Here is the second instalment of Juliana’s three part series giving a unique perspective on Brazilian coffees. In this edition, Julz talks about Brazil coffees as a whole and highlights how this vast country can produce so many diverse flavours.

A snapshot of the series:
Part I — The History of Brazilian Coffees
Part II — Brazil: One Country, Many Flavours
Part III — Unveiling Mechanical Harvesting in Brazil

Part II — Brazil: One Country, Many Flavours

In my first article, I focused on the history of Brazilian coffee and looked at how coffee was introduced to Northern Brazil from French Guiana in 1727. Over the ensuing years, coffee plantations spread throughout the north and northeast of the country, later reaching the central Southern regions as well. Today, however, coffee is produced in 14 different regions of Brazil across seven estates, meaning that there are approximately 2.7 million hectares of coffee-producing land stretched across this country. This regional diversity is one of the main factors that ensure that Brazil has a variety of cupping profiles on offer.

Five of the primary producing estates are concentrated in the central Southern region of Brazil — Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Espirito Santos, Rio de Janeiro and Paraná. Meanwhile, in the North and Northeast, there are only two primary producing estates — Rondonia and Bahia. Arabica coffee represents over 70% of the country’s total coffee production, while the region of Sul de Minas in the state of Minas Gerais is the biggest producer of coffee in Brazil, producing over 50% of the total coffee.

The 14 growing regions divided by state are:

  • Paraná – North Pioneering
  • São Paulo – Mogiana and Midwest Region
  • Rio de Janeiro (Robusta coffee producer)
  • Espirito Santos – Espirito Santos mountains and Conilon/Robusta
  • Minas Gerais – Sul de Minas, Cerrado Mineiro, Chapada de Minas and Mata de Minas
  • Bahia – Bahia Plateau, Cerrado Baiana, West Region and Atlantic Bahia
  • Rondonia (Robusta coffee producer)

Regional diversity vs cup qualities

When it comes to cup quality, some key elements influence the final product greatly. Terroir is one of the key elements which affects the quality of both coffee and wine. Terroir refers to the combination of climate, soil type and topography in certain geographical areas which heavily influences the final crop. Each unique terroir produces a unique product, hence each coffee-growing region in Brazil has its own set of characteristics, which combined with harvesting and post-harvesting farming practices, produces exclusive cup qualities.

To give you better insight into the complexity of these issues, I’ve selected some of the main coffee growing regions in Brazil and shared some information on both terroir and farm practices, with the aim of demonstrating how these things influence overall quality in the cup.

From the South to the North of the country:

Terroir: Rolling hills, volcanic soil and latitude near the tropic of Capricorn.
Average altitude: 600 MASL
Average farm size: Small to medium
Harvesting method: Mechanical
Most common processing method: Pulped natural
Main region: Pioneering north of Paraná
Sensorial characteristics: Heavy body, very sweet and low acidity.

São Paulo Mogiana Paulista:
Terroir: Mountains and rolling hills.
Average altitude: 1000 MASL
Average farm size: Small and medium
Harvesting method: Manual
Most common processing method: Natural
Main micro-regions: Alta Mogiana, Vale da Grama
Sensorial characteristics: Fruity, sweet, medium acidity and heavy-bodied.

Sul de Minas:
Terroir: Mountain area with cold nights.
Average altitude: 1000 MASL
Average farm size: Small and medium
Harvesting method: Manual, mechanical and selective
Most common processing method: Pulp-natural
Main micro-regions: Serra da Mantiqueira, Carmo de Minas
Sensorial characteristics: Clean, sweet and high citric acidity, medium body and wide range of flavour profiles.

Matas de Minas:
Terroir: Humid, cold nights and mountain areas.
Average altitude: 1000 MASL
Average farm size: Small
Harvesting method: Manual
Most common processing method: Pulped natural
Main micro-region: Araponga
Sensorial characteristics: High acidity and sweet with medium body, clean and delicate.

Cerrado Mineiro:
Terroir: Rolling hills, dry weather, and stable temperatures with a well-defined rainy season, which favours a more homogenous maturation of the fruits. Artificial irrigation is also very common in this area.
Average altitude: 900 MASL
Average farm size: Medium and large
Harvesting method: Mechanical
Most common processing method: Natural
Main micro-region: Chapadão de Ferro
Sensorial characteristics: Heavy-bodied and very sweet, usually with low acidity.

Espírito Santo:
Terroir: Mountains, cooler temperatures, irregular rainfall. Late harvest coffees.
Average altitude: 1100 MASL
Average farm size: Small
Harvesting method: Manual selective
Most common processing method: Pulped natural
Main micro-regions: Bateia and Pedra Azul
Sensorial characteristics: Fruity, aromatic, high acidity, very sweet with high complexity.

Terroir: Rolling hills, dry weather and soil.
Average altitude: 1000 MASL
Average farm size: Small to large
Harvesting method: Manual and mechanical
Most common processing method: Pulped natural
Main micro-region: Chapada da Diamantina
Sensorial characteristics: Clean and high acidity, well known for its citric tones.

Regional Diversity and the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA)

In an attempt to increase the visibility of the various growing regions in Brazil, the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA) together with the Cup of Excellence programme (CoE), divided up all the entry lots in the 2013 CoE according to their official regions. All the lots were then cupped regionally by the national jury. The best-placed producers in each region were announced at the CoE Awards ceremony in October.

In October 2013, the BSCA also launched the first-ever Brazilian specialty coffee blend competition. The competition aimed to showcase the diverse range of profiles in each region. The eventual winner was a blend made from coffees from Bahia, Espirito Santos (Espirito Santos Mountains) and Sao Paulo (Mogiana Paulista).

Bright Future

While the history of coffee is still very young in Brazil, is noticeable that the market has evolved considerably. It’s no longer correct to say that Brazil only produces espresso base, blend quality coffees. Technological innovation and a large landmass give Brazilian coffee an edge that no other country has, which ensures its competitiveness in the coffee market. Meanwhile, Brazil’s innate regional diversity guarantees that it produces a wide range of cupping profiles that fulfil diverse demands from around the world. I genuinely feel that Brazilian specialty coffee is booming and the possibilities are endless. So I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future for this diverse country with many flavours!

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