Brazil is the largest tropical country on earth, containing one third of the world’s rain forests. It is also the monarch of the coffee world, with export production between two to three times that of Colombia, the world’s second largest exporter. So, why have we featured Brazilian as the Coffee Works’ Coffee of the Month only once before, and why do we not offer any on a regular basis?
The answer is twofold: First, your intrepid coffee scout (along with many in the specialty coffee trade) will admit to an up-front, longstanding, and well-founded bias against Brazilian coffees. Conventional thinking, going back to at least 1935, was that there were two kinds of coffee in the world: Brazilian and Milds. Ubiquitous and mediocre, Brazilian coffee has been synonymous with “restaurant” or “canned” coffee. Specifically, some Brazils had a disagreeable (some describe as “medicinal”) flavor trait known in the trade as “Rio-y”, for the Brazilian port of origin. Naturally (dry) processed, many of them leave a distinctly “sour” note on the palate. But like all generalizations and prejudices, this one against Brazilian coffee is liable to be untrue about any specific lot.
Our attention was refocused on Brazil this year because of the crazy run up in world green coffee prices. Fundamentally, there was no apparent reason for the price panic. Everyone knew there was a bumper crop, but since traders and others with an interest in high commodity prices seemed unwilling to let go of supply, many brokers decided it was time to give Brazilians another look. For their part, the Brazilians were looking for the opportunity to increase their sales into the specialty market (at premium prices.) It turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for all.
As the world’s largest producer, whatever happens to the Brazilian crop inevitably affects the global coffee market; like the frost of 1994-95. If not frosts, then droughts. Why is Brazilian coffee so disaster-prone? Perhaps because much of the land traditionally under coffee cultivation in Southern Brazil lies near the margin of the Tropic of Capricorn. Following the black frosts of the 1970’s, which wiped out many fazendas de cafe, there was a move to a new coffee producing region near the nation’s new capital of Brasilia (see map). This frost-free highland savanah is commonly known as the Cerrado. It is here that our August coffee of the month is produced.
Members of the Veloso family still control all phases of production on their fazenda, as they have for generations. Paulo Veloso Sr. and Jr. are representative of a new generation of Brazilian coffee growers, who take pride in the quality of the coffee they produce and seek to elevate it from the undifferentiated bulk of Brazilian coffee. As another in our series of estate grown Coffees of the Month, we strongly believe in supporting this move to quality coffee production by growers who put their mark on the coffee they sell.
Sao Laurenzo Estate is the name the Velosos give to the top grade of arabica coffee produced on their fazenda. It is carefully prepared and sorted at screen size 19 or larger, which puts it into the rare class with national flagship coffees such as Zimbabwe Pinnacle and Mysore Nuggets. Sao Laurenzo is produced by the semi-washed method, giving the beans a clean, refined character, and the richness gained by prolonged contact with the ripe fruit and sun drying.
I will admit to being a little skeptical when first approached with Sao Laurenzo by our trusted green bean broker. In the past we have tried other supposedly gourmet coffees from Brazil, and never been close to overwhelmed. But we keep on trying.
On cupping however, the strong, rich nutty character of Sao Laurenzo overcame any hesitation. This nuttiness is a common Brazilian flavor characteristic, but here it can be enjoyed completely, free of defects. While Sao Laurenzo lacks the body of other high grown arabicas, the flavor intensity lingers in the corners of the mouth, reminiscent of the aftertaste of hazelnuts.
We are proud to offer this richly flavored, light-bodied, rare estate coffee for your experience and enjoyment this Sacramento summer.