Origin Spotlight – Our Coffees (Brazil)

By Alma Likic, Marketing Manager, PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member

Alma Likic, Marketing Manager at PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member, interviewed Nathalia Martins Azzi, a second-generation coffee grower and exporter at Our Coffees, for a discussion about the history of the company and the current coffee growing situation Brazil. 

First, a little history about Brazilian coffee:

Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee grower and producer for more than 150 years. The first coffee bush in Brazil was planted by Lieutenant Francisco de Melo Palheta in 1727. According to the legend, the Portuguese were looking for a cut of the coffee market but could not obtain seeds from bordering French Guiana, due to the governor’s unwillingness to export the seeds. Lieutenant Palheta was sent to French Guiana on a diplomatic mission to resolve a border dispute when he seduced the Guianese’s governor’s wife who secretly gave him a bouquet spiked with seeds which he was able to smuggle across the border. Coffee was then spread from northern Brazil to the mountainous southeastern states where it thrived because of the temperature, heavy rainfall, and a distinctive dry season which provided optimum conditions for its growth.

Brazil’s 7,844,000,000 pounds of coffee grown each year (80% of which is arabica) make up 30% of the world’s supply, but an astounding third stays in the country. This does not come as a surprise as 98% of Brazilian households drink coffee.

A coffee powerhouse with incredibly diverse coffee options from basic commodity coffee to the world-stunning specialty coffee offers different varieties, some natural, some hybrid, some cultivated in a lab—designed for specific climate conditions including Mundo Novo, Yellow Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai.

Brazilian coffee is processed by the wet (washed), dry (natural), semi-washed (pulped natural), and recently emerged re-passed (raisins) methods. Most coffee beans are still processed with dry method since Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that has the appropriate weather to do so successfully.

Our Coffees “Coffee Lab”

Wet (washed): This process is used to remove the four layers surrounding the coffee bean. It is done in small portions. The coffee beans using this method are cleaner, vibrant, and fruitier.

Dry (natural): The coffee cherries are placed in the water, and those floating are removed. The remaining coffee cherries are dried in concrete slabs. The coffee beans in this process are heavy-bodied, sweet, smooth, and complex.

Semi-washed (Pulped natural): This method involves pulping the coffee but skipping the fermentation phase to remove the skin. Thus, the coffee beans in this method gain the characteristics of coffee beans, which had undergone the dry and wet processes.

Re-passed (raisins). In this process, the coffee cherry floaters –(typically coffee beans that have dried on the tree)- float to the surface and are then discarded from the rest. The coffee beans in this method are much sweeter than the traditional pulped coffee.

  • Flavor: Complex, earth, spice, sweet, gentle acidity, lime, wine, floral
  • Processing: Natural, Pulp Natural, Honey, Washed
  • Main Growing Regions: Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, São Paulo, Bahia
  • Harvest: April to September

Tell us about family history / farm?

José Maria comes from a deep-rooted history of coffee tradition. As a boy, his grandfather had a small coffee farm where his father and uncles used to work. José has many great memories of picking cherries with his family and playing around the coffee trees with his grandfather. In pursuit of a better life, at the age of seventeen, José Maria moved to the city of Belo Horizonte. However, after a few years, Jose decided to carry on family tradition of growing coffee, moved back to Campos Altos, and bought a farm in 2008. The company started exporting coffee in 2013. In order to offer good quality coffee and allow traceability, the business focused on implementing vertically integrated business model. Today, aside from growing coffee, the company offers wet milling process, dry milling process, warehousing, exporting, importing in other countries and wholesalers around the world.  

Our Coffees Farm

– Can you take us through the journey from cup to seed? What makes Brazilian coffee unique/special?

Brazilian Coffee is unique because of its quality. It is a result of continuous technological advances that help producers grow good quality coffee. Post-harvest process plays an essential role. We invest in technology and new methods including experimental fermentations, taking care of the beans in the drying process and then resting it. This ensures good quality and makes all the difference in the process. Having great varieties is important, but a complex post-harvest process takes it to the next level of quality.

Our Coffees Farm

– What is the socio-economic situation in Brazil? How is the coffee growing and exporting affected?

The Brazil socio-economic situation is complex. The country has a big source of economic production such as agriculture, mining, food production, meat production, manufacturing, and industrial goods exporting. Coffee growing has been affected by the higher prices of fuel, cost of farming machinery and supplies, and due to worker equity rules, which we take very seriously. For the past 5 years, Brazil has experienced a trade surplus making it hard to get space and availability on vessels to export.

– What is the impact of Covid on coffee growers and exporters?

Covid 19 greatly impacted the coffee industry and our customers felt completely lost with no expectation of the future. Coffee shops closed, news about lockdowns changed daily, restriction implemented, and economic reopening was unclear. As a result, our customers stopped buying green coffee, causing many coffee growers and exporters cashflow problems.

