Harvest Report: Brazil 2020 and Some Good News in This Strange Year (Finally!)

Posted on September 16th, 2020

It turns out there has been one good thing that’s happened so far in 2020: Weather so perfect for the most recent harvest in Brazil that we can’t wait to tell you all about the coffee’s we’ll begin receiving shortly. 

 Although we weren’t able to experience the 2019/2020 season’s ideal conditions for ourselves—the first time in many years we haven’t visited Brazil at least five times—we did recently sit down over Zoom with our export partners at CarmoCoffees and Bourbon Specialty Coffees to get updates about the coffees, the effects of Covid-19 on the producing communities and regions, and a glimpse at the future.  

 Here’s a bit of what we learned and what we’re expecting to see from Brazil this year.  

A Record Year 

 Volumes are up all over Brazil this year, and Reuters estimates the crop-year production of nearly 67 million 60-kilogram bags, surpassing the previous all-time record of 62.6 million bags in 2018. Of that figure from this year, Arabica coffee comprises about 45 million bags, a growth of 2 million over two years. Espírito Santo alone saw a 58-percent increase in yields over last year.  

 According to Bourbon Specialty Coffees’ agronomy engineer, not only is the volume of bags up this year, but so is the average seed size: They told us over Zoom that about 60 percent of the crop achieved screen-size of 16-plus.  

 Juliana Senciano, a member of the Bourbon Specialty marketing team, explains how the weather helped push production to these limits: “The first months of the year, January, February, and March, we are in the summer here in Brazil. It’s a common rainy season of the year. We expected the rain, of course, but the rain surprised us, the amount of rain that we had. It’s the period that the beans are developing, so this amount of rain helped the coffee to have a uniform maturation and to get bigger and bigger sizes, and I think that this is reflecting right now. We didn’t have the rain in the harvesting times in any regions, we didn’t have any trouble with frost—it was the perfect crop.” 

“It was more than perfect, it was unbelievable,” says Luiz Paulo Dias Pereira Filho, cofounder of CarmoCoffees. “We never had one year like this, without rain for the harvest. And quality! The quality is amazing.”  

 According to Luiz Paulo, the dry weather during the harvest season meant that the coffees could stay on the trees a bit longer, creating a “sugar concentrate” in the fruit and hopefully leading to fruity, full, and rich Naturals as well as clean and dynamic Pulped Naturals.  

 “If the sugars concentrate, the result will be a very nice coffee. We had a good opportunity to do Naturals,” he says, “because the weather was perfect for the harvest. The sugar level, because if we don’t have water, we have the sugar concentrate. If the sugars concentrate, the result will be a very nice coffee. We need some good things this year!” 

 Bourbon’s food engineer, Andréia Braga Inácio Sarmento, adds: “Here in the Brazil we have like a year that we have a high productive and another one that we have a low productive. In 2020, we’re in a higher productive. The next one will be a little bit less.” (More about that in a moment.) 

The Impact of Covid-19 

 Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus doesn’t seem to care whether it’s a big harvest year or not, and its spread worldwide has meant that no conversation—about coffee or otherwise—can go without some mention of the effects of the pandemic. Brazil in particular has been hit hard, with more than 4 million confirmed cases and nearly 130,000 deaths countrywide.  

 Thankfully, both Carmo and Bourbon report few issues for their teams or partners.  

 “Our region, we have some problems, but we are safe,” says Luiz Paulo. “We are doing all the protocols, we are protecting the workers, we are keeping a safe distance. The protocols are working.”  

 Juliana from Bourbon agrees, but also points out the “bright side” of this strange shared experience: “Covid-19 arrived in March, and at the beginning, the coffee community here in Brazil was very concerned because no one had very much explanations, we didn’t have confirmed cases—it was a mess. Everyone was really confused and really concerned, but I think that the great thing was that everyone exchanged information and everyone got reunited. The coffee community in Brazil did an excellent job,” she says, also reporting that as of early September there are still few reported positive cases among farmers or workers in their network.  

 For Luiz Paulo, the greatest difficulty of this period has been the fact that all travel is stalled, seemingly indefinitely.  

 “Oof,” he says with a smile. “Since I started to work in coffee in 2002, I don’t remember one time that I stay so long in Brazil like now. It’s good because we are discovering a lot of things: We have time to improve our qualities, I have more attention with the farmers, we talk more—I think we had some good times. The unique problem we are having is we can have more is that we don’t have our customers visiting us, and in terms of specialty coffees the people want to come see, they want to cup the coffee and to talk. Specialty coffees is relationship. I’m missing my friends, my travels.” 

