Brasil Diaries Summer 2012 Part Two: Growing in the Cerrado
Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, himself a coffee farmer, is currently visiting Brazil to taste and purchase coffee for Dallis Bros. He’ll eventually end up at our own sister farm in Brazil, Nossa Senhora Aparecida, but currently he is travelling about the land, meeting farmers and learning about the agronomy of the land, in between exhaustive cuppings. Here is his second trip diary from Summer 2012.
In typical Brazilian fashion, I asked to speak to an agronomist and they made it happen. I wanted to understand the climate and the agriculture as it related to coffee. It might seem like Speciality Grade is “luck”. But coffee is anything but dumb luck. Coffee is 76% of the income in Patrocinio, a town in the heart of the Cerrado (se-ha-do) region. After talking with the agronomist until the sun was well set, it became clear to me how methodical these farmers are. The agronomist was really patient with all my questions. I asked why they were planting so many trees per hectare. Most farms in the world are planted with 1500-3000 trees per hectare. They are planting about 5000 per hecate in the Cerrado region. “Oh, we only started doing that recently, about 10 years ago”. I totally appreciated the view that what they have is working. The yields are averaging 30 bags per hectare of coffee and they are doing it in totally poor soils. Let me explain. Cerrado translates to “savannah”. The native trees barely grow. The elevation is high and you will want to wear a jacket at night. In regions with richer soil the mango trees are huge. In the Cerrado they are short, squatty and don’t grow straight if they grow at all. It is clearly a rough place to grow things.
After the black frost of coffee in 1975 in Parana in the south of Brazil, farmers started moving north where the frost risk didn’t exist. A lot of these farms have been in production for only about 20 years. They use a fair amount of fertilizer and have learned to use the weeds that grow in between the rows as fertilizer. One farm doesn’t use any chemical weed killer, only mowers, and has a higher level of organic material and (I assume) therefore a higher yield of 50 bags per hectare. Several of the farms I visited are Rainforest Alliance certified. They have taken a dry-brush-filled savannah and planted trees all over the place in poor soils and considering coffee is profitable (at current market levels) there are new coffee plantings all over the place.
So I walk back into the trade house the following day and find the cupper Lucas giving the dry mill manager a hard time because he is letting certain defects through for a Brazil NY 4/5, which is a low commercial grade coffee with defects—the green smelled like a public school restroom, musty and funky. The result of the conversation was to re-run the coffee through a couple machines to get it right. Needless to say I was impressed at the attention to detail for a such a low-grade commercial coffee. I went out to see 3 farms that day. The first was aptly named Paraiso. The farm is from Italy and is totally . . . insane. Before I met the farmer, it was obvious that the farm was strictly managed. I could tell by the natural process cherries on the patio resting at 90 degree angles. I met the farm manager and the owner. The owner was clearly pissed about something and communicated this clearly to the manager. Based on the cupping results, this farm is doing a lot of things right. The Yellow Icatu (variety) was delish, the Tupi tasted like a good espresso base, and the natural from last year (although old) also tasted like a winner.
There were 4 of us in the truck: coffee trader, an interpreter, the farm owner and I. At one point the farm owner was excited and making a joke. I didn’t understand what he said. So I looked at the interpreter, who also didn’t understand, then she looked at the coffee trader, who also didn’t understand who looked at the farmer, who simply repeated what he said in Italian. We all laughed, understanding nothing.
The next day we did another table of calibration. While the history of the Cerrado is all commercial coffees (many farms only produce natural process) this group is passionately excited about Speciality. You can see it in their faces when sharing cupping notes. One employee there told me he enjoyed sharing information and cupping his coffees more than making money on commercial coffees.
Weather: the weather in the Cerrado region has been rough this year. The region received rain in June like never before. It accelerated the maturation of the crop and therefore reduced the amount of pulp-natural the farms could produce. Most farms will mechanically pick their coffee twice. Then do the sweepings to pick up the loose cherries from the ground to control the broca and sell the coffee as a lower grade. One farm I visited is doing the sweepings, then picking the coffee once, then sweeping again because there are so many cherries on the ground already. At least for now it isn’t raining and they are all racing to get the coffee on the patio and dry before all the remaining coffee ends up as sweepings.
More coming soon from Nossa Senhora Aparecida.
News from the Farm
What’s the latest news from our farm in Brasil, Nossa Senhora Aparecida? Water, water, everywhere!
We are now at 50% irrigation, with our main goal to give the trees water as they need it. The drought of two years ago caused a huge loss in both production and bean size: irrigation can help us avoid another unforeseen bad weather season. We’re also able to exercise more control over when watering occurs, to ensure flowerings take hold more effectively. With this much control over our growing cycle, both yield and quality will improve. And there’s more water to come!
