CASA BRASIL COFFEES LAUNCHES FIRST CERRADO MINEIRO REGION D.O. COFFEES IN THE U.S.
- This is the first time coffee with a seal representing Designation of Origin will be on the shelves of major retailers Whole Foods Market and Central Market
- The Cerrado Mineiro Region is a specially recognized coffee Designation of Origin, which certifies origin and quality
- Designation of Origin certification brings the same protections previously only available to wines and specialty foods to the coffee industry
- Casa Brasil Coffees is a specialty Brazilian coffee roaster in Austin, Texas
AUSTIN, TEXAS (April 23, 2018) — Casa Brasil Coffees, a specialty Brazilian coffee roaster, is launching the first Brazilian Designation of Origin coffees in the U.S. The roaster is an official ambassador brand of the The Cerrado Mineiro Region, the only officially protected D.O. in Brazil.
Casa Brasil Coffees is the first roaster to partner with the Cerrado Coffee Growers Federation, which represents the region, to bring Brazilian D.O. coffees to retailers, restaurants and coffee shops in the U.S. This is the first time coffees with a Brazilian seal of origin will be sold in the U.S., making the region the first demarcated Brazilian region with products on U.S. shelves.
Designation of Origin in the coffee industry promises to improve transparency and quality, similar to geographical indications used for specialty cheese and meats, wine and liquors, and fruits and vegetables throughout the world.
The new coffee lots are the result of the Casa Brasil Coffees Founder Joel Shuler and General Manager Ian Myers, who visited accredited farms through the region to hear grower stories and evaluate the coffees during the 2017 harvest. Soil, climate and altitude together with the know-how of producers in the Cerrado Mineiro Region are the perfect definition of a product with Designation of Origin.
“We were the first company to focus only on high-quality Brazilian coffees, at a time when Brazil had not established itself as a source of gourmet cafes,” Shuler said. “Nowadays, Casa Brasil is once again a pioneer, representing the Designation of Origin of the Cerrado Mineiro Region. We believe in the value added by D.O., both for our customers and for our producing partners, and it is a real pride to be together with Cerrado Mineiro at this innovative and important moment for coffee.”
The D.O. region is a demarcated area composed of 55 municipalities located in the northwest of the state of Minas Gerais, with altitudes ranging from 800 to 1,300 meters, and coffee grown and certified in the region offers unique benefits of quality, taste and innovative traceability.
To achieve the Federation’s official Origin and Quality Certification, a coffee must meet eight requirements, including the geographic boundary, minimum elevation, storage standards, a signed statement of responsibility by the producer, and a minimum Specialty Coffee Association quality score of 80.
For Superintendent of the Cerrado Coffee Growers Federation Juliano Tarabal, this project converges with the purpose of the Cerrado Mineiro Region.
“This project represents one of the pillars of our brand purpose that is to connect producers to consumers, thus bringing value and perception to Cerrado Mineiro D.O.,” said Juliano Tarabal, superintendent of the Cerrado Coffee Growers Federation. “Above all, it is a project that involves chain coordination, as it encompasses producers, cooperatives, exporters, roasters and two large retail chains, end-to-end traceability leading controlled origin to the American consumer.”
Every coffee is traced by a unique number and QR code from the farm, through international transport, and is marked with the same identification number on 12 oz. retail bags of roasted coffee. Coffees grown in the region have unique attributes due to the edaphoclimatic conditions and terroir, including intense aroma, hints of chocolate, slight acidity, and moderate to full body.
Casa Brasil Coffees will launch five new microlots from the region and one blend this season. Two microlots are currently available, one produced by Gil César de Melo and another by Yuki Minami, who also produces the Sweet Cerrado blend. The coffees will be available online at casabrasilcoffees.com and in Texas retailers including Hardie’s Fresh Foods, Central Market and Whole Foods Market at the end of April.
“For me and my family it is an honor to be part of this project led by Casa Brasil Coffees and the Federation of Cerrado Coffee Growers that unites local and global through this universal drink which is the coffee,” Minami said.
There will be an opportunity to meet Yuki Minami and sample the microlot from her farm at demo events this week in Austin, Texas.
To find complete details on the requirements of the D.O. visit www.cerradomineiro.org. For further information of each of the coffees visit casabrasilcoffees.com. Casa Brasil Coffees is a roaster of specialty Brazilian coffees in Austin, Texas.
