Coffee Origin Trip: Brazil 2016
Words by Grady Buhler, Coffee Quality Leader. Photographs by David Long, Roasting Supervisor.
Many of you know that we purchase coffee from Carmo Estate in Brazil on a yearly basis for our Espresso JJ and for our single origin offerings. What you may not know is that Tulio and Lu Junqueira are some of the most generous and wonderful people on the planet. My words could never adequately express what we experienced with these amazing people in Brazil, but hopefully the following report (and especially David’s pictures) will give you at least a little glimpse of our time there.
Even through half-shut eyes at the end of a long red-eye, the sight of Saõ Paulo from the air was astonishing. The biggest city in the Americas seemed to stretch on to infinity. We were thankful that Tulio was at the airport to pick us up. After hugs and a quick rest at our hotel, we set out with Tulio to explore some of the city on foot, especially the historic square near Saõ Paulo Cathedral. The party really started after we picked up Lu and headed to Paulista Avenue in the heart of the towering concrete jungle. Lu wanted to show us the Museum of Art, one of her favourite buildings and a modern architectural landmark.
I’ve been hearing from Neto for years about the quality of food in Brazil, but the fact really hit me at the steakhouse on our first night in the country. We had the pleasure of meeting João and Thiago at dinner, two of the Junqueira’s sons and a couple of really nice guys! While hearing about their work and families, David and I ate some of the best steaks of our lives. Perhaps even more profoundly, we tasted our first caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil (half a lime quartered, muddled with sugar, topped with ice and drowned in a local sugarcane spirit called cachaça). From that point forward, David and I set out to drink a caipirinha at every possible opportunity.
Rio de Janeiro
One cannot go all the way to Brazil and not see Rio. Fortunately, Tulio and Lu were happy to come with us to be our tour guides, translators, foster parents, and dinner dates. I hesitate to say too much about this part of the trip because it will only make your hearts jealous and your mouths water in vain. Rio is a magical place to visit. Highlights include the stunning view from Pão de Açúcar, taking the train up to see the iconic Cristo Redentor (with a carton of Carmo Estate Cold Brew in hand!), walking Ipanema beach and the Copacabana promenade with their unique mosaic pavement designs, drinking caipirinhas and eating a delicious lunch in the bar where “The Girl from Ipanema” was written, and eating way too much at Fogo de Chão Churrascaria. Did I mention we had a caipirinha or two? By this time in the trip, a common refrain amongst the four of us was, “I love Brasil!” I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
Finally we arrive at the purpose of our trip, visiting Carmo Estate in Sul de Minas. I passed out when we got into the car in São Paulo, but when I awoke we were driving through a land of rolling green hills and cattle; we were in the state of Minas Gerais. It reminded us a little of the Okanagan but greener, with coffee instead of vineyards and palms and citrus instead of pines. When we arrived at Carmo Estate, Tulio came alive. He put on his farmer’s hat, stood up straight, and beamed with pride. “For me, this is the best place on earth,” he said. Before crossing the road to see the farm and the main drying patios, we had delicious farmhouse lunch of beef with onions, rice, beans, and an addictive crispy fried root vegetable. The dessert was pudim de leite condensado, a flan made from sweetened condensed milk and sugar syrup. I cannot express in words how much I loved this dessert. Muito bom!
