Why Is Brazil Famous for Coffee?

freshly harvested brazilian coffee

QUESTION: Why is Brazil famous for coffee? Is there anything actually special about it, or is it just some myth?- Meagan M. 

ANSWER: Brazil is quite famous for its large-scale coffee production. South America is responsible for a great deal of the world’s coffee, but Brazil leads the way as the world’s most prolific coffee producer. Around 32% of the world’s coffee is produced in various locations around Brazil. With over 300,000 coffee farms within the country’s borders, and enough land dedicated to coffee farming to fit 2 million soccer fields, it’s safe to say that Brazilians know a thing or two about coffee. 

These days, Brazil exports between 40 and 60 million bags of coffee each year, which accounts for between 25 and 32% of the world’s coffee supply. Coffee is produced in many different locations around the country, with farms located in over half of its 26 states. Since 1840, Brazil has led the world in coffee production, but quantity doesn’t always equal quality. 

As the world leader in coffee production, Brazil has churned out massive amounts of coffee for decades on end. Around 80% of the coffee that Brazil produces is arabica, and the other 20% is made up of the inferior robusta beans. As the world leader in coffee exports, Brazil’s coffee cultivation focus has not always been on creating quality coffee, but in focusing on providing coffee blends for big corporations. These blends are comprised of a mix of robusta and arabica beans in order to keep costs low, and allow large-scale coffee companies to offer their pre-ground blends at budget-friendly rates. 

As the world has begun to shift the market demand towards more gourmet specialty coffees and single origin, small batch roasts, Brazil has followed suit. In the past, demand has forced Brazilian coffee farms to focus on the quantity of production, instead of the production of specialty coffees, which created a perception that Brazil only produced coffee for blends, and couldn’t compete with the single origin coffees that other countries were producing. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and recently, Brazil’s coffee industry leaders proposed new regulations that have allowed coffee farmers to focus on specialty coffee production, and the results have been stellar. 

There is now an amazing selection of Brazilian specialty coffee on the market, and much of it is considered to be amongst the best single origin coffees in the world. The climate in Brazil is extremely well suited to growing excellent coffee. With mountainous regions accounting for over 40% of the country’s total land mass, and the majority of the country enjoying a tropical climate, it’s no wonder that Brazil has become a coffee farmer’s paradise. The elevation of Brazilian coffee farms range from 400 to 1,600 feet below sea level, so there are only a handful of coffee farms that have high enough elevations to produce Strictly High Grown (SGH) beans. Also, Brazil doesn’t have volcanic soils, so the farms there don’t have the best possible soil for coffee growing. 

However, that hasn’t stopped the country’s efforts from shifting towards specialty coffee. There are now lots of organic single origin Brazilian coffees on the market, and that number is expected to continue growing in the coming years. There’s no doubt that you can find some really good Brazilian coffee, but can you truly find Brazilian roasts that are at the top of the class? You certainly can. 

In fact, what might be considered the best coffee ever grown, which sold for $1,800 per 50 kg bag, was grown in Brazil. In one of Brazil’s most important coffee growing districts Minas Gerais, the beans grown on the land of Sebastião Afonso da Silva, won the, “Cup of Excellence,” which is the most renowned and distinguished award for coffee quality in the world. The coffee also received the highest grade for quality ever recorded, with a score of 95.18 out of 100. 

In 1989, the Brazilian coffee industry introduced the, “Seal of Purity,” which is a quality seal that Brazillian coffee producers could earn if they adhere to certain quality standards. The seal was created to insure high quality Brazilian exports, and to increase popularity and sales worldwide. Since the introduction of the seal, Brazilian coffee has become synonymous with quality. Today, they are considered one of the premier origin countries to source your coffee from. 

Brazilian coffee comes in many different forms, and there are countless options on the market, from traditional roasts, to more experimental coffee creations. No matter what you are looking for, there is a Brazilian coffee that likely fills that need. 