Update on Selective Harvest Project and Lessons Learned
A year ago, we detailed our Selective Harvest Project, wherein we began working with several of our partners before the harvest to guarantee a high price for the coffee if the growers would follow a series of protocols, including selectively harvesting only ripe coffee fruits, that would yield a higher quality coffee. The idea is that Casa Brasil would assume the risk so that their investment in quality would be compensated, regardless of the market price when it came time to sell. We did a complete cost analysis, ensuring that costs would be covered and that those picking the coffee would be adequately compensated for their quality. (Actually, given the tight labor supply for coffee pickers in Brazil, that factor is largely self-regulating.)
Initial meeting with APAS to propose the Selective Harvest Project and discuss project intention and details
The objective of the Selective Harvest Project was, in fact, two-fold. The first was to create a value in the supply chain that wasn't there before based on the guarantee of a higher price. As detailed in the initial blog post, given market instability, growers are more inclined to seek cost minimization as opposed to investing in quality through infrastructure improvements and the increased labor needed for consistent quality. The intent was to guarantee price for a certain quantity of bags, and then the growers could take advantage of this guaranteed price stability to selectively harvest even more bags to enter into competitions. Here is a list of some of the accomplishments of our partners who did just that:
- Ademilson Noiman Borges - 2016 Brazilian Fair Trade Competition - 1st Place
- Ademilson Noiman Borges - 2017 Winning Coffee used by Barista Hugo Silva in 6th Annual Barista Cup
- Alessandro Hervaz - 2017 Brazilian Cup of Excellence Naturals - 7th Place (Auction Price $13/lb)
- Alessandro Hervaz - 2017 Carmo Best Cup - 5th Place
- Alessandro Hervaz - 2017 Best of APAS Competition - Selective Harvest Category - 1st Place (a new category they created in their association of around 50 families just for selectively harvested coffee).
- Alessandro Hervaz - 2017 2nd Place Coffee of the Year, Serra da Mantiqueira
The other objective was to better understand the terroir and the impact of processing. With a heterogeneous harvest that contains various maturations, it's hard to isolate the impact of the cultivar or the post-harvest treatment. After two harvests, the growers are starting to gather experience in working with 100% ripe fruit, and learning what works and what doesn't. Certain cultivars such as Yellow Catuai and Yellow Bourbon stood out on the cupping table, while several sample of selectively harvested Acaia and Mundo Novo scored below 80.
Meeting with growers before 2017/18 harvest
The overall theme of what we have learned is something we already knew (and, if fact, I came to Brazil in pursuit of a master's degree to better understand). No matter how good the raw material, if the coffee is not properly dried in the post-harvest, the resulting coffee beverage will likely not be of high quality. These lessons learned are largely different incarnations of this basic theme:
Trust, But What Can You Verify?
We can verify the unripes; we can’t verify that proper care was taken during the post-harvest. In other words, we can do a physical analysis of the green coffee and determine the percent of immature coffee beans to verify if a selective harvest was performed, but we cannot determine if the coffee was slowly and carefully dried. This is a shortcoming on our part for not providing sufficient training to all partners, but, even more importantly, is likely due to a lack of infrastructure (lack of greenhouses to better control temperature, and lack of patio space, so they need to dry the coffee quickly to make room for the coffee arriving from the field throughout the harvest).
We will meet with APAS growers again before this coming harvest, and perhaps this is one thing we can consider. It can be safely assumed that very little dry material is loss during drying, i.e. it remains constant and only water is lost, if you track mass loss, you are in essence tracking the drying. Under commercial production conditions it is usually not viable to weigh the entire coffee lot to track moisture loss during drying (alas, the dream of a tared raised bed remains just that). However, if a representative sample of the lot can be obtained, segregated (using plastic mesh bags, for instance) and subjected to the exact same drying conditions (e.g. the bag does not affect drying by restricting airflow through the coffee), then it can be used to determine the drying.
The gravimet from Cenifcafe is a low-technology solution being applied in Colombia that works on this principle (and on an assumption of the initial moisture content of drained parchment).
