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Brazil emerges into the specialty market.

Developments among a recently formed group of coffee producers in Brazil are providing specialty coffee enthusiasts with good reasons to re-evaluate how they think of Brazilian coffee. While it is still common among specialty coffee enthusiasts for Brazilian coffees to be considered only as components for blending, there is new movement afoot to provide Brazilian coffees, which are either estate grown or the product of careful processing and marketing.

In the past, a frequent complaint among the industry was the presence of a "Rio-y" taste characteristic in Brazils. Under the guidance of the new Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (B.S.A.C.), "Rio-y" may soon become an homage as opposed to a taint, as this country's specialty coffees are currently setting new standards in complexity, balance, and favor. In fact, many of the emerging Brazilian coffees are well-balanced with heady aromas, spicy flavors reminiscent of all spice and cloves, and a mouthfeel that lingers with a pleasant sweetness. The best are medium-bodied with mild acidity.

The Founding of a

Specialty Movement

The Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association, founded in August of 1991, is composed of a new generation of coffee producers devoted to growing and marketing the best coffees their country has to offer. Many of the members of this fledgling organization attended the 1992 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Show and Exhibition, mingling with the trade at their booth and providing a seminar on the new Brazilian specialty market. In addition to promoting Brazil's finest coffees through the SCAA, the organization is coordinating educational programs and providing technical information for its members farms.

While the membership is basically young, the farms they represent are very old. These men come from generations of coffee growers, most of whom have traditionally sold coffee as a commodity with less though for varietal characteristics than for the consistency necessary for blending. But with the collapse of the ICO and the sagging market, these young entrepreneurial coffee growers are willing to venture into new market, the U.S. specialty market among them. According to most, they are very well-disposed towards changing their coffees to meet the stringent demands of the specialty market.

According to association president Marcelo Vieira, "Our major objectives in the BSCA are helping the association members to maintain and improve the traditional techniques of producing quality coffees in Brazil, and to develop institutional campaigns which will open new markets and promote their products."

As part of this educational process, members of the SCAA will have an opportunity to visit several of the BSCA Fazendas in conjunction with the SCAA's 1992 international site tour. This tour of Brazilian coffee farms will take place from August 9- 21. (For more information, please contact Ted Lingle of the SCAA at: 310-893-8090.)

At the last meeting of the BSCA, it was decided that members would send four containers of coffee to San Francisco. This should come in handy for those wishing to experience some of these higher-quality Brazils. These containers, maximum 100 bags per member, will be available approximately at the end of June. This move to place coffees in San Francisco comes directly on the tail of San Francisco's recognition as a designation point.

The crux of the challenge for Brazilian coffee growers wishing to distinguish their coffees was well expressed by Atilio Cardinali, marketing director for Fazenda Vista Alegre (FVA). "There are 300,000 coffee growers in Brazil, and many of them are applying similar techniques and producing a similar range of coffees. It is hard to make the world believe you're capable of doing outstanding things if historically many of the coffee growers in your country have been satisfied with mediocrity." Cardinali believes that the BSCA is an important step in getting the message about high-quality Brazils out. "If a small group at least decides to do good things, it is easier for people to believe the truth of these improvements."

The improvements Cardinali speaks of include an entirely new processing and growing technique for coffee, in which the cherries remain on the tree to dry. All of the fruitiness and intricate character of the coffee cherry is transferred to the seeds producing a coffee not only unlike other Brazils, but unlike any other coffee in the world. FVA also employs high-tech fertilizing and irrigation methods, and is constantly going to the roaster/retailer for input on improvements.

Just to be safe however, FVA has also brought in some sophisticated marketing and made a rather splashy showing at the SCAA Exhibition in April. Among the FVA coffees, the Natural Dry is being represented as a coffee complex and quality-conscious enough to drink alone. As all the coffee is grown on a single plantation it also has the prestige of being an estate coffee, complete with romance and point-of-purchase materials.

FVA is not alone in its attempts to woo the specialty coffee industry over to the idea of Brazilian coffee served straight up. Erna Knutsen's well-known Bandeirante is another example of Brazil's moving up in the coffee world. As Knutsen states, "Brazil coffees, Santos in particular, have really gotten a bad name in the last few years. Probably because we in the specialty industry have become more and more demanding about the quality of our coffee. Bandeirante comes from Minas Gerais, it is softer and much more drinkable straight than a Santos."

