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.


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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.

Fazenda Sertão

Sertão is one of Brazil’s oldest coffee farms, more than 100 years old, and is also a specialist in the Yellow Bourbon variety. Once upon a time, the farmers decided to branch away into different types of coffee that were more productive, but once the accolades for the quality of their Yellow Bourbon trees began to roll in, from competitions like Cup of Excellence—the rest is history.

This quality oriented farm is not known just for its accomplishments, but for the diligence behind them. They are exhaustive cuppers, and taste every single lot of coffee to bring it up to their farm’s historically high standards.

Find out more about our Sertão Drip and our Single Origin Espresso.

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!

Danielle G. from cafe grumpy

Danielle Glasky from Cafe Grumpy speaking about the wild latte art throwdown sponsored by Dallis Brothers Coffee on Saturday night, April 9th at Highland Lofts. Danielle who won the throwdown, received an origin trip to Brazil from Dallis Brothers. Great work Danielle, we all truly enjoyed all the rounds of your latte art. Have fun in Brazil!!!

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