Brazil is the biggest producer of coffee in the world.
It's too expensive to produce coffee there in the same way it is picked and processed in Ethiopia, Kenya, or Guatemala. There's no abundance of low-cost labour to do these jobs in most coffee-producing areas of Brazil. This is fortunate for labourers, as they have options, and means that Brazil instead needs to turn to innovation and technology to get the job done in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Daterra are at the forefront of development and offer their resources for free to universities and scientists, giving them the chance to come in and experiment. They have a new 200-hectare farm dedicated purely to R&D, and a small washing station for testing new ideas, for example; different kinds of yeast, such as the one used in making the classic Brazilian spirit Cachaça, is being trialled on small batches of harvested coffee to see how each one can influence fermentation. They also host a farmer’s forum where farmers from around the world fly in to discuss the challenges they face and share ideas with each other. This openness and sense of community is what will ultimately lead to positive developments that can improve the industry as a whole.
Coffee is handpicked for three years, before its ok to machine harvest. They build their own harvesters on site. The mechanical harvesting approach is “pick it all, sort it later”, which can lead to some cherries being harvested prematurely, but with the lack of manual labour, mechanical methods are most viable. During harvest, the massive washing station is staffed by 40 people 24 hours a day. The cherries are separated into seven levels of maturation, and the immature cherries are composted straight away. The ripe cherries then go into water, and yeast is added for a faster, guaranteed fermentation and breakdown of the outer layers.
The next step is drying. As coffee dries, there is a transfer between the bean and its environment, although most of this is moisture leaving the seed, rather than entering it. The goal is to dry the seed as evenly and efficiently as possible, resulting in a clean, sweet, uniform cup. The pulped coffees spend 2-3 days drying on a massive concrete patio. Motorcycles, adapted with rakes trailing behind them, are used to continually turn the coffee and stop any moisture turning to mould. Some get the “Kenyan” treatment and dry on raised platforms with better air circulation. Then its into the drying shed, which contains a row of massive rotating “ovens”, for 48-52 hours at 32 degrees to achieve the target of 12% moisture.
Once dry, the separate lots go into silos in the dry mill. The coffee is in “parchment” form, so the bean is still inside a few layers of, now dry, skin and fruit material. Now, the process of cupping can really begin. Master Cupper Renato leads the quality team, who cupped 12,000 bowls last harvest alone! Decisions are made, and the lots are directed into different classifications: Classics, Collections and Masterpieces. It's Renato's job to piece these together and maintain consistency year-on-year, using the SCA 100 point scoring system and his own good judgement. Masterpieces showcase new and unusual varietals, processing methods, drying techniques and experimentation. Classics tend to be a blend of lots focused on consistency, and Collections are smaller lots that have been produced every year and have a broad following amongst roasters.
The milling station is large and noisy, with husks and dust flying around the various machines doing the hulling. Screening machines separate out broken beans, electronic colour sorting separates immature and defective beans, and density tables sort lightweight, potentially defective, beans. If Renato is happy, the coffees can then be bagged and made ready for shipping.
All in all, an extensive and complex process, and all that before the coffee even gets to the arch for roasting! After an intense few days exploring the ins and outs of Daterra's coffee production, we ended with an exceptional meal of local delights, accompanied by Ian's favourite Pão de Queijo, the ubiquitous Brazilian cheese bread. After good nights and goodbyes, we set off to a smaller farm to spend a bit of time with Bruno Souza - more on that in part 3!