With investments in innovation, Brazil has became the leading global producer of special coffees

Mariana Amorim Machado and Paulo Palma Beraldo

15 October, 2017 - Brazil, the largest producer of coffee in the world, has witnessed a strong movement in recent years to produce more and with more quality. Farmers, cooperatives, consumers and the international market have identified great potential in the country. Nathan Herszkowicz, executive director of the Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (Abic), is emphatic: "global demand for gourmet coffees is growing and Brazil is the big name of this market."

According to him, the country "has evolved a lot" in techniques of production, harvest and post-harvest in the last 15 years and, therefore, has become the largest supplier of high quality grains. "Big companies like the American Starbucks and the Italian-based Illy Café and Lavazza, coffee icons around the world, buy more than 50 percent of their high-quality grains here," says Herszkowicz.

In the last decade, the demand for coffee has grown by around 2% per year, while the specialty coffee market increased 15%, according to the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (Apex). From January to September 2017, Brazil exported 21.9 million bags of coffee - 3.4 million were of special grains. This figure represents 15.5% of the total volume, according to the Coffee Exporters Council of Brazil (Cecafé).

Cecafé's director general, Marcos Matos, says that the country has all the conditions to meet the growing demand, but warns: "the participation in global markets will require greater investments in infrastructure and relevant legal, tax and labor reforms."

"Actions along the productive chain aimed at obtaining higher quality have stimulated the migration of traditional coffee growers to this new market in which grains are sold at higher prices, resulting in higher income for producers", says Marcos Matos, from Cecafé.

According to Cecafé's technical director, Eduardo Heron, exports of special coffees in 2016 totaled 5.9 million bags - 17.4% of the total shipped in the year. "Brazil is a global reference in production, as well as being the second largest consumer of the beverage, behind the US," says Heron.

Brazilians consume more than 80 liters of coffee per year. It's the most consumed beverage in the country, after water. Photo: Mariana Machado

Lucas Tadeu Ferreira, manager of Embrapa Café, agrees that Brazil needs to continue innovating to maintain and even expand its market share. World coffee production in 2016 totaled 150 million bags and the country produced one third of that.

To improve Brazilian production, Embrapa and the Coffee Research Consortium (Consórcio Pesquisa Café), a network of 90 institutions linked to the sector, develop new coffee varieties, new planting techniques and pest and disease management. They also transfer information on management, harvesting, post-harvesting and sustainable management to producers.

"The Consortium is recognized internationally as a unique research model focused in a single product," says Lucas Ferreira. "Over the last 20 years, about one thousand projects have been developed and are already available to coffee growers."

For the special coffee market, exclusivity matters more than quantity - just likein the segment of wines. The sector is also good for the producer's pocket: a normal bag of coffee is worth around R$ 500 (US$ 150), while that of special coffees can be worth almost double. Abic's director Nathan Herszkowicz explains that the percentage of grains that reach high quality standards varies from producer to producer and depends on factors such as the climate and the treatment given to the crops.

Abic ranks Brazilian coffees in three types: traditional (of acceptable quality and affordability), superior (with better attributes and medium price) and gourmet (rare and exclusive coffees). "In 2000, there was no gourmet coffee on the shelves. Today, we have 180 brands at this level", explains Herszkowicz.

Where does it come from? A major selling differential, especially for foreigners, is traceability. One of the main coffee producing regions in Brazil, the Cerrado Mineiro managed to register the designation of origin of production, granted by the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), in 2013.

Exclusivity is more important than quantity in the market of special coffees. Photo: Mariana Machado

Juliano Tarabal, from the Federation of Coffee Growers of Cerrado Mineiro, says that the designation of origin has advantages in promoting the product by valuing local history and culture, as well as guaranteeing exclusivity to producers in the region. "It is a protection for the consumer, because it guarantees the origin".

Tarabal says that coffee in the region, which covers 55 cities and 210.000 hectares, has its attributes linked to factors such as soil, altitude, temperature and well-defined climatic seasons. "That's what makes a special product. The same happens in the Parma ham from Italy, the Port wine from Portugal or the sparkling wines from Champagne, in France", explains Sonia Lopes, marketing manager for the federation.

From the 4.500 producers of Cerrado Mineiro, 850 are accredited to produce special coffees. At the beginning of 2016, there were only 330 producers. To reach this quality, coffee growers must cultivate the plant in a region of at least 800 meters above the sea level, comply with environmental and labor laws, and produce coffee with a quality of at least 80 points, based on the table of the American Specialty Coffee Association, that varies from 0 to 100. Then, high-quality coffee bags get a QR Code stamp, with production data, photos and production history.

José Marcos Magalhães, president of the Minasul cooperative, one of most important in Minas Gerais state, says gourmet coffee has been increasingly demanded in Brazil and worldwide. Ten years ago, only 9% of the cooperative's coffee served this market. Today, more than 20% of grains have this quality. "And we have the potential to reach 30%", says the president of the company that sells 1.2 million bags per year.
Ten countries buy more than 80% of Brazilian special coffees. United States, Japan, Germany and Belgium are important purchasers. Photo: Paulo Palma Beraldo/De Olho no Campo

In order to encourage its 6.000 cooperative members, Minasul has been running an annual coffee quality contest for more than 20 years. "Every year our pattern goes up," says Magalhães. The cooperative has producers in 390 of the 853 municipalities of Minas Gerais and has a team of q-graders seeking to identify the characteristics of the lots to search potential purchasers abroad. In addition, Minasul organizes events and participates in fairs in Brazil and in other countries to get in touch with local clients.