Lack of Processing Oversight Inhibits Learning
This lack of consistent post-harvest processing conditions and oversight inhibits our ability to objectively gauge the quality potential of different cultivars. On the cupping table, there has been a general trend for Acaia and Mundo Novo to score lower than say Yellow Catuai and Yellow Bourbon. However, these cultivars were also from different growers. Since post-harvest processing is not carefully monitored (as mentioned above), we cannot cast judgement on their potential (though as buyers, we reserve the non-scientific right to respectively say “let’s not use those!”). There is, however, credible research that supports our experience, including this publication by Ribeiro et al. which demonstrated increased quality potential of Yellow Bourbon over Acaia in the Mantiqueira de Minas region (where APAS is located).
The “Single Layer” Barrier
When Ademilson, Augusto, Alessandro and I met at Oop Coffee in Belo Horizonte last month, they commented that to break through the 85/86 barrier with consistency, at least for their realities, selective harvest with standard single-fruit-high patio drying was not enough.
Cupping with Ademilson, Augusto, Alessandro at Oop Coffee in Belo Horizonte this past November
Initially drying the coffee fruit in a single-fruit-high layer is widely considered a best practice in coffee post-harvest processing to facilitate the removal of loosely absorbed water (water that is held more mechanically than through chemical bonds - Borém and Figueireiro provide a thorough account of water in coffee fruit, Marcos Filho a thorough account of water in grains and agricultural products in general).
What Ademilson, Augusto, and Alessandro have found is that there are two key things to breaking through–
The first is drying rate. Even with selective harvest, their coffees that dried quickly, almost without fail, scored lower than those that scored higher. The second is pushing the fermentation. Instead of quickly spreading out the fruit, if it is left piled up (or bagged, or in a condition where air flow is constricted) and slightly ferments, this can lead to a more complex coffee. This is no longer too big of a secret, and many growers are doing this to “fruitify” their naturals (and their pulped naturals for various honey processes). However, care must be taken to ensure the coffee is not over-fermented. Also, this is not the elixir that turns an 80 to an 86, as some blogs out there are purporting. Ideally, the conditions can be controlled and annotated so that results can be analyzed, and, most importantly, replicated if a desired result is obtained.
For this coming harvest, we have further expanded our partnership by pre-paying for the selectively harvested microlots from APAS members Ademilson Noiman and Augusto Borges. With this pre-payment, they will purchase greenhouses to dry the selectively harvested coffee in the 18/19 harvest.
This is actually something we should have implemented from Day 1. After all, what is the point of selectively harvesting a coffee if it is then subject to whatever the elements happen to me? For someone guaranteeing price for a process and not necessarily the resulting quality, this should have been a no-brainer to secure our investment. While we got some incredible microlots these past few years (including, for example, the same lot that won 6th place in this year’s COE), we have also paid a high price for some very ordinary coffees.
A properly constructed greenhouse not only mitigates risk, but allows for better control over the drying rate, making it easier for the growers to slowly dry their coffee in an effort to break the 85/86 barrier.
Location where Ademilson's greenhouse will be installed
As the harvest approaches, we will again sit down with APAS to talk about what we can do to again bump up quality. Likely this will entail more monitoring - of drying rates, temperatures, etc. - and perhaps explorations into fully washed coffees so that we can offer a more diverse flavor profile for APAS coffees.
Borém, F.M., and L.P. Figueiredo. 2014. “Water in Coffee Fruit and Seeds.” In Handbook of Post-Harvest Coffee Technology, edited by F.M. Borém, 1sted., 14–27. Norcross: Gin Press.
Marcos Filho, Julio. 2005. Fisiologia de Sementes de Plantas Cultivadas. 1sted. Piracicaba: FEALQ.
Oliveros Tascón, Carlos E, Aída E Peñuela Martínez, and Julieth M Jurado Chana. 2009. “Controle La Humedad Del Cafe En El Secado Solar, Utilizando El Metodo Gravimet.” Cenicafe Avances Técnicos 387: 1–8.
Ribeiro, Diego Egidio, Flavio Meira Borem, Marcelo Angelo Cirillo, Mariele Vilela, Bernardes Prado, Vany Perpetua Ferraz, Helena Maria, Ramos Alves, Jose Henrique, and Silva Taveira. 2016. “Interaction of Genotype, Environment and Processing in the Chemical Composition Expression and Sensorial Quality of Arabica Coffee.” African Journal of Agricultural Research 11 (27): 2412–22. doi:10.5897/AJAR2016.10832.
