Archive for July, 2010


A chance to go to Brazil popped up unexpectedly, and I went from July 9 to 18, to look at coffee.  The trip was organized by the United States Roasters [as in coffee] Guild, so the other people in the group were coffee pros.  I remain a mere coffee fanatic who knows something about the bean, the brew, and their history.

I flew from Dayton to Houston, then from there 10 hours overnight to Sao Paulo.  Can’t sleep on planes.  Was a little bit sick before the trip–had not quite recovered from Europe after being home for a month–but the lure of Brazil was great.  It’s the largest coffee producer in the world, of course–according to the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association, in the 2009-10 season, the country produced 43.5 million 60-kilogram bags.  Vietnam was second with 18.35 million, Colombia third with 12.2, and Indonesia 4th with 7.6.  Colombian production goes up and down, and sometimes the country outpaces Vietnam; this year the Colombian crop should recover nicely and may be the second largest.  But no one will ever catch Brazil, because of the physical area that the country can devote to coffee. Remember that coffee grows only in the tropics–between the T. of Cancer at 23 1/2 degrees north and the T. of Capricorn at the same latitude south.  Then to grow the good stuff, Arabic, some altitude is necessary; even 1,000 feet will do.  I can’t find a particularly good map of Brazil for the purposes of this post, but the following link will give a basic idea of how large the country is and how much of it is in the tropics; Sao Paulo is almost exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn, so that all of Brazil north of that city is in the zone for coffee.   However, much of the territory is too low for coffee–none grows in the Amazon basin–so we are speaking of specific regions, especially in the states just north of Sao Paulo, esp. Minas Gerais.

First, Sao Paulo.  It is huge.  Considered among the world’s 3 largest cities, S P has some 12-13 million people in the city limits and some 18 m in the metro area.  It goes on forever.  But in the areas I saw, it looks pretty good–not dirty, not coated with security people, not chaotic.  Not as attractive as Bogota but infinitely better than Managua or Addis Ababa, to give a few of my other reference points.  Better than the saddest parts of Cleveland.  S P has some upscale cafes and restaurants–here’s coffee from Suplicy, a small coffeehouse chain.

A Suplicy latte with water, green (unroasted) Brazilian beans, and roasted beans.

We visited 3 cafes in S P; maybe we had the propaganda tour there and on farms, but what we saw and drank

in the city was great.  Brazil has about doubled its internal coffee consumption in the last few years, which means that more of the value of coffee grown in the country stays there, that wages paid in the cafes, which are higher than for many jobs, add to the local economy, and that there are more places to go to socialize–without depending on alcohol.

The stores we visited were beautifully designed, especially in their use of wood, of which Brazil still has a lot.

a barista at Santo Grao cafe, S P. The store has a separate grinder for each type of coffee it sells.

Octavio Cafe, S P

But the heart of the trip was to farms north of S P.  There I got see exactly how mechanized the big Brazilian operations are.  Productivity is high, partly because the landscape is fairly gentle, not the steep slopes I have seen in countries like Nicaragua.  Here are some Brazilian coffeescapes:

coffee, coffee, coffee

guess what's growing here

More to follow when I get the chance.

You must seek out and drink good coffee!  Go to a local shop, not to the Mermaid!


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