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Published, Sep 27, 2019

Beyond the Bag - Brazil with Chloe Alexander

Origin's Barista Trainer, Chloe Alexander recently visited Brazil on a sourcing trip with Head of Coffee, Freda Yuan and Training Manager, Rose Nicholson. This is what she had to report on her time with coffee producers in the region.

This sourcing trip was a life and career-changing experience, as I was able to take all of the concepts that I teach on a daily basis to enthusiastic baristas, and see it in the flesh; smell the coffee pulp, watch the harvest, share a cup of coffee with the farmer that grew it and learn more about the community that dedicates its life to cultivating specialty coffee for us to roast and brew.

Flying to Brazil was my first long-haul flight and although I was slightly apprehensive, I had so much excitement and anticipation of what I’d be experiencing in a matter of hours. We were met at our hotel by Maria and Priscila who work at SMC, the specialty branch of Cooxupe which is a network of 40,000 Brazilian farmers offering lectures from agronomists and supporting farmers in improving their production. At their head office, we were met by their quality control team who evaluate hundreds of samples each week and communicate their findings with farmers to help them understand the standard expected of specialty coffee.

I remember the first day I cupped coffee at our roastery in Helston, I was so nervous not to sound completely ignorant when describing the profile of a coffee and all of those anxieties came flooding back when we stood at the cupping table at SMC. Not only did I feel a pressure to analyse samples well but I also knew that farmers who have 10 bags of this coffee to offer, relied on our assessment.

The next day, we were met by Serg whose farm Sitio Correge Grande was considered ‘small,’ producing just 500 sacks of coffee a year. He took us around his processing plant where unripe, ripe and overripe coffee was sorted, depulped and dried.  Our senses were filled with new and unforgettable aromas around us from the fresh air at 1000 MASL, the fermented coffee cherries that resembled sweet balsamic vinegar and the familiar log fire smell from the drying sheds.
Serg was a Master Agronomist and now advises other Brazilian farmers on post-harvest practices to increase the quality of their coffee, as well as running his own successful farm.  In 2018, one of his lots was recognised by the Cup of Excellence. This is significant in Brazil, as until recently the majority of farms had been quantity focussed rather than quality driven.

We drove down to one of Serg’s lots, where 2 workers were using a small strimmer-like machine called ‘little hands’ which allows them to selectively hand-pick cherries more efficiently. It was so surreal picking a ripe yellow Caturra cherry from the tree and eating it with Rose. The flesh reminded me of fig skin and garden peas fresh out of the pod. Having two slimy green beans, covered in mucilage, finally brought all the imagery I use in my lessons, to life!

As well as these memories, I learned so much more about what goes into producing high quality coffee; the soil nutrients, the harvest, the post-harvest processes, the sorting and grading of beans, the packing, the shipping, the consciousness of the protection of wildlife, watercourses and their employees. The day we arrived, Brazil had experienced its first frost in 6 years, meaning catastrophic repercussions on next year’s crop. To be part of this moment in coffee history and talk directly to coffee growers about the implications gave me a whole new level of respect for this delicate industry.

When opening that bag of brown beans, it pays to appreciate the efforts and labour both physical and emotional that are involved in its journey. For each coffee that we source and roast, we produce a tasting card to give the coffee its own identity. Not only this, but we tell the producers’ story and share our experience of the origin. We’re so privileged to have this relationship and more so to be in the position to share it with customers and their customers.

It’s this connection to the source of our coffee that we are so grateful for at Origin. Being able to call these wonderful farmers our partners and work closely with them to protect the environment and people, integral to this industry, is always at the heart of our operation.

Words and images by Chloe Alexander