Carmo Estate is a beautiful and very well-run farm. The soil is composed of red and yellow clay, which Tulio says is perfect for growing coffee. A number of varietals are grown on the farm, including Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Catuaí, Catucaí, Acaiá and Icatú. Tulio feels the yellow varietals taste better at Carmo Estate. Unlike in Central America where the coffee is hand-picked when ripe on a number of passes, the coffee at Carmo is harvested in the traditional Brazilian manner, all at once. Once 80% of the coffee in a given area is ripe, all the coffee in that area is harvested and sorted afterwards, where the greens and over-ripes are separated from the ripe cherries. This year, about 40% of Tulio’s coffee will be harvested by machine, and the rest by hand. The cherries are processed on the same day that they are picked. First, the cherries go into a sorting machine where the coffee is cleaned and ripes are separated from the greens and raisins. The coffee then travels by water to the processing station. Here, the coffee destined for pulped natural processing is mechanically demucilaged by forcing the coffee through a sieve. The pulp of the ripe cherries comes off easily. Tulio’s version of pulped natural is essentially washed coffee without fermentation, as all the mucilage is removed before drying . He also produces very high quality dry processed coffees. Unlike the rest of the Americas where coffee is traditionally fermented and washed before drying, 80% of coffee is Brazil is processed using the dry or natural method. This means the coffee seeds remain in the fruit while drying, becoming almost raisin-like on the patios. When we cupped at the farm, David and I preferred the dry processed coffees. They were very full-bodied and rich, with low acidity, heavy chocolate flavours and a hint of winy fruit (quite unlike Ethiopian naturals, which are wild and berry-like). Our preference for the naturals will be reflected in our buying this coming year and we are very excited to see how these coffees will enhance our Espresso JJ and single origin offerings.
Once the coffee is processed, it is dried first on the patio down to 11.5% and finished in the mechanical dryer. The coffee is milled on site where the parchment is removed, and then sent to the warehouse where the green is sorted, the defects are removed, and the coffee separated into screen sizes. Tulio is proud of the fact that each lot is completely traceable back to the specific area of the farm, the varietal, and the date it was harvested.
Tulio hires an agronomist who comes to the farm about once a month to advise him on the tending of the trees, treatment, nutrition, varieties and other aspects of growing coffee. About 44% of the farm is left as a natural forest reserve, which is home to lime and guava trees along with 33 natural springs and a number of creeks. Many birds make their home at Carmo Estate. When I was putting my bags in my room when we arrived, there was a toucan in the tree outside my window!
While we were at the farm, we had the privilege of helping Tulio and Lu with an experiment surrounding fermentation. We dried samples of a mechanically demucilaged coffee and a true pulped natural alongside a number of samples that were fermented before drying for 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, and 48 hours. We are interested in hearing about the results!
The next day we visited the office and the little medical clinic at the farm. This is Lu’s territory. Lu is a doctor, and the health and safety of the workers at Carmo Estate is her special department. She makes sure everyone complies with safety regulations and that anyone needing medical attention gets proper treatment.
Lu also oversees the social responsibility of Carmo Estate. The Junqueira’s are firmly committed to helping improve the lives of the people that work on the farm and those that live in the nearby village of Sobralada. 15-20 training courses a year are offered to employees so they can grow in their knowledge and experience. When workers wish to buy their own land, Tulio and Lu pay for 50% of the land and for the wood supplies for building houses. They also give interest-free loans and rent pieces of land to workers so they can grow and sell their own coffee. Along with providing social housing, the Junqueiras also donated the land for the village clinic and daycare. It was clear to us that Tulio and Lu really love the people they employ and who live in the village. Not surprisingly, their employees are extremely loyal to them.
At the end of the week Dircéia Mendes from SMC, the company that exports Carmo Estate Coffees, was able to join us at the farm. She is another gem of a human and it was good to catch up with her and talk about our plans for importing Carmo Estate Coffees this fall. She may or may not have put a bottle of cachaça into each of our suitcases.
Right before we left Carmo Estate for the airport in São Paulo, Tulio called us outside to plant a tree with him. Earlier in the week he had showed us the tree that he planted with John and Neto in 2014, and now he wanted to plant one with us. Trees have special significance at Carmo Estate. There is a large coffee tree at the entrance to the farmhouse. Each of the Junqueira’s children was christened at the farm, and the water from each baptism was poured onto this one coffee tree. The tree ended up growing so large, they had to move the gate!
To say that Tulio and Lu were generous hosts is an understatement of offensive severity. Yes, we love the quality of Carmo Estate coffees. But it is so gratifying to know that we are purchasing this coffee from people who love what they do and who are committed to honouring people as much as we are. It is a wonderful partnership and a beautiful friendship. All we can say is obrigado!