A couple of weeks ago Head Roaster George was lucky enough to go on his first trip to ‘origin’ (what we call coffee producing countries). The trip was organised by one of our importing partners, Kamba Coffee. Here are a few takeaways from his trip…
There were 13 of us on the trip to Brazil – coffee roasters from all over the UK (and Razvan from Romania!), along with Team Kamba. It was a real highlight getting to know other roasters with similar goals, experiencing what was for most of us our first time at origin, and sharing knowledge and challenges from back home.
Our very first farm visit, to Santo Antonio near Pinhal, left a strong impression on me. The farm is run by Patricia Coelho, and her passion and commitment to improving the quality of her coffee was infectious. Kamba has been buying Patricia’s coffee for over 5 years now, and we roasted some for our summer espresso last year.
Patricia showed us the damage of last year’s devastating frost on some of her lower growing plants – coffee trees are very susceptible to frost and it can kill the plant completely. The frost tends to sit like a blanket at lower altitudes. Luckily a lot of specialty coffee is grown at higher altitudes, however, every farm we visited had been impacted by the frost to some degree. One producer told us how some meteorologists in Brazil are predicting frosts every 10 years (they used to be once in a generation, if that), a clear impact of climate change.
We visited Costa Cafe’s office (not to be confused with Costa Coffee), an exporter that Kamba work with, and had a very warm welcome from Mauricio (Patricia’s husband). In Pinhal, everyone seemed to be either related or close friends.
Costa Cafe’s main business is in commodity coffee. Global coffee production is predominantly commodity, which is lower grade (quality) than specialty coffee (something to be explored in another blog!). It was fascinating to be talked through the grading processes, from ‘fine cup’ to ‘Black Diamond’ (very low grade coffee that nonetheless Brazilian’s traditionally love to drink), and to see the huge difference between higher and lower grade coffees.
As Kamba work with Costa Cafe, they are buying and exporting more and more specialty grade coffee. Excitingly, one of the buyers said they were seeing how the growth in specialty in the UK has directly led to the bigger players (Starbucks, Nero etc) wanting to buy higher grade coffee. By supporting small independent specialty roasters, you’re having a bigger impact than you might realise!
One of the most memorable farm visits was to Pedra Grande, run by Luis Ribeiro and his two sons Felipe and Fernando. What was once sugarcane plantations is now lines of coffee trees as far as you can see. The sons are hugely ambitious, with a clear goal to improve quality and grow more coffee for the specialty market. We drove up to a rock at the top of the farm and were met by a picnic table full of coffee and cake. Brazilian hospitality at its best!
Felipe and Fernando want to build an office and cupping lab on the farm. They’re an example of the many younger generations in this area returning to their family farm, keen to implement new farming practices and processing techniques.
Apart from the incredible hospitality, insightful farm visits and experiencing the best of what Brazilian coffee has to offer, getting to know other similar minded roasters was invaluable for me. Specialty coffee (within the industry at least) can be extremely cliquey, but it was refreshing to see how open everyone was with their knowledge and a shared desire for more collaboration.
I’ve come home refreshed and motivated to work more closely with our importers and colleagues in specialty coffee (yes, even Andy and Ole at St Martins ;)). I’m also more convinced than ever that buying great coffees, sustainably grown, for fair prices, is more important than ever. I’ve seen the direct impact that has at origin.
Huge thanks to Kamba Coffee, especially Bruna, for organising an incredible trip. Go check out my story highlights ;) and do ask me any more questions you might have about my time in Brazil by dropping a message on my Instagram account. We’ll post a Q&A with all the answers soon!