Fazenda Recreio is a Brazilian coffee farm known for its quality excellence, and they have been our partner for many years. This month, our Fazenda Recreio microlot is a featured coffee at Central Market in Austin, Texas. We asked Diogo Dias, the producer at Fazenda Recreio, five questions about his life and farm, and we’ve translated his answers from the original Portuguese and edited for clarity below. You can learn more about the coffee we source from Fazenda Recreio here.
CASA BRASIL: Fazenda Recreio has been in your family since the 1890’s; however, you were raised in São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world, far from the farm and the rural life. Did you always know you'd come back one day to run the farm?
DIOGO: Fazenda Recreio has been in the family since 1890, with the first coffee harvest in 1893. My grandfather took over the farm in 1944 and managed it until 2006, so for 62 years he was the head of the farm, as well as our family. This always inspired me a lot, but I did not know that one day I would come to take his place at Fazenda Recreio.
Most of my vacation when I lived and studied in São Paulo was spent here at Fazenda Recreio, usually for long periods of one month or more. I was always in touch with my grandfather as a child and on the first day of vacation he would send someone to pick me up in São Paulo and take me to the farm. As I got older, I would come by bus, also on the first day of vacation. Maybe I didn’t notice it at the time, since coming to the farm was always fun for me, but maybe my grandfather had the ulterior motive of getting me ready to come to work with him and take over the farm. We always were deeply connected; we had different points of view, but that was good, to see both sides and to accept some change. He taught me a lot, mainly to respect and always have a lot of humility towards our employees.
CASA BRASIL: Your region, Vale da Grama, always has farms with very high scoring coffees that win many coffee competitions. Nonetheless, the region is not as well known as other regions of Brazil such as Matas de Minas, Mantiqueira de Minas, etc. Why is that? Are there any plans to promote the region in the future?
DIOGO: Vale da Grama became well-known after Fazenda Recreio and Fazenda Rainha won several contests, but in fact the Vale da Grama is a micro-region of the Media Mogiana region, which is within the state of São Paulo. Unfortunately, coffee growing within São Paulo is not very strong in economic and political terms, and thus it is not easy to obtain, for example, the Denomination of Origin, because there are only two farms (Recreio and Rainha) that represent the Vale da Grama region as a whole. But we do have an association of coffee growers that has been working towards obtaining the DO seal, along with the volcanic cafes of Poços de Caldas and the region.
A photo at the Vale da Grama Association from the 2012 Best of Vale da Grama coffee competition, home to many high-scoring coffees.
CASA BRASIL: For those not familiar with your region, how would you describe the Vale da Grama? How is the topography of the region unique, and how is it conducive to the production of quality coffee.
DIOGO: Vale da Grama is a rugged and undulating topography with a good rainfall pattern and mild temperatures - hot during the day and cold at night, which favors the uniform maturation of the coffee fruits. Just as important, we are on the outskirts of what was a volcano in the Poços de Caldas region, with volcanic soils rich in nutrients, greatly favoring quality coffee production.
Photo of the Vale da Grama
CASA BRASIL: Fazenda Recreio is widely recognized as one of the best coffee farms in Brazil in terms of quality. What are some of the things you have done to achieve this distinction?
DIOGO: We always strive to improve coffee drying techniques - researching the newest techniques and always thinking about how to maintain the quality of the coffee that comes from the field.
We also invest heavily in pursuing cultivars with high-quality potential such Yellow Bourbon, which represents 50% of our production. We have a joint-research project together with the IAC (Agronomic Institute of Campinas - one of the world’s most prestigious coffee research institutions) to further develop cultivars with greater quality potential.
CASA BRASIL: Being the fifth generation to produce coffee at Recreio comes with enormous pride, but I imagine that it also comes with a great weight. Each generation of coffee growers faces unique challenges in maintaining the links of the chain. You have already achieved a lot, increasing the reputation of Recreio and winning several quality contests, including the Cup of Excellence. But what are your challenges? What will be the big difference between the farm that you inherited, and the farm that you will pass on to your children?
