo has undertaken a project to evaluate the coffees at the Institute to see if any (of the thousands) present exotic flavor profiles that merit further development. In other words, a look at quality first, then quantity. Any potential results from this project are years away, but it was great to be a part of this initial prospecting phase. Campinas has a low altitude (600m) and many of these plants have been left wild for years, so the vast majority were unremarkable coffees falling in the 75-80 SCAA range. We were, however, able to cull several coffees (mainly from the Kaffa and Illubado provinces of Ethiopia, as we found out after the experiment) with exotic flavor profiles, and that on first analysis have some great potential.