Behind the scenes of Brazil and Australia’s coffee relationship

Brazil Coffee Australia

BeanScene pays homage to the history of Brazilian coffee, and how it has evolved to meet Australia’s demand for high quality beans.

Brazil is largely known as the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in the world, for its Amazon rainforest, and its proud history as a football nation. Some 16,000 kilometres of South Pacific Ocean may separate the exotic country from the Australian mainland, but there’s long been a unique bond between the two coffee loving nations.

According to the Brazilian Coffee Exports Council (Cecafé), in 2020 Australia imported 24 per cent — the highest amount — of its green coffee from Brazil.

A classification and coffee cupping room in the Coffee Stock Market in Santos.
Photographer: José Herrera. Credit: Museum of Coffee. Secretariat of Culture and Creative Economy of the State of São Paulo.

To appreciate the relationship, one needs to go back to the beginning of Brazil’s coffee production in 1727 when Brazilian Sergeant Franciso de Mello Palheta was sent to French Guiana to settle land disputes, or in some stories, sent on a mission to smuggle this bean out of the region. In the end, he was gifted the precious bean by the wife of the governor of French Guiana’s capital after winning her trust.

“The bean then made its way from the north of Brazil towards the south, and today, the major coffee producing regions in Brazil are still the centre and south-east regions,” says Vanusia Nogueira, CEO of the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA).

Since 1727, the bean has evolved to become the foundation of Brazil’s economy, influencing its infrastructure, financial system, and cultural sector. Over these 300 years, Brazil has not only expanded its coffee growing knowledge, but as Vanusia says, developed a profound love for Brazil’s coffee culture itself.

“Everything is related to coffee. We have such a strong history with it,” Vanusia says. “I am a fifth-generation coffee farmer from Brazil. My grandfather would teach me how to grow quality coffee because he was taught by his grandfather. This is the culture we have been raised in.”

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Brazilian government implemented a strategy to ramp up coffee production, making it the country’s main agricultural product. With the volume of coffee production rapidly expanding over these two decades, Vanusia says it was only in the 1950s that Brazil began focusing on rediscovering the culture of quality, paving the way to the standard it holds high today.

“This quality of Brazil’s commercial and specialty coffee is related to its region, the micro-region where it is planted, the specific coffee, and the biome that we have,” says Vanusia. “A large part of it is also related to the harvest and post-harvest procedures.”

Over time, Brazil has developed new procedures and technologies to improve every step of the production chain while reducing the coffee planting area. This reduction came as part of an agriculture-wide strategy to increase production, reduce carbon emissions, and introduce best farming practices.

Brazil’s Government, research bodies, and institutes have been developing more climate-resilient varietals.
Credit: Tomas May via Embrapa multimedia: Image bank.

According to Cecafé, between 1960 and 2020, Brazil halved its coffee producing land, from approximately 4.5 million hectares to 2.2 million hectares. Across this same period, coffee bag production per hectare increased from six bags in 1960 to 33 bags per hectare in 2020, marking an increase of more than 400 per cent.

This agriculture strategy to improve farming practices also led to the introduction of new post-harvest processing.

“For example, washed coffees require a lot of water. Because of this, after the Second World War we created a new process called semi-washed or honey,” says Vanusia. “This method requires lower volumes of water which we also recycle.”

She says with the help of Brazil’s universities and research institutes, the Brazilian coffee industry has also mechanised the process for selectively picking cherry beans.

“We have specialty coffee warehouses and have created a high barrier packaging solution that keeps the sensory attributes of Brazil’s specialty coffee for at least a year or two after packaging,” Vanusia says. “These technologies are made available to all, from small coffee families to large producers.”

The search for coffee innovation has also brought the industry into the field of plant biotechnology, where more climate resilient varietals of Arabica and Robusta beans are being developed.

“[With technology] we can increase the precision of coffee bean quality, like using drones to monitor each plant, whether it needs water or fertiliser, and not treating it as a whole farm,” says Vanusia.

Marcos Matos, CEO of Cecafé says that the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which is a public agriculture research and development body, is currently in the process of testing various levels of carbon dioxide with different plant physiologies.

Brazil’s plant biotechnology quest has expanded beyond its borders, with the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas, another Brazilian plant biotechnology research centre, responsible for more than 90 per cent of all Arabica coffee planted worldwide, with 96 ongoing different lines of plant research.

The coffee bean was first brought to Brazil in 1727 by Brazilian Sergeant Franciso de Mello Palheta.
Image Credit: Rafael Rocha, via Embrapa multimedia: Image bank

As testament to the success of Brazil’s agriculture practices, the Geisha varietal, once considered unsuitable to grow in Brazil due to its climate, has been successfully thriving for the past five years.

“We also have 33 different coffee producing regions in Brazil and so many different flavour profiles and varieties to offer,” says Vanusia of BSCA.

According to Marcos, these improvements seen in the coffee industry were also occurring across the wider agriculture sector with greater care being placed on industries, farmers, and the environment. In addition to private environmental and carbon focused initiatives, Brazilian farmers are also obliged to comply with very high forest conservation standards established by the federal Forest Code, which requires landowners to preserve and protect a certain percentage of the area’s native vegetation.

Another area in which Brazil has excelled in, is social responsibility.

“Using the Price Paid to Growers Index, we recorded that between 80 to 91 per cent of coffee becomes income for Brazilian coffee producers, and this has been the range for the past 15 years,” says Marcos.

For many coffee roasters around the globe, it is important to know if farmers are well rewarded for their work, especially when their livelihoods depend on it.

According to Vanusia, the success of Brazilian coffee in Australia is due to the maturity and knowledge of the Australian market.

“The Australian market is able to understand our coffee quality as a result of the excellence achieved throughout the entire production chain,” says Vanusia.

The quality of Brazil’s coffee can also be attributed to the large volume the country consumes. She says this feedback is used to educate Brazil’s producers on the standard that consumers expect around the world.

This care shown for the country’s coffee producers, its environment, and its coffee quality has not gone unnoticed, with a Brazilian coffee producer from the Carmo De Minas region achieving a score of 95.9 in the Cup of Excellence specialty coffee competition – the highest competition score recorded since 2005.

The quality of Brazil’s coffee is also related to its harvest and post-harvest procedures.
Image Credit: Kim-Ir-Sen Pires Leal via Embrapa multimedia: Image bank.

Brazil has also been recognised for its Jacu Bird coffee which has been evaluated as one of the most expensive beans in the world.

This coffee bean is the by-product of the Jacu Bird, whose natural eye for selecting only the ripest beans and natural digestive system leaves the coffee bean intact and ready for processing. This process results in what is known as a refined and nutty-tasting coffee.

With Brazil realising Australia’s potential as a large consuming country just one decade ago, Marcos says it is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

According to Cecafé, between January and December 2020 Brazil exported nearly 400,000 bags of coffee to Australia, with 97 per cent Arabica, 2.4 per cent instant coffee, and 0.04 per cent green Robusta.

Marcelo Brussi, CEO and Founder of Australian based green trader company Minas Hill, says Brazilian coffee is loved in Australia due to the solid foundation it provides in coffee blends.

“It gives body, sweetness, a nice caramel mixed with chocolate, and a nutty flavour which is a very important component that holds all the other flavours together,” says Marcelo.

“In terms of price and flavour, Brazil’s coffee is unbeatable. No other country can produce this huge array of different flavours. We say, ‘one country, many flavours’ to describe it.”

With Brazil having the natural landscape combined with generations of care, research, development, and university and government support, it would be fitting to say that every cup of coffee created with Brazilian beans, not just in Australia but across the world, contains a love story with a rich history.

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