DIOGO: Being the fifth generation is a source of great pride, but also a great challenge. We are a very mountainous coffee growing in Brazil, a land where competitiveness is usually linked to the ability to fully mechanized coffee production. The biggest challenge we are facing is how to be economically sustainable in a region that depends exclusively on human labor to tend to the coffee. In a region with high quality potential, but ever-increasing production costs due to rising labor costs, the best way to survive is through quality - to add value to our product through quality and developing relationships with like-minded partners, who value our coffee and ensure its quality all the way to the cup.
PhD Candidate Lucas Louzada spent 4 months interning at Casa Brasil, learning about the US coffee industry and conducting sensory analysis for his PhD research experiment on using fermentation in post-harvest processing to enhance coffee flavor. Here is a short video about his time spent in the US carrying out his studies.
The Selective Harvest Project
For over ten years Joel has been going to Brazil to source coffee. The process has usually been similar: request samples from some of the best farms and pick out their best lots.
This year, Casa Brasil had a different approach: rather than show up after the fact, why not guarantee price before the harvest for the growers to follow a series of protocols that had a better chance of yielding a higher quality coffee? For this project, growers selectively harvested only ripe coffee fruit, then carefully processed and dried the coffee to ensure quality. The results of the Select Harvest Project speak for themselves. Our Selective Harvest Microlots are available here.
Casa Brasil & Torchy's Tacos Brazil Trip
Last August our friends and partners at Torchy's Tacos traveled with us to Brazil. During the visit they had the opportunity to meet with some of the growers that produce the coffee that is sold alongside their famous tacos.
We were fortunate to have Torchy’s partners Mike Rypka and Jay Wald travel with us to Brazil this harvest to meet some of our growing partners.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Torchy’s from their early days, and it has been exciting to grow with them over the years.
Their growth has been great for us as a company, but I wanted to write a short blog about the impact a company like Torchy’s can have when its coffee is sourced directly from the growers and there is not only traceability, but a relationship that is maintained throughout the supply chain.
Hopefully you have had the chance to try Casa Brasil’s Torchy’s Blend. Here is a little bit about the coffee:
- The coffee scores at or above an SCAA 83, a score that is significantly higher than coffee offered by Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Peet’s, and many others.
- We source directly from growers, import the coffee ourselves, and then roast the coffee fresh to order in Austin, Texas.
- We pay a price that is detached from the commodity market (more on this below) and offer full transparency to our growing partners.
I wanted to focus on two ways that Torchy’s and Casa Brasil are directly impacting lives through our partnership.
How Coffee is Traditionally Sourced.
First, let’s look at how coffee is traditionally sourced. Almost all coffee worldwide is purchased at a price that is based on the commodity market price. Coffee of higher quality may receive a premium over that price, while coffee of inferior quality may be discounted. While commodity markets serve a valuable function, there are several problems with this model.
One of the main problems is that the commodity market price is not linked to a grower’s input costs. Add to this the volatility of the market, and a grower cannot be certain of the value of their product at the time of sale.
Let’s Make a Sandwich
Imagine that you are a sandwich maker and you make and sell sandwiches for a living under the following conditions. (1) The price at which you will sell your sandwich is not linked to your costs. (2) You neither control nor know what that price will be when you sell your sandwich. (3) Your livelihood and the livelihood of your family comes from sandwich sales.
Under these conditions, how will you go about making your sandwiches? Will you go out and source the highest quality ham, the freshest lettuce, and succulent heirloom tomatoes? Probably not. More than likely, your main concern will be to keep your costs as low as possible to minimize your chances of selling at a loss.
This is the situation that predominates for the coffee grower, and while the growth of specialty coffee has provided larger premiums that mitigate this risk, it is still there along with the resulting caution against taking measures to increase quality, both on a seasonal basis and in terms of investing in infrastructure that leads to higher quality.
Now—back to sandwiches—imagine knowing that you will be paid set prices that are completely detached from the commodity market and based on the quality of your sandwich. The paradigm changes. You know that you will be rewarded for quality and will therefore likely make the effort to go out and make a damn good sandwich.
The impact of our direct trade business model really came out on our trip. Through Torchy’s growth and their partnership with Casa Brasil, an increasing number of smallholder growers, trapped for generations in the commodity market cycle, have been able to invest in quality and make the transition from being beholden to commodity markets to artisan growers that largely control their own destinies.
