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Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina is as unique and interesting a coffee origin as you’ll find anywhere in the world. The tracts of land littered with abandoned diamond mines and surrounded by rocky canyon cliffs and waterfalls were designated as a national park in the 1980’s, but the history of the region, the state of Bahia, and its capital city Salvador, are integral to the cultural inheritance of the entire nation.
Salvador de Bahia was the original Portuguese capital of colonial Brazil dating back to the 14th century, and it remains a busy port to this day, as well as being the country’s third-most populous city. In addition to exporting agricultural products and minerals from the region, Salvador was the center of Brazil’s slave trade for many years even after the practice was formally criminalized. Nowadays, Bahia boasts the most diverse population of the country, owing much of its legacy to Afro-Brazilian cultural contributions to fields as far reaching as linguistics, culinary traditions, music, dance, and martial arts.
In terms of coffee, the Chapada Diamantina region is vastly different from the flat plains of Cerrado or Mogiana or the gently rolling hills of Sul de Minas. The region is remote and rural, and while large-scale farming does exist here, there is a higher ratio of smaller scale farms. Here, one will often see more crop diversity in terms of both intercropping and uncommon coffee cultivars. Sustainable practices have taken hold here, too – Bahia is Brazil’s leading producer of biodynamic agriculture, a holistic practice that attempts to bring order, balance, and spirituality to practice in organic cultivation.
This lovely natural coffee comes to us from long-term partners Luca Allegro and Nelson Ribeiro, neighbors and cofounders of the small but successful Asociación Biodinámica d’Ibicoara. You can read a cool 2009 Guardian article about what they’re doing here. We actually featured a single-variety selection last year from Luca’s farm, Aranquan, but the two have been providing their mixed lots to Royal for years now, and this season’s natural coffee was an undeniable show-stopper. Their farms are located in Ibicoara, just south of the Chapada Diamantina park, where they’ve gathered a few other local small farmers together, practicing Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic cultivation methods. This year’s harvest is bright and fruity… little or no residual tobacco or peanut flavors commonly associated with old-style Brazilian naturals, this is a great example of the new wave of clean and fruity dry-processed coffees.
There are some unique characteristics of this dry processed Brazil worth noting. First and foremost, let’s disambiguate naturals in Brazil. Traditionally, Brazilian coffee dried in the cherry meant that it was left on the tree or haphazardly in various stages of ripeness in giant piles on the ground. Old-school Brazilian naturals had a heavy body with earthy and tobacco-like flavors.
This coffee from Bahia is not like that; it’s among the new style natural coffees picked ripe and dried in thin layers on patios with frequent turning. The result is a clearer expression of fruit flavors much more reminiscent of dry processed coffees from Ethiopia.
Because this is a small batch coffee, it doesn’t fall into the more commonly seen screen size conventions established in Brazil. Rather, it’s on the small side with a slightly wider distribution than the average 16-plus, for example. Otherwise, the green looks pretty standard for Brazilian coffee – medium-low density with low moisture and water activity numbers.
I have been working on a technique to profile coffees using the ikawa roaster, which is incredibly convenient because it only uses 50 grams per batch. I decided this week to juxtapose two different roasts using the yellowing stage as my adjusted variable. Ikawa Roast (1) has an extended Maillard stage in the hope to create a roast that has a heavy body and to specifically focus on sugar browning properties. Ikawa Roast (2) has an extended drying stage that shortened the total Maillard stage of the roast. Both Roasts had the same charge temp and same temperature settings for the expected first crack time and end temperature.
This particular coffee with it’s low density, low moisture and low water activity achieved better results with Ikawa Roast (2) which had an extended drying stage and a reduced Maillard stage. The acidity was clean and vibrant with dried citrus like lemons and strawberries. Ikawa Roast (1) had a heavier mouthfeel and more cooked fruit flavors that one would find in a dry red wine.
Using Ikawa Roast (2) as a guideline, I was determined to extend the drying stage by not applying heat in the roast for the first 2 minutes. I then slowly built up heat through yellowing and the beginning of the Maillard stage which extended my drying time. Through Maillard my momentum began to build and I reduced the heat before and through first crack. The low density of this coffee and the low moisture content will make this coffee want to race from first to second crack, so keep an eye on it.
With the short Maillard stage in combination with less than two minutes post crack development time the coffee was vibrant and citric in flavor. This is really a stand out natural Brazil that tastes clean and vibrant at a light roast and develops a deep red wine, blackberry with more sugar browning.
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
Look just beneath the surface of this coffee and you’ll see that it isn’t your typical Brazil. This Behmor roast really brought out the texture in this coffee, with everyone at the cupping table mentioning mouthfeel. Smooth texture was complemented by sweet, nearly tropical fruit flavors. The mellow chocolate you’d expect from a Brazilian coffee was certainly there, but the focus of our discussion was this coffee’s uniqueness.
Crack came on slow and steady, to the point where I wasn’t sure where it truly began. After the pops started ramping up in earnest, I engaged P4 and attempted to roll through crack and into development. In retrospect, I would have engaged P4 a bit later in order to speed up the development. This coffee could have handled a little more heat. My suggestion for this coffee would be to wait until after you’re certain first crack has started, then ramp the heat down afterwards.
One thing worth noting with this coffee is that more beans than usual got stuck in the perforations of the drum on the Behmor – make sure to remove these before your next roast!
This coffee is a secret fruit bomb. Behind a smokescreen of the kind of sweet nut-butter and toffee notes expected in a product form the north-eastern part of Brazil was an incredibly delicious layer of sweet banana, ripe mango, and strawberry jam. These notes seemed to appear later in our cupping cycle, indicating that this coffee wanted a slightly higher extraction. Along with this was a velvety mouthfeel that I wanted to capitalize on. A full immersion brew method seemed the best way to achieve these goals, so I started with an Aeropress. At 1:30 minutes of brewtime with a fine grind and a paper filter, I was sure this brewer would bring out the tropical delight and rich body I was looking for.
Instead, the Aeropress created a more robust, rich, fudgy cup with notes of dark berries and cantaloupe. The metamorphosis from bright clean yellow fruit to rich, deep black berry and melon was fascinating and still very tasty, but it wasn’t what I had expected. Still convinced that full immersion was the way to go, I began to play around with a Clever Dripper. I hoped that the extended brew time (nearly five minutes for brewing to finish completely) and retention of the paper filter might be exactly what the coffee needed to open up. Sure enough, on the Clever at a 1:16 ratio this Fazenda Floresta tasted like cherry juice, strawberry preserves, kiwi, mango, and cocoa powder. This is the kind of coffee that can present a wide variety of cup profiles, which an expert can manipulate to their heart’s content.