Other experiments, like our newly released Fully Washed, Yellow Bourbon micro-lot, are living proof of farm manager Edgard Bressani’s commitment to continually improving our coffee. Edgard decided to produce a fully washed lot of coffee for the first time in our farm’s history, from our Yellow Bourbon trees. We are very excited to offer such a unique coffee: this process is basically unheard of in Brazil. Most Brazilian coffees today are pulped natural or natural processed. Find out more about this coffee in our webshop!
Tales from the Dominican Republic
Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is not just a buyer but a farmer himself. This is his latest dispatch from a trip to visit his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in Los Frios, Dominican Republic.
Buying coffee is binary. Approve or Reject. For a long time the reigning coffee company in the Dominican Republic, Cafe Santo Domingo, has employed a system which dominates market forces. They often set the internal price for coffee buying at a price that is about 20 above the C market, when the coffee delivered is barely good enough for a C market approval (really low quality).
Cafe Santo Domingo also controls the internal price, and 95% of the internal market. The DR only produces about 500,000 bags of coffee a year. That is half a million, when most countries measure coffee production based in millions. Costa Rica produced 1.8 million last year and Honduras produced almost 5 million. Only about 30,000 to 40,000 bags are exported from the DR. That is a very very small amount.
For a long time we coffee people have wondered why they just didn’t buy cheap Brazil or robusta because local consumption doesn’t demand much quality. Last year, Cafe Santo Domingo purchased 120 boxes of Vietnam Robusta. The robusta coffee is cleaner and has more coffee than the stuff they used to buy as wet parchment coffee locally. For example, I just sold my repela—the final picking of the coffee tree’s cherries, regardless of their ripeness— to Cafe Santo Domingo. Now, what I sold them was barely coffee. It was about half green coffee and most of that wasn’t even “underripe” it was more like not even a bean. As a bean develops the skin is green, but there isn’t actually a coffee bean inside. It is just kinda mushy and might have the shell of the bean, but there is not real cellulose.
This year Santo Domingo has been stricter than ever. They are actually rejecting really bad coffees which means no one will buy it. Now that they have a supply of coffee from Vietnam to fill local market needs, they can use the Dominican coffees for export. One person told me that local quality has gone up with the robusta conversion. Another told me there have been lots of quality complaints. Nerva, my Dominican mother, says that the last can of coffee she had tasted like “nothing”. I found my Cafe Santo Domingo cafecitos to be just as inconstant and dark as ever.
What this means for Dominican coffee is that people will have to increase the quality of their processing or get a much lower price, or not sell their coffee at all. If farmers would invest in their farms and increase yields, then quality and production could be not far away. Of course, if the labor shortage and the constant exodus from rural areas to urban areas continues, there will be no one to bring the coffee to market.
It is rather simple, approve or reject.
Farm Diaries: Finca La Paz Part One
Besides being our esteemed Director of Coffee, Byron Jackson Holcomb is a licensed Q grader, meaning he’s able to evaluate cofeees and calibrate his palate with the best in the world. And when he’s not in Ozone Park, he’s managing his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic. Byron recently checked in from Finca La Paz and sent us these dispatches from the front lines of coffee. Keep checking back for further installments.
23 September 2011: The Journey
I got the bump to First Class. The weed eater got through security. I took a public bus to San Juan and listened to the usual loud hilarious conversations that happen on those buses. It all started because the guys who sell roasted corn apparently don’t wash their hands after going pee. Then a guy accused all women of using all 5 fingers to wipe. The woman (about 40 yrs) who started the gender war demanded to be called Senorita. A name reserved for young virgins. I will spare you what the bus discussed after that.
It was hilarious.
Now I’m at a hotel in San Juan, tomorrow I take the weeder to a welder’s shop to get a metal guard fitted. I need to buy some supplies for the parabolic drying bed then catch the only truck to Los Frios in the market at 12 noon.
26 September 2011: Arrival
When the owner isn’t present things take more time. When the owner has no idea what to do things take even more time.
It feels like that, now that my farm is 4 years old, I have a pretty good idea about making this farm work for me. I’ve made almost every mistake so far. Wrong cleaning methods. Paid too much for coffee in the tree. Wrong planting methods. Letting Antonio “prune”. Not planning far enough in advance for farm work.