Alessandro Hervaz installed a solar dryer and raised beds on his patio to ensure quality. He is also expanding his production to a plot above 1,300 m, among the highest in Brazil.
Augusto Borges purchased a coffee cherry color sorter that helps to ensure that unripe coffee fruit, which tastes astringent, like unripe bananas, doesn’t make its way into his higher quality coffee. This investment of around $10,000 USD was made possible by the partnership.
Ademilson Noiman expanded his production, planting coffee at higher altitudes that will likely lead to higher quality coffee.
Sérgio Borges installed raised beds on his property, getting the coffee off the ground where it can dry more evenly, with a lower risk of contamination.
Sérgio Borges participated in our selective harvest project, moving from strip picking to hand-picking ripe fruit for select microlots [more on that here]
Knowing Their Work is Appreciated
So much goes into these growers’ coffee. Not only are they literally surrounded by it, it is their life passion. Historically, growers took their coffee to the local coop, and that was it. They never knew where it went, who drank it, or if people appreciated their work.
Knowing where their coffee is going and hearing directly from Mike and Jay how much their hard work is appreciated was an incredible moment. Some of the growers were brought to tears hearing about Torchy’s commitment to finding passionate suppliers who were experts on their respective trades. For growers that have historically been at the bottom of the supply chain, hearing and seeing the mutual respect given to them by Torchy’s was, in the words of Augusto Borges, “a life changing experience.”
Augusto Borges, a young coffee grower who is passionate about quality and sees coffee not as a commodity trade that he inherited and is beholden too, but a path where he can express his passion and creativity, and be rewarded for his innovations. Initiatives like Casa Brasil’s direct trade business model help make coffee production a viable option for younger growers, instead of leaving the farm for the city.
So next time you grab a cup of coffee at Torchy’s, know that those beans were grown by passionate coffee growers that care about your experience, and that each cup adds to the enrichment of lives, from you enjoying the final product to those who supply it. If you would like to send a message to the growers to let them know, please reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and we will be sure to pass on to them.
Thanks again to Mike and Jay for making the trip. Words cannot express enough how much it meant to us and the growers. Thanks guys.
For the 10+ years that I have been coming down to Brazil to source each harvest, the process has usually been similar: request samples from some of the best farms and pick out their best lots. Over the years as relationships developed, this morphed into a model of transparency and pricing based on SCAA score for the coffee, independent of the C market. (The normal process, even for specialty, is to pay a premium over the C market price, wherever it may be at the time of purchase.)
This year I decided to try a different approach: rather than show up after the fact, why not guarantee price before the harvest for the growers to follow a series of protocols that had a better chance of yielding a higher quality coffee? These protocols consisted of choosing a high-quality potential farm lot (based largely on cultivar and altitude), performing selective harvesting of that lot, and then slowly drying the coffee (in raised beds and in a greenhouse, when possible).
The results were varied, but there were some incredible coffees that resulted from this project, including a coffee from grower Ademilson Noiman Borges that won the Fair Trade Coffee of the Year competition in Brazil. In general, the scores for these coffees were higher than the scores we had given in previous years for similar, non-selectively harvested lots. In the cases where the coffee scores were lower than anticipated (the expectation was that each lot would score at least an 86 using the SCAA cupping methodology, which is our cut-off for a microlot), while it’s a bummer, it does potentially provide insight into cultivar potential and post-harvest practices. Below I have elaborated more on this as well as some information about the project.
Some more details of the Selective Harvest Project
I. What is Selective Harvesting, and Why Does it Matter?
Short Answer: Picking only ripe fruit. In general, the coffee tastes better.
Medium Answer: Coffee goes through several blossoming events, meaning that the fruits “start” and therefore “end” their life cycle at different times – so the same plant and even branch can contain fruit of different maturations. Unripe coffee, sometimes referred to as “green,” has an astringent flavor that is akin to unripe bananas – not something you want in your coffee. With selective harvesting, only ripe fruit is picked, and the same tree must be picked several times as the coffee fruit ripens.
