Brazil is known for its sandy beaches, dazzling cities, carnivals, large rainforest, and coffee. This former Portuguese colony is the largest country in South America (it occupies half of South America’s landmass) and the fifth largest country in the world. Brazil is the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind the United States and the European Union. With its unique climate, is it any wonder that it is the top exporter of coffee beans in the world?
History of Brazilian Coffee Beans
Coffee is not native to Brazil or South America. It was brought to Brazil for the first time during the early 18th century. Francisco de Melo Palheta is responsible for planting the first coffee bush in the Brazilian state of Para in 1727. Legend has it that Palheta was sent to French Guiana to resolve a border dispute. On his way back home, Palheta seduced the wife of the governor of French Guiana into helping him smuggle coffee seeds into Brazil. She supposedly gave him a bouquet of floors that was spiked with coffee seeds.
Brazilin coffee was only produced for domestic consumption until the first coffee boom that occurred from the 1830s to the 1850s. By the 1830s, coffee had become Brazil’s largest export. It is estimated that Brazil accounted for 30% of the world’s production of coffee by the 1830s, with that number jumping to 40% by the 1840s. During the 1920’s, Brazil was responsible for 80% of the world’s coffee production. That number has presently decreased to roughly one third of the world’s coffee production.
Unique Taste from a Unique Region
Brazilian coffee has a rich and sometimes bitter aroma with a nutty, chocolatey, bittersweet flavor. The acidity is low with a light, medium or bold body. It is harvested from May to September.
If you already know anything about the growing processes of the coffee bean, then you are probably aware that coffee grows best in elevations between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. Then why is Brazil the largest producer of coffee in the world? The coffee growing regions of Brazil only have elevations between 800 to 1,600 feet. Also, Brazil doesn’t have the nutrient rich volcanic soil that other top coffee producing countries have.
Well, the lower altitudes of Brazil are responsible for the unique taste of the coffee. When coffee is grown in regions with lower altitudes, the acidic nature of the beans is significantly reduced. With the acidity lower, more of the natural nutty taste of the coffee is present.
Type of Bean
Brazil grows and exports both types of coffee beans. However, most of the coffee that is grown in Brazil is Arabica. Some people estimate that around 80% of the coffee produced in Brazil is Arabica, and the other 20% is Robusta. Arabica beans are more acidic than Robusta, but have more of the desired soft, slightly sweet taste that coffee aficionados want.
For decades, most of the coffee from Brazil was a blend of both types of beans. Then in the 1990’s, the government deregulated the coffee industry. The deregulation gave more freedom to the coffee producers of Brazil, and helped to increase the quality of coffee exported. Now, most of the Robusta coffee produced in Brazil is used for instant coffee, while most of the Arabica coffee is sold by itself. It is now possible to experience the true, unique taste of Brazilian Arabica coffee.
Multiple Processing Methods
Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that uses different methods to process its coffee. Brazilian coffee producers process coffee by wet, dry, and semi-washed methods. Most coffee is dry processed because Brazil is one of the only countries in the world that has the necessary weather to do so. Each process results in a different flavor.
With the dry process, the coffee beans are dried while they are still in the cherry. Only cherries that float are used in the dry process. The result is a coffee with a heavy body that is sweet, smooth, and complex. With the wet process, the cherries are washed to remove the pulp from the green coffee beans inside. The result is a clean tasting coffee, with a light body.
Then there is the semi-washed method. The coffee is pulped; however, the fermentation stage is skipped. Semi-washed coffee has some of the body of dry processed coffee, and is sweeter with more acidity than wet processed coffee. This method is responsible for producing most of Brazil’s best-tasting coffee.
Recently, the re-passed processing method has started to gain popularity in Brazil. When the cherries are washed, some well float to the top. These floaters are usually discarded. But with the re-passed method, the floaters are pulped and then either washed or semi-washed. The taste of re-passed coffee is much sweeter than semi-washed coffee.
Despite not having the ideal climate for growing coffee, Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world. Like most coffee, there are variations in the quality of Brazilian coffee. However, the recent deregulation of the Brazilian coffee industry has helped to improve the overall quality of coffee coming from Brazil. If you want a rich, nutty, chocolatey tasting coffee with low acidity, then give Brazilian coffee a try. You won’t be disappointed.