-Tell us about your experience with NCA.

NCA meetings are always great, we can meet everyone from the industry, and it is very helpful to talk about the market. NCA is a reliable source of information that helps us make better decisions about our business.

-What would be your advice to new Next Gen members?

Participate in the events, participate in seminars, webinars and courses. Knowledge and networking make a great difference in the coffee business. The coffee industry is all about relationship building.

Origin Spotlight: Basilio Fuscich, Green Coffee Trader, Co. Honducafé

Bent Dietrich Jr, Coffee Trader at American Coffee Corporation, chatted with Basilio Fusich, trader at the renowned and highly-regarded Cohonducafé. A coffee exporter in Honduras, Cohonducafé leverages its local knowledge and relationships to share Honduran coffee with every corner of the globe. 

The interview below has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.  

Basilio representing Cohonducafe at a trade show.

When was Co. Honducafe founded? How did you get your start in the coffee industry and at Co. Honducafe? 

November 1999. Coffee has always been part of my life. Ever since I was a kid, coffee has been a topic of conversation. I officially began to work at Honducafe right after I finished my master’s degree in Coffee Economics and Science from Universita del Caffé in Illy in Trieste, Italy. 

What is the current socio-economic climate for coffee growers, exporters, and stakeholders in Honduras? 

These last couple of years have been very harsh for all parties involved. Back in the 2018/2019 crop, the market was below levels of $100, then during COVID-19 came the 2019/2020 crop, and then we had hurricanes Eta and Iota in [the span of] 15 days for crop 2020/2021 — and are still suffering from the pandemic. Ever since I began in the industry, the country has been climbing uphill every year to be able to export its crop. 

What are the biggest challenges young members of the coffee industry face in Honduras? 

There is already a lot of competition in the industry and adding the hardships of COVID-19 will make it more challenging. The reason I mention Covid is that the economic impact on small businesses here will be very long term. The economy is extremely dependent on coffee and any changes to the supply chain pressure the entire economy. 

The freight rates are increasing, causing all our necessary goods to [go up in price] rapidly. At the end of the day, younger and newer farmers are more susceptible cost increases. The real challenge will be keeping younger people engaged in the industry long-term. 

Does Co. Honducafe have any sustainability initiatives in Honduras you are particularly proud of? 

We have Fundacion Co. Honducafe, a non-profit organization that promotes the development and improvement of the coffee sector by promoting and supporting initiatives that promote productivity, economic growth, social responsibility and care for the environment.  

We have numerous projects with many clients around the world that have built schools in coffee producing areas in Honduras.  

We have seen the market rally from around $150 recently to almost $220 and back. For this year, how do you think it will impact Honduran producers? You mentioned previously it was an election year, and coming off last year’s hurricane, there must be many concerns for the industry?  

It would have been great for the producers to have these levels at the beginning of the 2019/2020 crop so that they can receive more money and invest in their farms. The timing limited the opportunity for producers to take advantage of the higher prices. We are hoping that this year everything goes smoothly and the industry can work without interruptions from political and natural events. 

What do you think NCA Next Gen members should really know about Honduras, and the future of coffee in Honduras? 

I invite them to get to know more about  our coffee. We have excellent quality that can be promoted in the highest markets of the industry.         

Any advice for young people in coffee on growing in the industry? 

My advice is to continue the good work that is being done, and always be on the lookout for new technologies that will make coffee growing more efficient and sustainable. Through our foundation, we partner with farmers and producers to continually explore new technologies and inputs to increase their yields and profitability.  

What has your experience been working with the NCA? 

My experience has been great. It has given me the opportunity to seek new customers and build my network of clients. 

Finally, what is your favorite way to consume a cup of coffee?  

I will sound boring, but my favorite way to consume my multiple cups of coffee during the day is Americano with no sugar. Especially freshly roasted from my grandfather’s farm. 

Origin Spotlight: Ethiopia

By Alma Likic, Marketing Manager, PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member

Recently, Alma Likic, Marketing Manager at PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member, interviewed Yisehak Awel, a third-generation coffee grower and exporter from Mullege Coffee, for a discussion about the history of his company and the current coffee growing situation in his home country. 

But first, a little history about Ethiopian coffee:

Ethiopia has long been considered the place of coffee origin. According to legend, a goat herding monk noticed that when his herd was nibbling on the bright red berries of a certain tree, they became more energetic (“jumping goats”). The goatherder chewed the fruit himself and confirmed his discovery, which he then shared with others at the monastery. The rest is history: Word of this energizing bean spread, and by the 15th century, coffee was being sipped across the Arabian Peninsula, making its way to Europe by the 17th century and soon spreading around the world. To this day, coffee is critical to Ethiopia, accounting for 70% of all its export revenues and employing 15 million Ethiopians.

