Brazilian coffee gets a bad rap. Quantity over quality, you might hear people say. But there’s a lot more to these beans than most people think.
So as a Brazilian coffee enthusiast and third generation producer, I’m here to share with you the five things you should know about this country’s coffee. Some of them may just surprise you.
There’s more to Brazilian coffee than you think. Credit: Bruna Costa
1. The World’s Biggest Producer
We’re not talking about the size of the country here. Brazil’s coffee production is huge. The country is responsible for about a third of coffee production globally (making it both the biggest coffee producer and exporter by far). In 2015, that totalled 36.89 million bags of 60kg. Can you imagine how many coffees that makes?
As of such, the country’s production and market behavior has a knock-on effect on international market prices, which means a drought in Brazil can lead to price increases for coffee all over the world.
This has led many coffee lovers (though certainly not all) to believe that Brazil’s emphasis on quantity makes producers forget about quality, and makes it more difficult for Brazilian producers to market their beans. Which brings me on to the next point…
A Brazilian warehouse: Brazil produces an immense amount of beans. Credit: Costa Cafe
2. An Underestimated Flavor Profile
Most people go to Brazil to source beans for espresso blends. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet this country has, time and time again, produced specialty-grade coffees.
What’s more, Brazil’s single origins aren’t just “adequate”. They’re high-quality, distinctive coffees. Usually, Brazilians possess an intense sweetness in the form of caramel and chocolate notes, big bodies, and a relatively low acidity.
This low acidity is what sometimes makes people underestimate the quality of a Brazilian cup – yet take a second sip, and you’ll find that this flavor profile is surprisingly good.
The proof is in the beans – a lab in Brazil. Credit: Costa Cafe
3. Seriously Diverse Coffee
You know what we just said about Brazilian coffee being varied? We meant it. With fourteen major coffee-producing regions spread over seven states, Brazil’s beans are a diverse mix. Have a look at the information on your coffee bags; you may find that your coffee is from Minas Gerais (Sul de Minas, Cerrado Mineiro, Chapada de Minas, Matas de Minas), São Paulo (Mogiana, Centro-Oeste), Espírito Santo (Montanhas do Espírito Santo, Conilon Capixaba), Bahia (Planalto da Bahia, Cerrado da Bahia, and Atlantico Baiano), Paraná (Norte Pionerio do Paraná), Rondonia, or even Rio de Janeiro.
And with so many coffee-producing areas, you’ll find a wide range of traditional and experimental varieties being cultivated: Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Icatú, Catuaí, Iapar, Catucaí, and more.
Then there are the farms themselves, ranging from small family plantations of less than 10 hectares to big estates of more than 2000 hectares.
With so much variety, you’re sure to find a coffee you’ll love in Brazil.
4. Specialty-Grade Naturals
Most Brazilian coffees are natural (unwashed) or pulped natural (semi-washed). A natural processing method means that, after the coffee cherries are picked, they are dried as they are, without removing skin or mucilage.
So why is this important? Well, natural processing is difficult to do without damaging the beans – but it can add a substantial body, sweetness, smoothness, and complexity to the coffee’s profile.
And Brazil’s climate, with scarce rainfall and long periods of sunshine, makes the country perfect for natural processing.
For a detailed explanation of how natural coffees are processed, and how Brazil is improving it, see here.
A Brazilian natural coffee. Credit: Bruna Costa
5. A Complex Classification System
When compared to most producing countries’ coffee classification systems, Brazil has a highly detailed one. The coffees are ranked based on screen sorting, color, and cupping. This then leads to them being rated, from best to worst, as strictly soft, soft, softish, hard, riada, rio, and rio zona.
What does it mean for us? We have even more information at our fingertips, allowing us to determine a particular coffee’s profile and quality.
Determining a coffee’s class at the classification lab. Credit: Costa Cafe
Now that you know more about Brazilian coffees and their unique profiles, I’m hoping you’ll give them a chance. Whether you’re cupping, roasting, or simply choosing a coffee in a café, they have a lot to offer.
Coffee cherries growing on the plan. Credit: Ana Paula Scanavachi.
Written by B. Costa of ItCafé.
Feature Photo Credit: Lannart
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