Brazil’s coffee producing landscape is so far-reaching it’s difficult to grasp. Brazil is one of the only countries where it is possible to wake up at dawn, drive a few hours to a regional airport, take a two hour flight, land, drive for another few hours, and never once lose the sight of shimmering green rows of coffee about as far as you can see.For over 150 years Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee producer by far. The single state of Minas Gerais alone produces more coffee than any other entire country. Needless to say, Brazil’s outsized influence on the global market is self-evident due to its output: a single day of frost or month of drought can send speculators reeling and C prices will follow. The size of Brazil’s crop, typically a whole third of global arabica supply, has a direct tie to the value of coffee futures, and therefore a direct economic effect on coffee producers worldwide, whose financial fates rest annually on the C level during their harvest months.

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Brazil Green Coffee

Waves of European settlers aggressively transformed the region’s enormous central tropical savannah over many generations of colonial development, beginning with sugar cane and then quickly favoring coffee as consumption grew across the global north. Once a slave plantation economy, Brazil underwent cycles of booms and busts, and maintained a bad reputation for quality among consumers during its industrialization period. Today, however, Brazil is now easily the planet’s most modern coffee farming culture, with world-class agronomic research and post-harvest technology that accommodates huge scale, as well as exemplary farmworker labor protections and one of the world’s highest minimum wages for farm workers.

Brazil has the world’s largest specialty farms–indeed, a “small” estate might be 500 planted acres. For this reason, the truly small farms of the country often go unremarked. About half of Brazil’s coffee producers are family estates with fewer than 10 hectares and minimal mechanization, relying on quality and strong cooperative representation to progress in their work. The market likes to focus on the bigness of its industry, and scale is certainly an advantage. But Brazil’s value is also undoubtedly its expertise, its healthy bourbon- and typica-rich genetics, and its diversity of processing. With this type of range it’s no surprise that Brazil has, despite its naysayers, some of the world’s best coffees, easily some of its best diversity from lowland robustas to award winning microlots, and some of the most sophisticated environmental farm management ever achieved at such a size.

If each coffee producing country’s output could be represented by a pyramid, with larger quantities of commercial or lower-grade “strictly soft” or “fine cup” coffee at the bottom and microlots at the top, Brazil’s pyramid would be especially broad. With so many thousands of hectares of mechanically planted and picked coffees grown at similar altitudes and climates, it’s easy to find huge quantities of mild, sweet and clean coffees whose approachable cup profiles and ready availability practically volunteer themselves to fill roles in staple retail products such as blends, espressos, and milder dark roasts that roasters sell large quantities of all year long. This “typical” Brazil profile tends to be light, pithy, and slightly creamy on the palate with flavors of toasted nut or toasted cereals, a subtle malty or caramel-like sweetness, and faintly citrusy.

Despite having lower growing elevations compared to other more equatorial producing countries, Brazil’s low latitudes mean things can change quickly with only slight adjustments to the terroir. Parts of Espirito Santo and lower Minas Gerais, for example, can be much more mountainous and produce extremely bright coffees with berry-like or lactic acidity. And processing plays a big part as well. Substitute raised beds for the typical patio or heated mechanical dryer and naturals can have much more pronounced fruit in the cup. 

One of Brazil’s often overlooked attributes is cultivar separation. Unlike most of central America where single-cultivar coffees are still rare, larger, quality focused producers here often have ample volumes of fruity yellow bourbons and catuais to sell individually, as well as original Brazil hybrids like Mundo Novo and Obatã, both of which can be very floral in the cup. All of this just increases the diversity possible when buyers take the time to explore.

Minas Gerais: Coffee grows inland along Brazil’s eastern coast for hundreds of miles but by far the country’s most productive single state is Minas Gerais, producing about 50% of all Brazil’s coffee. Brazil’s coffee producing regions are more regional or terroir-based and don’t neatly measure according to state lines–but many of them are either entirely or partially within the state of Minas Gerais.

 

Cerrado: Much of the territory within Minas Gerais is part of Brazil’s cerrado region, a vast and diverse tropical highland savannah comprising more than 20% of Brazil’s total land mass and extending small amounts into nearby Paraguay and Bolivia. “Cerrado” is now used as a terroir distinction, referring to coffees produced in the cerrado territory of northwestern Minas Gerais state. (The country actually designated this sub-region Brazil’s first ever Protected Geographical Indication, in 2005, which now markets coffees under the “Cerrado Mineiro” title as a certified Designation of Origin.) This part of Minas Gerais boasts generally enormous farms by global standards with high levels of mechanization and technology, and typically mild cup profiles. There is ample supply of generic coffee from Cerrado, much of which performs as foundational blenders in coffees sold all over the world.

