coffee exporter

Origin Report: Brazil 2016

Back in 2012, Robert wrote about how the changing Brazilian economy was impacting the business of making specialty coffee from labour availability and minimum wage, to pondering the impacts of strip picking vs. hand picking, to differences in topographic and climatic conditions between microregions and how they potentially affect cup quality. This past August during our regular post-harvest visit, David and I were met with a Carmo de Minas that had been dealing with La Niña early on in this year’s main harvest season. This weather event brought extremely heavy rain, which led to a lot of challenges, including surprises at the cupping table. For the first time, we were faced with defects, which we never would have imagined experiencing at these particular cupping tables. This base assumption alone, of expecting not to come across a single defect in the hundreds of cups that were presented to us, speaks to the incredible reputation that Carmo Coffees has built over the years. And why we continue to work proudly alongside this team.

Carmo Coffee's brand new cupping lab

Carmo Coffee's brand new cupping lab

La Niña and the 2016 Harvest

There’s no getting around the fact that in comparison to previous years, finding this year’s offerings proved to be an unexpected challenge. Great coffees were there for the taking but we’re used to dealing with the luxury problem of getting to pick and choose amongst dozens of great lots. This year, there were quite a few phenolic defects to contend with, which Luiz Paulo (co-founder of Carmo Coffees, coffee farmer and researcher) hypothesized had developed as a result of the severely increased volume of rain, which leads to an environment ripe for bacteria growth. In Brazil, coffee cherries dry on the trees (due to the common practice of strip picking), so when the rains come, the cherry skin stretches and tears a bit allowing some outside water in as the fruit swells. As the cherry shrinks back down and the skin of the fruit heals over, there is a higher chance of phenol forming inside the coffee.

One of the many frustrating things about the phenol defect is that it is not something one can physically see on the surface of the bean. It is a cup character flaw that makes a coffee taste medicinal, metallic and astringent.

To be clear, the Carmo team does an outstanding job cupping, sorting and milling every single lot they work with. But this year the team was faced with the battling: 1. Cupping through and finding the best lots possible amongst an overall disappointing harvest and 2. Dealing with an elusive defect, since phenol is not something that can visually be detected.


Curiosity as an Indicator of a Quality Mindset

There are many reasons we have confidently worked with the Carmo team over the years, above and beyond the awards and accolades their coffees and partners’ coffees have received throughout various cupping competitions year after year. Despite the fact that their reach (with the number of famer partners they work with) and the volume they export has grown exponentially, the team remains resolutely committed to being amongst the most innovative coffee exporters in the world. One example is their continued collaboration with Dr. Flávio Borém of Lavras University, a coffee scientist who studies everything from how microclimates impact cup quality to how different types of packaging (e.g. vacuum vs. grain pro) best contribute (or not) to a green coffee’s shelf life. He even recently published a very well-received book about the research he’s done on packaging, along with other findings on how post-harvest activities contribute to green coffee quality.

Actively engaging with, along with supporting, this kind of research is a marker of at least a savvy specialty coffee exporter. But actually contributing to specialty coffee development is a different category altogether and is an even bigger draw for us.

Luiz Paulo: Coffee Exporter, Experimenter, Maverick

One thing is supporting research efforts and using evidence-based knowledge in forming best coffee farming, milling and export practices. If an exporter were to stop here, it’d be safe to say that you’re working with a reliable and trustworthy partner. When that partner goes further and has ambitions to disruptand challenge basic assumptions about what a coffee sector can do, well, now we’re getting into straight-up maverick territory.

Brazil is known for being an efficient coffee producing country, but it’s no secret that it’s also perceived as being a bit of a boring origin with good but uninteresting coffees. Its well-developed infrastructure, professionally managed farms and high yielding trees are a double-edged sword within the specialty coffee community, which favours the most innovative, boutique and most unique. Perhaps there’s a way to achieve both?

Without giving too much away, since things are very much in the development stage, Luiz Paulo introduced us to some very promising and exciting experiments he’s conducting at his mother’s farm. He labels this series of projects “New Flavors” and it encompasses the latest innovations in processing and varieties. We’ve already selected and offered (based on blind cupping) two lots based on green/unripe coffee cherries that underwent special fermentation techniques to draw out more sugar content. These coffees cupped as well as many other pulped natural we’ve chosen and the fact that this technique can potentially add value to coffee that is normally discarded is an enticing prospect. Especially when the industry is faced with declining worldwide Arabica production due to the ever increasing consequences of climate change.

In two years, Luiz Paulo will be harvesting the first of the new varieties he’s been cultivating under New Flavors. Very much looking forward to cupping and sharing those with you in the near future!


Luiz Paulo with yellow bourbon 42, the very first strain of yellow bourbon produced in Brazil

Luiz Paulo with yellow bourbon 42, the very first strain of yellow bourbon produced in Brazil

What Makes a Great Origin Partner?

