Brazil­ian farmer hopes for sweeter cof­fee mar­ket


Brazil­ian farmer Mar­cos Croce has wo­ken up and smelled the cof­fee — em­brac­ing the or­ganic trend and buck­ing Brazil’s longheld sta­tus as a mass pro­ducer of poor qual­ity beans.

His Ha­cienda Am­bi­en­tal For­taleza plan­ta­tion, sur­rounded by trop­i­cal plants and trees in Sao Paulo state, goes against ev­ery­thing that has made Brazil the world’s big­gest, though hardly most ap­pre­ci­ated, source of cof­fee.

Croce’s spe­cialty-grade cof­fee grows or­gan­i­cally: some of the plants in the sun, oth­ers in the shade, and the soil is fer­til­izer free.

“We will never man­age to com­pete in terms of quan­tity, but here we have man­aged to stand apart with con­sis­tent qual­ity,” Croce, 62, said as he walked be­tween rows of shrubs speck­led with red cof­fee beans.

The ha­cienda stands 1,000 me­ters above sea level, some 300 kilo­me­ters (135 miles) north of Brazil’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal and big­gest city, Sao Paulo.

It has been pro­duc­ing cof­fee since 1890, most of that with an eye on the mass mar­ket and us­ing fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides. But when Croce and his wife took over the fam­ily busi­ness in 2001 they switched to or­ganic, a shock­ing — but ul­ti­mately ben­e­fi­cial, he be­lieves — change in rhythm.

“Our pro­duc­tion dropped 80 per­cent,” Croce re­mem­bers.

Be­fore, the plan­ta­tion col­lected 10,000 bags of cof­fee a year. Croce would not re­veal the cur­rent out­put.

It’s still be­low old lev­els, he said, but the busi­ness is sus­tain­able, selling to about 30 coun­tries, in­clud­ing France and Italy.

Now Croce, who also set up the Bob-o-Link co­op­er­a­tive of some 60 small pro­duc­ers, wants the or­ganic ap­proach to ex­pand.

“We want to set up a sus­tain­abil­ity in­dex, not just in en­vi­ron­men­tal terms, but so­cial,” he said.

Best of the Av­er­age

“When it comes to cof­fee, Brazil has al­ways been con­sid­ered the best team of the sec­ond di­vi­sion,” Sil­vio Leite, pres­i­dent of the Brazil­ian Spe­cialty Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion, which was set up in 1991.

With pro­duc­tion of 45.3 mil­lion 60 kilo­gram bags in 2014, Brazil ac­counts for al­most a third of world out­put, trailed by Viet­nam and Colom­bia. But there’s a prob­lem: Brazil­ian cof­fee is very much at the bot­tom end of the mar­ket.

Last year, only eight mil­lion bags qual­i­fied as spe­cialty grade. How­ever, that was up 59 per­cent from 2013, and spe­cialty cof­fee is hot.

It was Brazil’s as­so­ci­a­tion that cre­ated the Cup of Ex­cel­lence con­test in 1999 to pro­mote its cof­fee. To­day, the com­pe­ti­tion has gone in­ter­na­tional and is con­sid­ered a ref­er­ence.

De­mand for spe­cialty cof­fee has risen world­wide by 10 to 15 per­cent in the last few years, com­pared to about two per­cent for reg­u­lar cof­fee, with Europe, Ja­pan and the United States lead­ing the way.

But to date the best known pro­duc­ers re­main Colom­bia and sev­eral African coun­tries — not the sleep­ing gi­ant of Brazil.

A ‘mir­a­cle’

So what’s all the fuss about? Tech­ni­cally, spe­cialty cof­fee means scor­ing 80 points on a 100 point scale, stand­ing out for taste and hav­ing few or no de­fects.

A good cup of cof­fee is “a mir­a­cle,” says Is­abela Ra­po­seiras, 41, who teaches about cof­fee and sells cof­fee at the Cof­fee Lab in Sao Paulo.

“There are many stages that need to be done right,” the renowned spe­cial­ist said, tick­ing off ev­ery­thing from where the bean grows to how it is dried and toasted, to how the ac­tual cup of cof­fee is pre­pared.

In Brazil, the num­ber of re­gions pro­duc­ing spe­cialty cof­fee is grow­ing — and, whether it’s in Sao Paulo or Minas Gerais, Bahia, Espir­itu Santo or Parana, each cof­fee is in­flu­enced by the dif­fer­ent soils, cli­mate and al­ti­tude.

Mostly these are small- scale pro­duc­ers, but some are also larger play­ers who want to break into the mar­ket.

Grad­u­ally the trend is catch­ing on. It was only in 2014 that a re­gional des­ig­na­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was set up, with Cer­rado Min­heiro from Minas Gerais state so far the only one.

“There are in­cred­i­ble cof­fees in Brazil and they’re in­creas­ingly in de­mand,” said Susie Spindler, from the Al­liance for Cof­fee Ex­cel­lence.

On the pa­tio of For­taleza, farmer Ivan San­tos, 31, showed off the dark, hand-picked beans from the re­cent harvest.

“Mak­ing qual­ity cof­fee, with­out de­fects, is dif­fi­cult, slow and ex­pen­sive,” he said. “But it’s a dream: we are send­ing our best cof­fee around the world and for the best prices.”


1. A worker dries or­ganic cof­fee beans pro­duced at the For­taleza En­vi­ron­men­tal Farm in Mo­coca, some 300 kilo­me­ters north­east of Sao Paulo, Brazil on Aug. 6.

2. A close-up view of an or­ganic cof­fee plant at the For­taleza En­vi­ron­men­tal Farm in Mo­coca is seen on Aug. 6.

3. Work­ers drag piles of or­ganic cof­fee beans pro­duced at the For­taleza En­vi­ron­men­tal Farm in Mo­coca on Aug. 6.

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