Generally speaking, Brazilian coffee is known for its low acidity, similar to many African coffees. Along with low acidity, Brazilian coffee tends to have a uniquely sweet and subtle flavor and light, pleasant aroma, as well as a thinner body and mouthfeel than most other Central American coffees. Brazilian specialty coffees are considered amongst the highest quality coffees on the market today. 

Brazilian coffee producers mostly use the dry processing method to cure their coffee beans, often allowing the beans to dry out completely before harvesting. In this processing method, the outer skin of the cherries stay intact instead of being removed, which adds a subtle sweetness to the flavor of the beans when roasted and brewed. Thankfully, the Brazilian coffee industry has been deregulated, which allows individual farms to promote and sell their own products worldwide. This makes it so that small farms have to do all the work on the marketing end, but they also get to reap all of the benefits on the sales of their product. 

Though coffee is grown in 14 different regions and 13 different states across Brazil, there are six main regions which make up the majority of the coffee production from the country. These six regions are also responsible for producing some of the best coffee that Brazil has to offer. Instead of searching for specific brands from Brazil, try out the coffees produced in the most important coffee farming regions. The six main coffee producing regions in Brazil are: Bahia, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Paraná, and São Paulo.

Bahia is one of the more modern coffee growing regions in Brazil, as it has only been used for coffee production since 1970. Three-fourths of the coffee grown in Bahia is arabica, and the region consists of predominantly higher-altitude farms. The coffee produced in Bahia is on the sweeter side due to the altitude as well as the climate of rainy winters and dryer, more arid summers. The state of Bahia is also known for its use of modern high-tech farming methods.  Two of the state’s most successful coffee growing regions, Cerrado and Planalto da Bahia, contain coffee farms with the highest productivity rates in the entire country. 

Minas Gerais is the coffee capital of Brazil, and by far the country’s most productive state in terms of coffee production. Minas Gerais is also the state which is most responsible for the country’s growing output of specialty coffees. There are four primary coffee producing regions within Minas Gerais, which are Cerrado de Minas, Chapada de Minas, Matas de Minas and Sul de Minas. 

Cerrado de Minas is the first region within Brazil to become a distinguished go-to location for coffee production by being awarded the, “Destination of Origin” tag. This award is given to ideal coffee production zones and is somewhat similar to awards given to famous wine producing regions to increase travel interest and drive up coffee prices. Though most coffee that comes out of Brazil is low in acidity, the coffee from Cerrado de Minas is actually surprisingly high, paired with a medium sweetness and body. Chapada de Minas has a diverse landscape of valleys and mountains, and a diverse selection of coffees as well. The many smaller coffee farms in Matas de Minas lean towards a focus on growing beans for specialty coffees. Sul de Minas coffee producers are responsible for roughly one-third of Brazil’s coffee production and produce many different coffee varieties. Though the region is mostly smaller farms, the amount of coffee produced in this area is quite impressive. 

Coffee farmers in the state of Espírito Santo primarily produce robusta coffee beans in the areas of the state that are at a low elevation. In the highlands, the farms focus on high quality specialty coffees instead. Espírito Santo is the second largest coffee growing region in Brazil. 

The coffee farms in the northern part of Paraná are highly prolific producers of arabica beans. The small farms along the Rio de Janeiro are also very important to the country’s coffee production. São Paulo is another state which plays an important role in Brazil’s coffee production. The rich, red soil of Mogiana, in the Northeastern part of the state, adds a sweetness to the full bodied coffees that are grown in the area. The farms in Centro-Oeste are also used for the production of specialty coffees. 

Some of the best kinds of coffee produced in Brazil are: Café Pilão, Café Caboclo, Café Bom Dia, Café do Ponto, Café Melitta, and Bourbon Brazilian Santos. Give each of these varieties a try to really sample the best coffee that Brazil has to offer, and let us know which ones you like the best in the comments.

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