I had the honor of being invited to participate in an agricultural fair in Parana this past November. Ficafe is a coffee fair mainly for producers and is held annually right outside the town of Jacarezinho, Parana. This year the events of Ficafe coincided with the Cup of Excellence. I wanted to get this blog up sooner, however I also wanted to add a little about the interesting history of coffee in Parana. So here it is, from a brief (and hopefully) objective history to my experience this past November further down.
COFFEE IN PARANA
Historically produced in the Vale do Paraiba and in the state of Sao Paulo, coffee had reached Parana by the early part of the 20th century. However, it wasn’t until the 1950’s and 60’s that coffee production in Parana took off, with the amount of land under coffee production rising from around 750,000 acres in 1951 to nearly 4 million acres in 1962. In 1959 Parana surpassed Sao Paulo in total production, and by 1962 Parana was itself producing nearly one third of the world’s coffee supply.
Geada Negra, the Black Frost of 1975
That all changed in the early hours of July 18, 1975 when the Black Frost devastated Parana’s coffee production. A “white frost” is a less severe frost that affects the coffee leaves and blossoms. While the tree is damaged and production diminished, the plant is usually able to recover. A black frost, or geada negra in Portuguese, is the internal freezing of the plant and results in the death of the coffee tree. Here is the trailer to the film Geada Negra by journalist Adriano Justin. Though in Portuguese, the devastation caused by the geada negra in 1975 definitely comes through.
Within a week of the frost , the Instituto Brasileiro do Café (IBC), a state-run agency that controlled the Brazilian coffee trade until 1989, estimated that 50% of Brazil’s total crop had been destroyed by the frost. The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) confirmed this finding the next month (TALBOT, 2004). Given that in Brazil coffee trees take around three years to produce a significant amount of coffee, black frosts result in a significant disruption of production. This was the case in 1975 in Parana, and, according to the International Coffee Organization, Brazilian production in fact dropped from 22.4 million bags of coffee in the 75/76 harvest, to 6.7 million in the 76/77 harvest and 16 million in the 77/78 harvest. In terms of percent of total world production, Brazil went from 40% in 75/76 to 9.6% in 76/77.
Despite the fact that significant coffee stocks allowed Brazil to export 14.7 million bags of coffee in the 76/77 harvest, actually an increase over the 13 million bags exported from the 75/76 harvest, the black frost led to a panic among coffee traders and roasters and an abrupt increase in price. This in turn led to a new International Coffee Agreement that suspended quotas if a specific market price level were surpassed. Here is a link to the International Coffee Organization (ICO) site that reviews the various International Coffee Agreements including the 1976 Agreement referenced here: http://www.ico.org/history.asp
Moving On, Moving Out
Many farmers planted other crops, mainly wheat and soy beans that allowed for mechanized production (In fact, according to the newspaper Folha de Londrina, Transparana, one of the largest tractor sellers in Parana, had a record year in 1975.) Many left for the cheaper, flatter land further north in Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, and the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais. And many left the rural world and migrated to larger cities such as Parana’s capital of Curitiba (see graph here).With decreased production, Parana lost its throne as the major coffee producer in Brazil.
Specialty Coffee: Fair Trade
Within the last few years, Parana has emerged onto the Specialty Coffee scene with some great coffees. The immigrant labor infusion that occurred in the early part of the last century is still evident, with the ancestors of those immigrants maintaining small-sized family farms. The Fair Trade movement is making headway in Parana and with the large number of small producers we should see a significant quantity of Fair Trade coffee from Parana in the coming years.
Specialty Coffee: Subtropical Coffee
If you do a quick google search for “Coffee, Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn” you will see a lot out there telling you that all arabica coffee in the world is produced between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. Parana is the exception to this rule, with a large part of its coffee production at sub-tropical levels. Jacarezinho, the town that hosted Ficafe, is just south of the Tropic of Capricorn with a latitude of 23°05’S. Due to the cooler temperatures, there is a longer maturation time of the fruit on the tree. While Parana lacks the altitude of Minas Gerais, altitude can be substituted by latitude, and Parana has the capacity to produce some incredible coffees, as we were able to taste at Ficafe.
FICAFE – 2011
Ficafe is an agricultural trade show for coffee producers in Parana, providing an opportunity for them to take classes in coffee quality/production, as well as walk the trade show floor with booths presenting everything from milling equipment, to fertilizers, to trade organizations, to agricultural tourism. This past year there were additional events involving international coffee cuppers and buyers, and it was this that took me to Parana and Ficafe. Though I did not participate this year, the Cup of Excellence was also held for the first time in Parana, with the awards ceremony part of the Ficafe events.
Apart from walking the trade show floor, the highlight of Ficafe for me was a class taught by Ensei Neto (who happens to write one of my favorite coffee blogs, Coffee Traveler). Neto took us on a virtual tour of the Norte Pioneiro do Parana region, looking at 8 different coffees from 8 different microregions. The cupping, at least for me, did three things:
1. Confirmed that the Norte Pioneiro do Parana region can produce complex coffees.
2. Confirmed that coffees with relatively high acidity can be produced at lower altitudes.
3. Demonstrated the diversity that can be found in the region.
Fazenda California – Luiz Roberto Saldanha Rodrigues
For the second time in 3 months I had the pleasure of visiting Fazenda California outside of Jacarezinho. Producer Luiz Roberto has taken the lead in distinguishing the Norte Pioneiro do Parana as a serious specialty coffee region, and the quality of the coffee he produces has been a major reason eyes are starting to turn towards Parana once again. Though he is not alone, his knowledge, passion, and resources, have had a tremendous impact on bringing this region to the forefront, with one of his coffees attaining the level of Cup of Excellence in the 2010 competition, a feat many thought impossible for a coffee from Parana just a few years ago. (As a quick aside, I believe that no other entity or event has done more for specialty coffee in Brazil than the Cup of Excellence, for it is through this competition that regions like Araponga, Carmo de Minas, and Piata have had the platform to demonstrate their quality. The Norte Pioneiro do Parana follows in this succession.)
Due to the cooler temperatures and higher humidity during the harvest season, it is more difficult to produce quality coffee in Parana. But as Luiz points out, harder does not mean impossible, it means a different set of challenges that must be overcome. The post-harvest care at Fazenda California is immaculate, and the extensive infrastructure allows for the production of fully washed, semi-washed, pulped natural, and natural coffees. Along with a delegation from the Cup of Excellence, we were able to cup several coffees from Fazenda California inside a church at the farm. We were also able to walk the fields with Luiz and Professor Flavio Borem, learning about the peculiarities of coffee production in Parana and the measures that Fazenda California takes for quality control. Luiz and his family hosted an incredible churrasco to end the evening, without doubt one of the best I have ever been to both in terms of the camaraderie and the quality of the bbq.
Talbot, John. Grounds for Agreement: The Political Economy of the Coffee Commodity Chain. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004.