In the last few years, Brazil has produced roughly three million tons of coffee a year, roughly a third of the world’s production. That’s enough for 40,000,000,000 litres or 120,000,000,000 mugs of filter coffee! There’s a reason Frank Sinatra sings “There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil”. It’s no surprise that Brazil has been the world’s largest producer for 150 years.
Coffee was first planted in Brazil in 1727 by Francisco de Melo Palheta. According to popular legend, the Portuguese colonists were looking to carve out a share of the coffee market. After failing to convince the governor of neighbouring French Guiana to export coffee seeds, Francisco managed to seduce the governor’s wife, who secretly gave him a bag of seeds smuggled in a bouquet of flowers. Over 50 years, coffee spread throughout Brazil and was grown mainly in the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Paraná.
There are now over 225,000 coffee farms in Brazil, with Minas Gerais accounting for roughly half of the country’s production. Unlike almost every other coffee producing country where the bulk of coffee is washed, most Brazilian coffee is naturally processed; the coffee cherries are picked before being dried in the sun for up to four weeks, allowing the coffee beans to absorb proteins, sugars and acids from the fruit. Brazilian coffee varies from harsh, low quality beans to some of the world’s best. The highest scoring Brazilian coffees are soft and exceedingly sweet with nutty chocolate notes and, as more speciality farms have popped up, a gentle red fruit acidity rarely seen in the more commercial grades.
In 1932, during the great depression, Brazil used coffee to fund its Olympic team. A delegation of 82 athletes travelled to the Los Angeles Summer Olympics on a boat called the Itaquicê. The boat was also carrying 50,000 bags of Brazilian coffee, which were sold along the way. The extra money made from the coffee allowed the athletes to compete, as every man or woman who disembarked had to pay the port authority $1. Unfortunately the team ran out of money in San Francisco, having to leave 15 athletes on the boat. Brazil didn’t win any medals that year, but we’re sure they will in 2016, no doubt with more than a little help from their treasured coffee.