Coffee is big business in Brazil. In fact, Brazil currently produces a third of the world's coffee. They are the largest producer of coffee and they have maintained that dominant position for the past 150 years. In the 1920s, Brazil produced 80% of the world's coffee, having a near monopoly on coffee production. Today there are 220,000 coffee farms in Brazil covering 10,000 square miles. Because of this, Brazil is the main factor that decides the price of coffee.
Coffee was smuggled into Brazil in 1727 from French Guiana. It had a slow start but by the 1820s, Brazil produced 20% of the world's supply. Unlike many other origins, coffee in Brazil is mostly grown in vast tropical savannahs such as the Minas Gerais region. In fact, the name "Cerrado," which is a general name given to many lots from Brazil, refers to this landscape. Without ample water resources, the majority of coffee grown in Brazil is Natural or Pulp Natural process (as opposed to the wet processing that is done in most of Central and South America). Finally, coffee is mostly produced by large-scale farms that use mechanical pickers and uniform tree rows. This is because that land is mostly flat, and labor costs are high in this rapidly growing economy.
Brazilian specialty coffee farmer's have a lot of problems to contend with. Their farms are generally at a lower elevation than where most specialty coffee is grown (remember that higher elevation tends to produce better coffee). Brazil produces a massive amount of coffee and so the price that specialty farmers can expect to get for their coffee is low. Also, because Brazil produces so much low-grade coffee, the perception of Brazilian specialty coffee is that it can never be as good as other origins. The small producers have the hardest time of all. If they get the same price as a large-scale farm, they simply cannot make a living due to economy of scale. Yet, there are many hardworking farmers who are trying to enhance the quality of Brazilian coffee.
Believe it or not, Brazil is one of my favorite origins. I tend to keep at least two Brazils in my lineup at all times. I work both with the large-scale farms and smaller producers. I love Brazilian coffee because it is consistent, approachable, and versatile.
I buy my Brazil: Fazenda da Lagoa from a 200-year-old, 2850 hectare farm. I use it for just about everything. It is a fabulous mild, nutty single origin. It is the backbone of my espresso blend, and I use it in a number of other blends because it is so good for bringing balance to a blend. This farm also works closely with my importer (InterAmerican Coffee), including hosting the coffee competition that got me my other Brazilian lot.
My Brazil: Sebastiao Alves Ribiero comes from a family farm that is 9 hectares. The lot that I purchased was the first place winner of a local coffee competition. I paid a price that was many times more than the market rate for Brazilian coffee. But I still feel like it was on sale! It is really an amazing coffee The most meticulously processed Natural coffee I have ever worked with. And coffees of this caliber would be way outside my price range in most other origins. It is a win win. I get an exceptional coffee, and the farmer gets a price that can make a real difference in their lives.
Brazil is a great origin, and I plan to continue to make it a major focus of my coffee program.