Long Answer: While the correlation is not exactly defined, it is accepted that seed maturation (what we really care about) corresponds with fruit maturation. That said, fruit maturation ends up being quite important because the visual appearance of the fruit, as well as its rigidity and the strength of its connection to the tree are factors in determining the point of harvest. Seed maturity, the point where the seed can germinate, actually occurs before the fruit is fully ripe. The last two phases of fruit maturation are the filling phase, where the endosperm fills in the cavity created by the perisperm, with its volumetric expansion defined by the hardened endocarp, and then maturation. While maturation is usually defined more by what happens in the fruit, mainly the softening of the mesocarp (mucilage) and the color change of the exocarp (skin), we know that the seed too undergoes changes, though these changes have not been completely defined. The endosperm continues to accumulate reserve compounds in its cell walls, and this is a good thing, since those compounds lead to a better beverage.
The other extreme of maturation is “dried on tree” coffee. This is coffee that has passed its point of physiological maturation and remains on the tree, drying and gaining a withered appearance. While these coffees can, in fact, be quite good, they carry a higher risk as, just like us, if left in the elements in this “elderly” state, they are more susceptible to degradation through, for example, mold attacks. This is especially true if it rains during the harvest.
Of note too should be the fact that it is largely accepted that coffee does not ripen after it is picked, nor does the application of ethylene while the fruit is still on the vine lead to more homogeneous seed maturation. Though it is currently an area of study, and their might be other benefits of such applications (weakening the peduncle for non-selective mechanical harvesting, for example), it is largely accepted, at least in Brazil, that while the use of ethylene does lead to a more homogeneous fruit color, it does not lead to homogeneous coffee seed maturation.
II. Why Don’t They Do Selective Harvesting in Brazil?
Short Answer: It costs too much. (This is actually a good thing.)
Medium Answer: The minimum wage in Brazil has risen significantly over the past 20 years, while coffee prices are largely the same. Add to this urbanization which has led to a sharp decline in the available rural workforce, and you have a lack of labor, and high labor cost when it is available.
Long Answer: Regarding the availability of rural labor, according to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), the rural population in the Southeast region of Brazil (where most of the coffee is grown) has decreased from around 25% in 1970 to around 5% today.
Regarding the cost of labor, the minimum wage, called “one salary” in Brazil, largely serves as the basis for payment for any job. Given the required skill and labor supply for a job, the employee will make a multiple of the minimum wage (a tractor operator in southern Minas Gerias, for example, will make generally 1.5 to 2 “salaries.”) The additional tax burden per employee in the Sul de Minas region is 42%. In other words, for every $100 you pay the employee, you must pay an additional $42 to the government.
The minimum wage in Brazil increased from 155 reais per month in 2000 to 880 this harvest, or 5.7 times. While all of this is not a real (inflation corrected) increase, as there is an adjustment for inflation, the fact that coffee prices are pegged to the US dollar renders the real adjustment irrelevant, apart from the impact of the inflation on the exchange rate. And while they fluctuate greatly, coffee prices now are not significantly higher now than they were in 2000. Let’s say you have a sweater shop where, in the year 2000 you sold sweaters for $30 and paid your employees $5.15 an hour (US minimum wage). In 2014 you would still have to sell your sweaters for $30, but now you would have to pay each worker nearly $30 an hour.
For the harvest, which represents the largest cost for the coffee grower, workers in the Sul de Minas region demand at least $100 reais a day, or 3.4 times the minimum wage (the US equivalent of this would be $24.65 an hour). To get pickers to do selective harvesting (i.e. get good pickers and motivate them to be very selective), you need to pay far above $100 reais per day.
To get a basis for how much the selective harvest costs (and thus a fair price to pay), here are some base calculations. The numbers vary greatly depending on many factors, but after doing this, the biggest limiting factor was not determining price, but the lack of available labor. Even if you pay a lot, given the increased labor demands of selective harvesting, there are just not enough people to perform the harvest in the necessary time frame. Anyway, here are the base calculations
- Liters of coffee one person can harvest per day: 80*
- Ratio of fruit to 15+ green beans: 8 to 1, meaning that one person can pick 10 kilos, or 22 lbs. per day**
- Harvest labor cost per lb.: 100 reais/3.2 = 31.5 US dollars per day
- Therefore, the USD cost per lb for performing a selective harvest is 31.5/22, or $1.43.
By coincidence, the C Market price (Brazilian naturals) for July 2016 was $1.44 USD per lb. In other words, you lose a penny, just on the harvest. Of course the harvest is not the only cost. A good general cost number per bag of coffee excluding the harvest is 300 reais, or around $0.70 per lb.
