For anyone who has travelled or had any type of relationship with someone who lives overseas, it is probably misleading to say that it is easy or straightforward. There’s so much that can go wrong. Toss passion into the mix and things can blow up quickly. That’s why when a relationship turns out to be solid, year after year, it is obviously something special.
We have been buying coffee from Santo Antonio Estates for several years now. The group consists of some 20 well run fazendas. When you visit these large scale farms, you can’t help but be impressed by their maintained levels of organisation and quality. All the coffee any individual or any company could dream of is produced by these fazendas.
The specialty graded coffee comes into the Santo Antonio Estates warehouse where samples are kept and profiles noted. There are shelves on a giant wall in the cupping lab where each estate’s name is listed, along with descriptions of the various coffees they offer. From here, companies like us work with the lab and choose the coffees which best fulfil the taste profiles we are seeking.
Visit after visit, year after year, Santo Antonio Estates take steps to keep improving their product. In preparation for this harvest, they added more space to their warehouse. Having effectively doubled their storage capacity, the group built an additional unit to house all the incoming coffee. They then added another impressive feature to the warehouse itself. I mistook it for a cooling mister for the workers — joke, ha! But they have actually added a humidity control system. Tubes lining the roof dispense mist sporadically, keeping the warehouse at an optimal degree of humidity for the coffee.
Equally impressive is the group’s new storage system. Santo Antonio Estates are transitioning to storing all their coffee in giant polypropylene bags. These bags are going to help in a couple ways. For one, they are going to cut the group’s storage fees in half. One of these large bags can house about 60 normal jute bags. When you compare costs, the jute bags literally cost double for the same amount of storage. Also, it is no secret that jute is a poor material in which to store coffee. The polypropylene bags are firmly woven together, giving just a bit of breathability. Testing has shown that they are highly superior for maintaining coffee quality when compared to jute.
As with all successful companies, there comes a point when it is both necessary and important to look beyond your own organisation. Some of the key Santo Antonio fazenda managers decided to support a local organisation of small producers. The organisation was birthed out of an initiative by the Neuman Kaffe Group. Essentially, if these small producers created an association and demonstrated proper commitment, then the Neuman group promised to help them with coffee education and provide avenues for them to become better coffee producers. The initiative lasted two years and this year marked their ‘graduation’. However, the story does not end there. Santo Antonio Estates and Atlas importers decided to step in and organise a coffee competition.
The goal of the competition was to encourage the members of the association to continue moving forward, especially with regards to quality. An easy way to incentivise this idea was to create a competition which rewarded the top five coffees with premiums. That way all the producers, whether or not they won, would begin attaching added value to growing and processing coffee. I was fortunate to play a role in evaluating the members’ coffee. Considering they are all fairly new to coffee production, the coffees held up very well.
So I am proud to announce — and this is testament to the value of producers tasting their own coffee — that Jao Marcos, the warehouse manager of quality control at Santo Antonio Estates, won the competition! I could not be happier for Jao Marcos. He is an unbelievable man and has been a tremendous asset in our relationship with Santo Antonio Estates. (Also, don’t fret. We have a few bags of his winning red Catuai headed our way.)
We are excited about our relationship with Santo Antonio Estates. Five Senses could not ask for a better coffee producing partner. For those of you who serve Santo Antonio Estate coffee, you can expect the same solid profile you have already come to enjoy. And keep an eye out for information about this year’s MICE. If my persuasion tactics worked properly, we might have a visitor or two from the group to look forward to.