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Brazilian Coffee

  Brazil Coffee Areas Map

This map is from the BSCA website, www.bsca.com.br/indiceus.html

Brazil grows more coffee than any other country in the world, in a bewildering array of microclimates and regions, with a wide variety of Arabica and Robusta subspecies. The Robusta (known as Conillon) is a minor crop, which I have heard of but never tasted. The Arabica is by far the major export crop; the most common bean seen in Australia is the "Strictly soft cup screen 17/18 Natural Santos". At an educated guess this would form the basis of about 90% of all the espresso blends sold in Australia.

The best description of the vast bulk of this coffee is "Bland". Grown and harvested by mechanical means, prepared and dried using continuous processing, treated as a commodity item. It has no major distinguishing characteristics, and no serious faults, it tastes like a mild, low acid, low body coffee when brewed normally and makes a pleasantly sweet espresso with a healthy crema.

It is also called Brazil Bourbon Santos, signifying originally that the Arabica cultivars were from the island of Reunion and the coffee was shipped from the port at Santos. Other coffee shipped from Rio is known as Rio-y, signifying that it has a horrible metallic Iodine like taste and smell. Surprisingly enough, this coffee is popular in Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries.

In the last couple of years the depressed world coffee prices have led to a reevaluation of the "bulk commodity" strategy by the Brazilian industry, culminating in the "Best of Brazil" competitions and internet auctions sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (www.scaa.org) and the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association ( www.bsca.com.br/indiceus.html) . These competitions attempt to search out the best Brazilian coffees of a particular year, and then to ensure that they are sold at a price commensurate with their quality. At the most recent auction, this was on average 4 times the current market price!

I have only tasted 3 of these competition winners, and of the three I have extensive experience with only one coffee, the Fazenda Lambari, 5th placegetter in the first competition. This is from the Cerrado area of Minas Gerais. My tasting notes read "Strong toasty aroma, with malty overtones. Sweet initial flavour moderating into a piquant acidity with a good rounded body. Lingering aftertaste with a slightly bittersweet malty bite". This coffee was well balanced, distinctive in flavour and aroma and left you wanting more, in all respects a Specialty Coffee. In fact, I'd rate it in the top 10% worldwide.

The sheer bulk quantity of the Brazilian coffee harvest means that generalizations about the flavour can only be a poor guide to what you will get in your cup, but I find that if someone cares about the coffee enough to put the name and logo of the plantation on the bag, it will be "better than average". In some cases it will be MUCH better than average, and here I would say that coffees from any of the plantations which appear in the "Best of Brazil" competitions are likely to be superior.

 

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