The flavors of Ethiopian coffee are notably diverse – from citrus, bergamot, and florals, to candied fruit and even tropical fruit flavors. It’s principle coffee-growing regions can be divided into the following: Sidama/Sidamo, Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Limu, Jima, and Ghimbi/Lekempti.

There are three coffee production systems used in Ethiopia: Forest Coffees, where wild-grown coffee is harvested by the local population; Garden Coffees, grown in small holder plots around homestead or other dwellings along with other crops; and Plantation Coffees, a very small percentage of Ethiopian coffee, grown on large estates.

The following interview with Yisehak Awel has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Yisehak Awel

How did Mullege Coffee come to be?

My grandfather, Awel, started Mullege Coffee PLC in 1953. His beginnings were humbling as a lone farmer within the confines of small city called Areka in the southern part of Ethiopia. His big ideas weren’t as restrained as his economic situation for which he found a solution; He started as a farmer selling to wet mill owners. To increase sales, he managed to negotiate with other farmers to buy their red cherry coffee to expand and diversify his product line, having an advantage and opportunity to grow. He did that long enough to be able to own his own washing station and buy from multiple red cherry farmers in southern Ethiopia to sell parchment coffee directly to the exporters. And by 1996, thirty-three years after its inception, and with my father, Mustapha, joining the family business, Mullege Coffee started selling coffee directly to the European market.

“Joining the NCA is worth for me to take a 16 hour flight every year for this 3 day event.”

-Yisehak Awel

What is the socio-economic situation in Ethiopia?

The socio-economic status in Ethiopia may not be ideal, but through farmers’ growth in wages, there is some optimism of that continuous growth in the years to come. The productivity is still at an infancy stage. The most common farm size is 1.98 acres, limiting each farmer’s opportunities. Farmers’ inability to scale their crops encumbers growth at a more rapid pace, which ultimately affects their overall income. Despite this, the small but steady growth over the last decade has given everyone a glimmer of hope to see more significant changes to the country’s infrastructure to improve the lives of farmers.

What are the biggest challenges for young Ethiopian coffee producers? The greatest opportunities?

Scale of production is a major challenge. Most young farmers inherited land from their parents which they share amongst their siblings. Farm lot sizes are extremely small ranging from 1.5 to 5 acres of land. Therefore, the cost of production is high due to low output. However, there are tremendous opportunities in diversifying crops.  Avocado trees are used as a shade tree for coffee. There is an increase of demand for Avocado fresh fruits and avocado oil for both local and international markets.

Is there a sense of excitement about coffee for young producers?

Not quite. Young people want to work in an urban environment and pursue careers or entrepreneurship.

What is coffee consumption like among producers? 

Ethiopia consumes more than 50% of its production. Coffee is a ritual and part of our lifestyle. Majority of young people consume coffee.

How do young coffee producers view sustainability in coffee?

There isn’t enough awareness when it comes to sustainability of coffee among young producers. Those who are aware challenge the logic of sustainability since the monetary return is low. I’ve had a farmer who said to me “we barely have enough to produce let alone to sustain.”

Any current events/forces outside of coffee affection young coffee producers in Ethiopia?

Urban migration is a main factor affecting young coffee producers. There numerous industrial projects coffee growing region by local and international investors. Wages are very attractive and young people prefer the urban lifestyle.

Any message to your Next Gen counterparts in North America?

The perspective and perception of farmers has already changed. Farmers are aware and exposed to what’s happening in the global coffee value chain. As young coffee professionals in consuming countries you have different challenge than your predecessors; we all need to come together to convince coffee farmers to keep producing coffee.

What is the impact of Covid-19 on coffee growers and exporters?

As exporters, we have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19, but we’ve still managed to sustain during these unfortunate times. One of the reasons is because we serve the international market as well as the local market. And the local market has not been affected as much. Ethiopia consumes over 50% of the coffee produced. Coffee growers and exporters have been able to maintain their local customer base. Additionally, the government has provided incentives to farmers with a goal to increase farmland for coffee growers in certain areas like Jimma and Leemu, which will contribute to increase in farmers’ output.  Because of the mass consumption of coffee locally and government initiatives to sustain farmers, coffee growers have been able to weather this storm.

How would you describe your experience with NCA (events) to young professionals looking to join?

I have been attending NCA events since 2013. The contents of the presentations are very insightful and informative about the coffee industry. It is by far the best event for networking with potential clients, industry experts, and catching up with colleagues from the entire coffee supply chain. In the past few years NCA has focused on engaging young coffee professionals with the Next Gen initiative. Joining the NCA is worth for me to take a 16 hour flight every year for this 3 day event.