"We have all kinds of coffees, so if a customer wants traceability, he can buy from the same producer and from the same source year after year".

In the field. Marcelo Montanari, from Patrocínio-MG, is one of those who recognizes the benefits of traceability and sustainability. On its property, he produces special coffees that go to Europe, the United States, Russia, Australia and Japan.

The idea of ​​producing high quality coffees came to escape the instability of the Stock Market. For this, he fulfilled the requirements and obtained the stamp of the Federation of Cerrado Mineiro. "This adds value to the product and gives it more credibility."

Montanari says the cooperative helps because it is difficult for small and medium-sized producers to invest in post-harvest machinery, to adapt coffee to the international market and to attract purchasers. "Buyers do not just purchase the coffee quality, they buy its history, the production techniques, the respect for the environment".

In its 200 hectares of coffee, one of the differentials is to avoid to the maximum the use of chemicals. To improve the quality of the soil, Montanari uses as fertilizer the bush that grows between the lines of coffee. "When we cut it, about three times a year, it decomposes naturally and produces a nutrient-rich biomass", says.

Coffee production in Brazil reached 44,7 million bags of 60 kilos in 2016/2017 season, according to Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (Abic). Photo: Paulo Palma Beraldo/De Olho no Campo

Other benefits of this technique include maintaining soil cover, protecting it against erosion and increasing soil water retention capacity. "With this, we use 30% less water in irrigation and spend less on electricity." Montanari's production has already received certifications and awards for sustainability and management. In the last harvest, he produced 12.000 bags of coffee and sold 80% for international market.

Sustainability is also a slogan in the production of Tiago Alves, from Araxá-MG. When their families began producing in the region in the 1920s, they had to cut the trees to survive. "Now we have planted more than 20,000 native trees on the farm. We see animals and nature coming back. So we're giving it back to nature".

Alves started investing in high quality coffees in 2015. Since then, he has seen a promising market. "We have more and more contacts with coffee shops and companies from abroad. The demand is very high". About 80% of its production, planted in 175 hectares, goes to the foreign market.

"They have confidence to buy our coffee because they can know the property and see the history of the farm. This makes all the difference", says. Alves explains that being part of the cooperative facilitates the purchase of fertilizers and the sale of coffees, in addition to providing a place to store the grains.

Exports of special coffees reached 5.9 million bags in 2016, amounting for 17.4% of the sold in that year. Photo: Paulo Palma Beraldo/De Olho no Campo

In the cup. The Brazilian tradition of having a coffee is getting more refined every day. That's because the cup that already costed R$ 1 (US$ 30 cents) today can reach R$ 20 (US$ 6) if it's a special coffee. The coffee lover is already as sophisticated as the wine lover, looking for various flavors and aromas.

And he is not only in metropolis like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. The barista Luiz Gustavo Costa Manso, owner of a coffee shop in Brasilia, explains that the taste for coffee has grown so much that for some people, nowadays it is almost a hobby.

The entrepreneur decided to invest in specialty coffees following a family tradition. His father already had a bakery where he had sold some more refined grains since 2001. Then, when he noticed a growth in the sector, he decided to open his own business.

Luiz Gustavo Costa Manso, owner of a coffee shop in Brasília, likes to visit his suppliers of special coffees. Photo: Mariana Machado

Since 2010, Manso has been working with special coffees bought directly from producers in São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Bahia. For him, this direct contact with the producer allows to have a product of greater quality. "We visit the producers to know the harvest process, to understand their reality and to see the work closely".

The coffees served by the barista are usually of two types: a grain of chocolate flavor, ideal for cappuccinos and stronger flavor, and a grain with floral notes, which is usually weaker. "The ideal coffee can not be bitter, it is sweet. If the coffee is bitter it is because the grain is of poor quality or was not well prepared", explains Manso.

He adds that one should never add sugar or sweeteners in the coffee. "We do not even leave sugar on the table. If the customer asks, of course we offer, but we always suggest that the person first try without sugar". He says that most of the time people agree that it is not necessary.

Brazil has 3.500 coffee shops, according to Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF). Photo: Mariana Machado

The entrepreneur ensures that it is worth investing in special coffees and that customers have become increasingly interested in this type of product. "The consumer is more aware and more demanding. That makes us go after news", says. Regarding the major international brands of coffee growing in the country, Manso is not intimidated. "Big networks do not offer competition. We are a special cafeteria, our work is focused on maximum quality. It is a market opposite to that of large networks".

Regarding the capsule coffee market, which is gaining more and more space in Brazil, Manso believes that there's no competition with coffee shops. In his view, it's a gateway into the universe of specialty coffees.

"This is how the consumer comes to understand that the coffees are not all the same, that there is a difference in the sweetness, acidity", exemplifies. According to him, after a time in the capsules, consumers who fall in love will look for other options. "So, you'll enter the universe of specialty coffees. And then there is another discovery: passionate and without return".

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