* Our estimate of how many liters an average picker can selectively pick in an 8-hour day. Since selective harvesting is not done in Brazil and since this varies greatly depending on the maturation level of the fruit), this number varies and is hard to estimate. Based on my master thesis experiments and the estimates of our partners, we thought 80 liters was a good estimate, and, in fact, it turned out to be accurate (though again, these numbers varied greatly).
** This number again varies, depending on season (rainfall during the endosperm filling phase), cultivar, fertilization, maturation, etc. We used an 8 to 1 ratio – 8 kilos of cherries will render you 1 kilo of green coffee, screen size 15+
III. Why is Casa Brasil Coffees Doing this Project?
Short Answer: To source the best possible coffee. And we did. As mentioned above,a coffee from this project, a microlot from grower Ademilson Noiman Borges, won the Fair Trade Coffee of the Year award. This is the first time a grower from APAS has won. Several other coffees from the project scored in the high 80’s.
Medium Answer: To create quality and aggregate value at the farm level, thus justifying higher payments to our growing partners while offering our customers the highest possible quality. If you allow the fruit to mature on the vine and are careful in the post-harvest, then your coffee will generally be better than if you had not done so. As shown above, the reason most growers don’t do this is that they will lose money if they don’t get a massively higher price for their efforts. By knowing ahead of time that they were guaranteed this price, the growers could justifiably perform the selective harvest and take the necessary care in the post harvest.
Long Answer: On top of aggregating this value, Casa Brasil is doing this project to reap maximum results from a given terroir in both the short term and the long term.Regarding the long term, the intent of the project is to inform growers which cultivars are yielding better quality. With selective harvesting and careful post-harvest treatment, the interaction of genotype with the environment becomes more evident. In other words, if you remove the factors of various maturations and defects, then how different cultivars perform on certain farms, or lots in certain farms, becomes more apparent. Three lots of selective harvest coffees scored below 83 (our cutoff for microlots is 86). All three were Mundo Novo. While it is premature to judge all Mundo Novo, it does raise questions about its potential, at least in that specific microclimate. If those results continue, then growers must opt to either pull it up and plant a cultivar with higher potential (i.e., one that scores higher and thus receives a higher price), or relegate that lot to commercial grade coffee that is strip harvested. Other factors such as slope facing, shade, etc. enter in. Granted this is not done with the scientific rigor that would be best for making these kinds of decisions, but it is far and away better than the status quo, and it uses what, in my experience, is the largest motivator for growers to change their practices for the better – seeing their neighbors get a higher price per lb.
After 10 years of doing this, much of which has been spent in the field working with growers (and pursuing a masters degree in coffee production) I have been fortunate to have cultivated partnerships with growers with similar values, and it is these shared values, not oversight (real or BS), that lead to real aggregation of value, not merely the necessary “sustainability” copy that so much coffee marketing seems to demand.
IV. Where and when will these coffees be available?
We hope to ship the first container with these coffees by early November, meaning that the first lots will hopefully be available by late-December to early January.
Dulce Borges – APAS Coffee Roaster
For those that have had the chance to catch a glimpse (or a sip) of the Associção dos Produtores do Alto da Serra, or APAS, hopefully you have seen the incredible spirit of this small community of coffee growers in the hills outside of São Gonçãlo do Sapucaí, Minas Gerais. Dulce Borges is a member of the association and embodies a lot of what we love about working with them (apart from their incredible Brazilian coffees, of course). [read more]
A Look at Some of the Artists that Inspire Us
As we launch our new packaging (and complete our 10th year), I thought it might be worthwhile to show some of the artists that have inspired us along the way.
While the first connotations of Brazil are often soccer, beach, Amazon and bikinis -and perhaps often not in that order- there is an enormous cultural depth in art, music, and cuisine that unfortunately is not readily available through the normal channels and must be sought out.
Perhaps this is somewhat analogous to Brazilian coffee. When we started this coffee adventure, Brazilian coffee was often regarding as lower quality, lacking the depth and complexity that many in the specialty coffee industry sought. It wasn’t that the quality did not exist, but rather it was not being sought out. A decade later, Brazilian coffees are fetching record prices and are found in top-notch roasters the world over.