Time to Experiment and Study 

As Luiz Paulo mentioned, however, this time has afforded producers across the country to focus on the farms, explore other areas of the market, and even to spend more time and energy on experimental processes or varieties. He and his team have been honing their anaerobic-environment fermentation experiments, for example, and he has spent part of this year expanding the amount of Gesha on one of his own farms, Santuário Sul.  

 “We have now more than 30 hectares with Gesha,” he explains, with plans to add more next year. “The idea is in the future we will have a Gesha with a sustainable price and quality.”  

 He also says that many producers are investing in roasting equipment in order to sell their coffee on the local market as well as exporting their green. “This is growing a lot in Brazil. A lot of farmers are starting to roast. Example, our farms started to roast: Irmãs Pereira, we are roasting coffee in Brazil. Santuário Sul, we are roasting coffee in Brazil.” 

 The extra time and ideal weather allowed Andréia to take a closer look at Bourbon’s coffees as well. “I could do a lot of fermentation tests,” she says, explaining that she used a tool called a Fermaestro in order to study different processing techniques.

Fermaestro is a device created by the Colombian coffee institution’s agronomy team, and it is a simple way for a producer to measure the velocity of their coffee’s fermentation, and to determine when to remove the mucilage for the best results. “I love that tool, for me it’s so easy to use. I also did a fermentation with yeast inoculation, and also we built an anaerobic environment.”  

 As if that wasn’t enough, she also started to explore using U.V. light to analyze coffee quality in its green form. “I’m doing some scientific research this year, so I hope to get some results next year,” she says, explaining that U.V. light allows her to see mold and other defects that aren’t visible to the human eye.  

The Future? 

 Of course, with everything as topsy-turvy as it is around the world, we’re getting used to expecting bad news to come with every bit of good. So, you remember that perfect weather at the beginning of this year? Well, it hasn’t stayed quite so perfect at this point in the annual coffee cycle.  

 The past week or so, Luiz Paulo says he has been getting messages and alerts warning about a lack of rain, which can mean big trouble for next year’s production. “They are saying that it’s a historical year in terms of water,” he says. “The other regions who normally finish their harvest in July, beginning of August? They were waiting for the water, and the water didn’t came. They don’t have any expectation to have rain. People will start to say that Brazil can have a problem with 50% of the next production if the rain didn’t come. We check the forecast every day and no rain. 

“Yes, we expected the rains to start around the end of August and until then, most regions, we didn’t see any rain,” says Juliana. “The flowering is starting now in some regions. We have some other regions that it didn’t started. At this exact period, it is very, very important the rain.” It is rain that triggers the plants’ development: Without it, like Luiz Paulo said, yields could be significantly reduced next year—even more than already expected.  

 “Let’s hope that soon the rain comes to all the regions,” Juliana continues. But I think in general this crop was excellent, so let’s see—good vibes!” 

Good Vibes: Great Flavor 

 Good vibes are exactly what we need right about now, which is why we want to end this report on a high note, taking a look at the awesome quality everyone is talking about from Brazil this year. The silver lining of having to stay close to home is that farmers were able to pay more attention to their crops, make investments in their techniques, and learn from one another in order to raise scores across the board. 

 Green-coffee buyer for Brazil, Luis Arocha, says what he’s seen come across our cupping table this year has been fantastic, even early on: “We have had a few samples, and even though they were a bit fresh they were expressing really good quality already.”  

From Carmo de Minas, we’re seeing praline, almond, pecan, berry, and coffee cherry flavors, with rich chocolate and heavy mouthfeel. That soft almond and praline shines through from Alta Mogiana and Valle da Grama as well. Now that the harvest is almost completely done in these areas, samples will continue arriving from Bourbon Specialty and CarmoCoffees, and we expect to have updated notes and offerings in the coming weeks for delivery this fall.  

 Espírito Santo, on the southeastern coast, operates on a slightly different timeline, thanks to its unique microclimate. “In Espírito Santo the harvesting is a little later than the other regions,” Juliana says, in part because of the higher elevations and because of the farms’ proximity to the ocean. We’ll see those coffees a few months after the majority of our Brazil arrivals—but Luis thinks they’re worth the wait. “Some of the best Brazils that have come through our cupping lab are Espírito Santo. It is one of my favorite coffee places,” he says. Those primarily Washed coffees have a completely different profile: Floral, tropical, intensely sweet, and delicate.  

 Now is the perfect time to start planning your Brazil needs for the coming winter and spring, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your sales representative to get a good sense of what good vibes are coming in from our partners this season—we can’t wait to share them with you.