Barista Trip 2011 Part 1 : Bahia, Brasil

We are halfway through our trip to Brasil as I am writing this blog. For the past 5 days myself, Tim Chapdelaine from Cafe Imports, Sarah Allen from Barista Magazine, Gianni from Nuovo Simonelli, Reg Barber from Reg Barber Enterprises, the six US regional finalists (Sam, Phil, Pete, Michael, Joe, Ryan) and WBC Champion Alejandro Mendez have been traveling throughout the State of Bahia in Brasil.

Our trip began in Salvador, where we met with our hosts Agricafe, and immediately dove headfirst into Brasilian coffee in their lab. Agricafe has an incredibly professional lab in Salvador, where they set up both artificial and natural defect cuppings for us to begin this experience. We were able to first acclimate our palates to some of the common acidities and defects that can be found in coffee. Cupping the different types of acidity, astringency, immature beans, different levels of body, and ferment allowed all people on the trip to fully understand what we are looking for when cupping coffee.

After this cupping, we then cupped 20 excellent coffees from some of the farms we would be visiting during this part of our trip. Brasil is still early in their harvest, so most of these coffees were still very young and had not rested, but excellent none the less.

While on our farm visits we were able to see a wide spectrum of different farm sizes and different processing techniques. We visited some farms that produce over 4 million lbs of coffee annually, and some that produce only around 12,000 lbs. The majority of the farms we saw export a large amount of pulped natural coffee, but most have a mixture of pulped natural, natural, and fully washed. We found out that a properly processed pulped natural coffee can often times allow a farmer to receive nearly double the amount of money he would for a fully washed coffee. We were able to get first hand experience seeing how various farms are processing coffees in different ways, and the challenges that are posed by each technique.

Two of the major challenges for coffee farmers in Brasil are: educating their pickers to pick only ripe cherries and avoiding over-fermentation during processing. Processing pulped natural coffees and natural coffees is an extremely delicate process that requires constant attention to avoid beans over-fermenting. We saw some farms where pickers are not as disciplined as the farm owners would hope they would be, and although the under ripe cherries get sorted out during processing, these farmers are losing even more money than just a quality differential because under ripe cherries weigh 30% less than ripe cherries. Not only are they getting less money for a poorly cupping lot of under ripes, but they also are producing less weight due to the immaturity. This is a challenge. Just as Cafes grow and struggle to maintain quality control with a growing staff of baristas and high turnover, farmers encounter the same issues as they grow and hire more seasonal workers.

Farmers in Bahia are trying to combat this by treating their employees like family and creating a strong culture on their farms. We met farms that provide transportation for their employees, have cafeterias onsite, nice bathrooms, and even one amazing farmer bought motorcycles for all of his full time employees after winning the Cup of Excellence. In the farmer's opinion, these things are so important in motivating employees to execute their vision of high end specialty coffee.

Brasil has a rich agricultural history, and it shows by how meticulously set up many of these farms on our trip were, both big and small. Proper irrigation, fields that are not densely planted, rows of nitrogen fixing trees in between the coffee, and drying patios with parabolic drying covers are only some of the things that really have impressed us while on this trip. Knowledge and information are shared between farmers here for everyone's benefit. Often farmers in Bahia are seperating varietals and even separating lots within each varietal plot based on location on the farm. Agricafe receives samples from many farmers in Bahia and will help them determine which varietals are working best on their land. With trusting partners like Agricafe, these farmers and their coffee have excellent potential for future success.

This has been a very special trip not only because of the farmers we met with, but also having this much barista talent on one trip has proved to be truly remarkable. Everyone is so engaged and hungry for more information. It is easy to see why these barista champions have achieved the level of success they have. We have been totally blown away.

Our nights have been equally as fun here in Brasil. We have had the opportunity to have a few throw downs with Brasilian baristas at their cafes throughout Bahia. Not being able to speak Portuguese has not been a barrier at all while behind the bar. It has been very cool to see our baristas and Brasilian baristas connect over a perfectly prepared drink.

We have eaten more meat than one probably should eat in a 5 year span, and the food does not seem to stop any time soon. We are up for the challenge though...

Our long bus rides and late night conversation have given us a lot of time to talk about the BGA, competitions, and the state of coffee in general. These have been some of my most meaningful memories so far. The bus rides have also given us at Cafe Imports an opportunity to delve deeper into our processing class that we have been teaching on the bus. We learn in detail about all the things that happen between planting a seedling and exporting a bag of coffee, then we all get off the bus and see those these in action. Having this small of a group of engaged coffee professionals has opened the class up to many tangents and discussions both large and small about coffee. It has been extremely informative. The passing of knowledge has been a two way street. Tim and I are learning a lot from the baristas with us and they are taking away a wealth of firsthand coffee origin experiences.

It has been an incredible trip, and we all want to thank Marcus Boni and Laura Lee for helping make the 2011 Barista Origin Trip a reality. Next we are off to Campinas to continue our adventure.

-Noah Namowicz

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