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Featuring the latest news on the coffee industry and business insight from senior members of the Bennetts team.

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Snapshot from Origin: Brazil

Last month, Scott and Georgia visited the worlds largest producing origin; Brazil. They visited exporters and farmers to see how the 2017 harvest was progressing.

We flew into Sao Paulo on a cloudy June night, so the view of the city was obstructed, but the incandescent glow of the streetlights below lit the clouds like a sea of neon-orange fairy floss that stretched all the way to the horizon.  Half the population of Australia lives in this city alone, and 200 million more reside in the country of Brazil. For me, the thought is mind boggling.

We took the new 6 lane high way south to the port city of Santos, where most of the coffee export brokers are located. Some 80% of all Brazilian export coffee is moved through here, an industry that runs like a well-oiled machine.

Chatting with the local operators here, we learned that the recent rains in the interior this season has meant the overall harvest has been delayed. This has caused the initial pickings to show a higher percentage of smaller beans - the flavors however are usual for this time of the year.

The coffee industry in Brazil is special to me not only because it’s the biggest volume producer in the world, but because through the production process, nothing is wasted. The system works roughly like this: 

  • The farmers harvest and process their own crop; generally naturals or pulp naturals dried on either a patio or raised African beds (a mechanical dryer might be used if they have one) and more rarely, fully washed lots. Most farmers have a decascadora (to remove the dry husk) or huller (to remove the parchment). They then bag the raw green, ready for sale to either a co-op or exporter.  The farmer can sell their coffee directly to an exporter or cooperative themselves, or use a broker to find them the best offer.
  • The exporter or co-op firstly inspects a sample of the farmers’ produce and hand-sorts the defects from the sample. They nominate the percentage that is usable for export and the remainder that is to be 'cleaned out' and sold into the internal market.
  • The export-grade coffee sample is then roasted and cupped and a standard/grade is given to the lot based on both defect count and the number of clean cups. The flavor profile is largely ignored at this stage for commercial coffees. Depending on the services of the exporter or coop, further cupping may be carried out and a more accurate determination of quality can be made. High scoring coffees that are identified can be segregated and designated for sale as microlots or premium grades.
  • The farmer is then paid for their lot of coffee, according to the proportion that is export grade and the proportion that will be sold to the internal market. If the lot is determined to be specialty-grade (generally cupping over 80 points SCA) an even higher premium can be awarded.
  • The full lot of coffee, whether 1 bag or 1000 bags, is then delivered to the exporter or co-op storage facility where it will be dry milled, cleaned and separated into its grades.

In more recent times, Co-ops have opted to skip the step of further moving their finished goods through an exporter and have begun exporting their own coffees through to the international market. This method of vertical integration can improve cooperatives returns to farmers if its managed properly.

          Internal Market Grade Green Coffee                                          

The internal market is huge, one of the biggest in the world now - outranking the USA as the tenth-largest consuming nation. Locally, Brazilians are used to drinking all the secondary grade coffees - full of defects - that are not considered fit for export. The locals say the enjoy the 'strong' flavour, and while it may seem unjust to some that the producing country only drinks the second-rate stuff, someone has to drink it or it will go to waste- a costly and unsustainable outcome. Exporting the best beans strengthens the Brazilian coffee market for the future.

It turns out that in recent years the demand for coffee by the internal market has grown so much that more and more export-grade beans are being used to fulfill the local demand. While this is a good thing for Brazilian farmers - if the trend increases, we would see a shortage of well-priced commercial coffee overseas as Brazilians start to develop a taste for the good stuff.

The next generation producers surveying the field

On an encouraging note - we did meet a new generation of coffee farmers taking over from their parents and having a positive impact on their family farms. This could see a new wave of high quality, big volume growers in Brazil with higher levels of education and a more worldly, modern outlook to back them up.  Farmers are becoming increasingly aware of the higher price premium that better cupping coffees can command, and with the incentives becoming more obvious as a path to greater returns, it’s likely we will see some high-quality cups being produced in the years to come.

Only time will tell....

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