 

Mantiqueira de Minas: The Mantiqueira de Minas region has a protected designation of origin (PDO) because of the region’s renowned coffee reputation and optimal growing conditions. The region is comprised of 25 municipalities with more than 9,000 producers, nearly 90 percent considered small producers. Mantiqueira de Minas is in the southwest corner of the Minas Gerais region. It is mountainous and coffee harvesting logistics are thus more manual and smaller in scale; but its coffee and culture of quality are some of the most respected in all of Brazil.

 

Alta Mogiana: The Mogiana region, split between the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, is the most renowned of three major Brazilian growing regions. This region has rolling hills and uneven terrain lending to farms that are small to medium in size. We buy from Cooperativa dos Cafeicultores e Agropecuáristas de Ibiraci (COCAPIL), which was established in 2001 and currently has 1,200 active members, as well as Cooperativa Regional de Cafeicultores em Guaxupé (COOXUPÉ), one of the world’s largest cooperatives with over 13,000 members (!) which alone exports over 4 million bags. We also purchase from the formidable Fazenda Rainha, a multi-generation estate with more than 200 hectares of yellow bourbon and numerous finalist placements in Brazil’s Cup of Excellence.

 

Espirito Santo: A small coastal state northeast of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil’s primary source of “conilon”, a local robusta sub-type, Espirito Santo also contains some of the country’s jammiest and most exquisite arabicas in its inland mountain ranges along the Minas Gerais border. This corner of the country is still little-known to many buyers of Brazil’s coffee, and we suspect it will receive a lot more attention in the coming years as supply chains develop for the small family farms growing in the unique microclimates of the Caparaó foothills and the borderlands with Minas Gerais.

Bahia: Bahia contains Brazil’s northernmost coffeelands and is one of the more tropical climates available for coffee production in the country. Despite being one of Brazil’s largest producing areas, Bahia is commonly little-known, since it lacks the powerhouse farms of central Minas Gerais or the geographic pedigree of regions to the south. Farms in Bahia tend to be smaller than in Minas, and many are manually-picked. Royal buys select coffee each year from near the state’s Chapada Diamantina national park in Bahia’s center, a landscape of tropical highland mesas and natural springs that is unique to the entire country.

FAQ

Brazil is the unheralded origin to most of the dominant arabica varieties throughout the Americas. As one of the first locations on the continent to receive the typica variety genetics from overseas in the 18th century, followed by the first bourbons likely in 1859, before the variety would be introduced to East Africa. Many of the popular modern cultivars we think of as signature arabica stock to Costa Rica, or Honduras, or Colombia, all originate from the original generations of coffee in Brazil. Caturra, Catuai, Yellow Bourbon, Maragogype, and Mundo Novo: these were all either mutations discovered in, or cultivars created in Brazil. 

Brazil has a single, concentrated harvest between May and September, with the bulk of coffee picked in June and July. Brazil ships coffee year round.

Pulped natural, known elsewhere as “honey” process, and full natural coffees are the norm in Brazil. Along with Yemen and Ethiopia, Brazil is one of few countries on the planet with established export chains for non-washed coffees at scale. Most of this, in Brazil, is simply expeditious, in which coffee can be fully dried and ready to mill as soon as possible after picking with as little water use or infrastructure as possible. Large patios and heated silos are the norm for lower grades. We of course are seeing a proliferation of raised screen beds for higher qualities and more hand-selection in the process, although this is still very rare. Notably, unlike Ethiopia or Yemen, Brazil’s naturals and pulp naturals tend to have very, very mild cups by comparison, with process flavors only emerging in cup profiles when the process is intentionally prolonged, usually intentionally and at the direction of the producer. 

Brazil produces coffee on a scale that no other country on earth can do, using a vast amount of research and mechanization to help them do it. The size and capacity of their industry alone, from nursery management to futures trading, puts their industry generations ahead of most. However, a large portion of individuals growing coffee in Brazil, large or small, still struggle with the same universal challenges of smallholders around the globe: price instability, costs of farm inputs, buyer loyalty, urbanization, climate change, etc. So Brazil as an origin is indeed the market maker we presume they are; but that does not spare many individuals from vulnerability.

The southeastern savannahs and mountain ranges where coffee is grown do often times produce generically bland coffees…but this can be as much a product of minimal soil health or a lack of selectivity during mechanized harvesting as it is an elevation of, say, 900 meters. Brazil’s distance from the equator means that even slight differences in elevation can mean large changes to climate. As a result, coffee grown above 1200 meters is much more difficult to achieve here than at an equivalent height in Central America or East Africa, and typically will taste much “higher grown”. Mountainous areas like parts of Mogiana, southern Minas Gerais, or inland Espirito Santo are common places to find higher-elevation coffees with snappier profiles.