Ciro Lugo, Acevedo, Huila

Ciro Lugo, Acevedo, Huila

While in Colombia several weeks ago, David and I explored a new microregion that we have high hopes for working extensively with in the future: Acevedo, a municipality located in the southeast corner of the Huila department. When we originally made our travel plans, the idea was to travel when we could cup through the best of the main harvest, which usually takes place between May to July in South Colombia (‘mitaca’/fly is usually in November). But given the many and devastating effects of El Niño this year, the peak of harvest had not yet occurred. In many cases, farmers experienced little to no harvest at all during the main harvest period and were only starting to see mature cherries by the time we arrived in late August. We were presented with some excellent lots anyway, which are now making their way to our East Coast US warehouse in NJ, and this speaks to the quality of the producers we met throughout the week we spent in Acevedo.

We’ve met great people who have provided us with good to great coffees from various departments in Colombia throughout the years, but for one reason or another, we’ve had difficulty finding partners that are just the right fit for us. Colombia was a bit of an elusive origin for us until we started the wonderful partnership we’ve been developing with the always innovative and exceptional team at La Palma & El Túcan over the last two years. But given the boutique nature of their projects, we wanted to find an supplier/exporter who could provide us access to a larger group of small producers growing exceptional coffee with goal of working on a long-term basis.

New partnerships for us, while not always entered into slowly (though they sometimes are) are always very thoughtfully considered. We are not only looking for the best cups from one harvest; we are looking to invest our time and energy (and business) into teams who share our value of building long-term relationships based on mutually beneficial goals, such as understanding what quality is and all that it requires. Put in a different way: there’s a big difference between working with a supplier that will try to do whatever you ask in order to get your business, and one who has confidence, their own ambitions, and the knowledge they’re providing you with their very best efforts and coffee.

The Unsung Work of the Exporter

The work of the coffee grower is the focal point in almost all discussions about origin and coffee production. There are good and very obvious reasons for this. Some of our strongest partnerships are with the people who own/manage coffee plantations and we both love to highlight and want to share their work with as many roasters as we can reach.

In some cases, the most important partnership at an origin is with the exporter. Even in instances where the farm(er) is the basis for a relationship, the coffee simply wouldn’t reach us in the shape we expect if not for the work of a dedicated exporter. Sometimes the farmer and the exporter are one and the same but very often, they are separate. Just as we provide more than logistical services to roasters, exporters provide a vital and wide array of services both to us, as well as to the farmers we buy coffee from.


At its most basic, the work of the exporters we buy coffee from include quality control, packaging, and the organizing and handling of the export process. In several cases they do and have to be involved with much more, bringing me to the introduction to our new export partner in Acevedo.

Fairfield Trading

Alejandro Renjifo, Fairfield’s founder and president, has a background one might not expect from the person that led us along bumpy dirt roads for four hours every day during the week we toured in and around Acevedo meeting with potential (and in some cases now, actual) farmer partners. In his former career as a coffee economist, Alejandro held long stints at both the International Coffee Organization (ICO) and the Federación Nacionale de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC). One highlight from this past experience is that during his time with the FNC, he was the one to launch its specialty division for North America (!).

This background alone, while impressive, isn’t what inspires our confidence as a coffee importer. What has mostly struck us about the Fairfield team is that they value and have cultivated excellent palates as well as possess a keen sense for how to forge good and personal relations with each and every smallholder with which they work. Spending the first half of each day cupping the farmers’ coffees that we later visited, it was easy to see how much thought and planning had gone into each table and subsequent visit. It wasn’t just that the coffees presented matched the farmers we later visited; it was specifically that the coffees were so obviously targeted toward what the Fairfield team thought we’d be interested in both from a cup perspective, as well as the people who made the coffees likely being good matches for us on interpersonal levels.

Understanding and finding the balance between these two elements requires great skill.

Alejandro (L) with Ciro Lugo and Luis Anibal Calderon

Alejandro (L) with Ciro Lugo and Luis Anibal Calderon

Some of you reading this know that we are proud of the partnerships we’ve forged throughout the years with the farmers we work with in Santa Barbara, Honduras. All the coffees we buy from this microregion are consistently good to excellent and the transformations we see each year not only on the farms, but in the wider communities as a result of the investments our partners are able to make from the premiums we (you) pay, brings us and our partnering farmers endless pride and further drive to work even better.

The reason I bring up Santa Barbara here is because David had noted similarities with the people he met in Acevedo during his first visit in May, in terms of the atmosphere of the community and the people’s ambitions, to our partners in Santa Barbara. The idea that we could be at the beginning of this caliber of partnership in Acevedo is as exciting as it is motivating.

The CCS Acevedo Cup can’t come soon enough.