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Brazil is a young America. It has abundant natural resources, a huge agricultural industry and a large work force. All of these factors combined with a rich culture and natural beauty make it a country on the rise.
Within the large country of Brazil sits the state of Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais will be the host of the next World Cup 2014 and Brazil will host the summer Olympics in 2016. This last week representatives of Minas Gerais and every industry within the state gathered in the Library room of the Palace hotel to meet the press.
Basically, we saw some great videos and heard announcements of plans for growth in industry, production and tourism and the hopes to increase business here in the US. Most importantly there was an open bar serving Caipirinha and a live Samba band to keep us in the mood.
The following three days my friend and colleague Johan Pesenti of Filicori Zecchini and I took the small group of coffee farmers and gave them a tour of NYC by way of coffee roasters. The mission: to show them how the coffee industry works in the US, what roasters in the Specialty market are interested in and how to improve the perception of Brazilian coffee beans.
A little back-story: the unfortunate truth is traditionally Brazilian coffee (though the largest coffee producer and exporter in the world) is not thought of as a high-end coffee but more of a component of a blend, a base or filler, like a pile of potatoes to accompany your fine steak. This image was developed because of a number of factors such as: not as high elevation farms, no natural shade canopy, and (due to the vast nature of the farms) ‘strip picking’ of entire trees opposed to ‘select picking’ of ripe cherries only.
The Specialty market has grown around the world. New generations of farmers are taking over in Brazil and they are evolving to compete in Specialty production. There is a greater focus on certifications like Organic, RFA, Bird Friendly etc. there is a greater focus on heirloom varietals, better picking/processing methods and accurate tracking of select lots to ensure transparency and micro-lot status.
“We are looking to change the perception of Brazilian coffee in America. We want people to be proud to put Minas Gerais on the bag and serve these coffees as pour over, as special coffees,” Gutu of Copermonte (a coffee co-op in the Cerrado region) states.
One step has been to open a warehouse in California to receive shipments to distribute on their own so they can form Direct Trade relationships with roasters here in the States.
Gutu grew up in Brazil and worked as a farmer for almost 18 years. Today he is living in California and spearheading the Direct Trade effort.
During their visit we spoke with roasters, owners and representatives from Roasting Plant, Blue Bottle, Mountain Peak Roasters, Red House Roasters, Think Coffee, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, and more.
There is something about riding together in a bus for long chunks of time that bonds people. I really began to understand the importance of their visit and that we had formed relationships that would last for years.
Before they left I was given some green coffee samples which I roasted on my single drum. The quality of the coffee is unbelievable. The expected milk chocolate and hazelnut notes followed by the unexpected cherry, fruit pulp brightness that comes from natural processing.
I look forward to seeing how far Brazil will take this coffee. If they keep on this path they may never be dethroned as the kings of coffee.