Anyway. It feels like now I have the horse under control. Aida Battle sent me a picture of a weed-eater-guard her workers use to protect the coffee trees from a renegade weed wacker, which was the missing piece of technology I needed. Now I have one installed on mine. Today Antonio and I covered the basics on how to use the weed wacker that served as my checked bag en route here. This might save me a ton of money in cleanings.
Antonio has put dried bean plants tied up and hung them in different parts of the farm to encourage the growth of a fungus that kills the broca. It actually seems to discourage the growth.
I’ve been told by many that banana is not beneficial to cafe. Wrong. I’ve allowed Antonio to plant many many bananas in the areas we are re-establishing coffee. A friend told me that we need to plant even more. I’m happy to. Fill every inch. I don’t care that I can’t sell the bananas. Let em rot with the rest I can’t sell.
There are a lot more examples, but I will spare you the details of happy lime trees which could pay the rent, and chayote and passion fruit that only cost me money.
No’ vemo’ pronto.
to be continued…
Kelly Choi goes to Brazil with Dallis Bros Coffee
Alma 33 and Dallis Bros Coffee food & libations pairing
Dallis Bros Coffee and Alma 33 are proud to bring an evening of cuisine and coffee pairing. We will feature one coffee, our Octavio Cafe line of single origin coffee from our very own farm in Brazil, Nossa Senhora Aparecida. Fend off the cold with this delicious combo of food and coffee prepared in a variety of different ways appropriate to accompanying dishes.
3/23/2011, 7 pm
Alma 33, 33 West 8th St. (MacDougal St.), 10011
For more info:
Virtual Gourmet Newsletter http://www.johnmariani.com/current-issue/
Cup of Excellence Coffees available!
We are very proud to introduce a variety of Cup of Excellence coffees! Now available in 12 oz bags and roasted fresh each Monday. We have an array of delicious options to choose from, featuring theEl Salvador Lot#: 11 Luis Alonso Araujo Padilla – La Pinera, Honduras Lot#: 8 Ezri Moisés Herrera Urizar – Las Amazonas, Nicaragua Lot#: 8 Gonzalo Adán Castillo Moreno – Las Flores, and Rwanda Lot#: 5 Nzabonimpa Damascene – Kopakama.
For a taste of these remarkable coffees along with Susie Spindler, Executive Director with the Alliance for Coffee Excellence / Cup of Excellence program, stop by Berkli Parc this Thursday at 1:00.
Our Flickr page
Here at Dallis Bros. Coffee, we like sharing what we do because what we do is a lot of fun. We have fun employees and fun customers, and they happen to do fun things together very often. You can stay in touch with us through our website, this blog/news section, twitter, facebook and our Flickr page. As all our social media initiatives are just getting started (but we’ve been working on them for almost 2 years now), I wanted to introduce you today to a little piece of it, our Flickr page.
You can see it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dallisbroscoffee/ or by searching flickr for dallis coffee.
We already have over a thousand pictures and videos of our farm/barista/cafe/restaurant/etc events, our artisanal coffee roastery in Ozone Park, NY, our beautiful coffee farm in Brazil, the farms we source coffee from around the world, detailed pics and video of how coffee is grown and produced, coffee drinks and all sorts of fun coffee stuff. We are a very open company and hope to share our existence and everything that is going on with us with all of you that care for us and that have kept us living well for 97 years. Whether you are a cafe that uses our coffee and wants to get pictures of the farm your coffee is coming from, or an online customer or you are just checking us out, our Flickr page has a lot about us and about coffee.
And make sure to check back often, as we have new material pretty much every week. Enjoy!
Serious Eats – Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil
On June 14th, SeriousEats.com started a 5-part series featuring our coffee farm in Brazil, Fazenda Nossa Senhora Aparecida!
Now, we may want to explain this better. As some of you know, our company has a coffee farm and roastery in the Alta Mogiana region of Brazil (São Paulo state) and a breath-taking 12,000 ft² cafeteria in the city of São Paulo. We’ll have more on this later as our blog has just come to life…
With that said, in this series, journalist Carey Jones goes through the entire cycle of growing and production of the coffee that we serve at Octavio Café in São Paulo. The articles are very detailed and a great read, as they show a coffee production process that is relatively sophisticated, unique in several ways and that challenges many paradigms in the specialty coffee world today.
This is a fantastic introduction to the world of Dallis Bros. Coffee and Octavio Café. We certainly couldn’t have written it better ourselves! In future posts, we’ll explain in more detail how we grow, process, roast and brew Octavio Café.
Stay tuned and have fun!
Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil: Part I, The Farm
Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil: Part 2, The Harvest
Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil: Part 3, The Processing
Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil: Part 4, The Roasting
Coffee Tree to Cup in Brazil: Part 5, The Drink