According to Knusten the coffee is usually sold out, and at a higher than market price. "People are willing to pay more for better coffee, and Bandeirante is pure cup. You can drink it straight, which is generally unheard of for a Brazil. In fact, in a blind cupping of five Brazils, Bandeirante came out head and shoulder above the rest." In like FVA, Bandeirante is not an estate farm, but the choice harvest of four organization. Like the FVA, the coffee uses costly fertilizers and carefully scrutinized processing.

U.S. Market-we're Picky!

Erna Knutsen's appraisal of the U.S. specialty coffee industry as picky, was confirmed on a recent trip to Europe. "hi Paris I walked into a coffee roaster/retailer and nearly had to turn around and walk back out. The place reeked of ferment. There were coffee bags all over the place with roasted coffee in them. Here in the U.S., we're extremely fussy about the coffee we buy and sell, we've gotten spoiled and its where we're going to stay." The vanguard of the U.S. specialty coffee industry, those like Erna Knusten, insist on keeping the standards high.

One hurdle looming in the way of Brazil's success is the naive conception of the U.S. market as quantity not quality. Like most of the world, most of Brazil doesn't realize what's happening in the U.S. Jon Stefenson of Atlantic, thinks Brazil has a lot to offer, but states," The challenge that Brazil has to face is the willingness to think small. It is a country that is well-known as a volume supplier, trying to become a country that is known for quality." The key to success in this image makeover will be the ability of Brazilian coffee growers to adapt themselves to a smaller market orientation.

Industry experts such as Stefenson see Brazil as capable of attaining this goal. "I must say Brazilians know coffee very well. They supply Europe with very fine quality. They only have to change their thinking about the U.S. market, and I believe they are willing to do that." Of course, Brazil has good reason to view the U.S. as the volume market. The commercial coffee industry in America continues to buy a large volume of Brazils. And it's a fact of life that because this segment does large quality, its lost the quality-consciousness. On the other hand, Europe's developed its relationship with coffee in a more diverse way, with each of the small countries pursuing specific needs. Brazil and other producing countries cannot help but perceive the difference as U.S. buyers are more flexible because they are big and Europeans are more demanding, and hence more willing to pay a price, because they're small.

A Spotty Past, Promising Future

The Brazilians can certainly do the job, no one disagrees with that. Brazil is perhaps the best blending coffee in the world, and when treated properly, the best espresso. But somewhere along the way, Brazil embraced a fast-food mentality about coffee. It shipped anything, and everything, in the course of becoming the world's biggest producer. Processing techniques suffered along this bumpy ride as well. Today, the difference in a lot of Brazilian coffees is how they're picked. A lot of the market grade is mechanically picked, the whole branch is stripped resulting in a lack of consistency to say the best, and a horrible coffee to say the worst.

There are cases', such as FVA and Bandeirante, where people have developed the more regional, fazenda type mentality. This segment developed the more regional, fazenda type mentality and promises to be a growing one, but it will still be a very small thing for most Brazilians. Brazil can certainly create a fine quality coffee with subtle cupping qualities, they are in fact more sensitive than most origins to cupping qualities. So, to the extent that farmers can market their coffees and get importers interested, developments like the BSCA will be a move in the right direction. But, finally, it all boils down to the ability to make money. Stefenson candidly points out, "If the industry is willing to pay the price to secure a good coffee, these guys are professional and are willing to do it.

Proof of Brazil's ability lies in comments from roasters/retailers such as Bob Sinclair of the Pannikin who views Brazil's emergence into the specialty market as a noble effort. He has used Brazils in his blends forever, primarily coffees from the Cerrado region, but his recent forays into Brazilian coffee have led him to compare their characteristics with the inimitable Mocha wininess and he serves Bandeirante straight. With this in mind, it is disheartening to find that three of the top specialty companies in the United States will not use Brazils. This coffee producing country, the biggest in the world, is not in their lexicons. Hopefully, with the hard work of the BSCA and some proven success with coffees such as FVA and Bandeirnte, Brazil will find its place as a varietal coffee once more.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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