Finding a Voice in Brazilian Coffee

By Caroline Hatchett

By

Caroline Hatchett
Selection of Brazilian Coffees from South Florida Roasters
Selection of Brazilian Coffees from South Florida Roasters

South Florida has a thing for Brazilian beans—it’s something that hit us while we were standing next to Roaster Joel Pollock, drinking a cup of Panther’s Fazenda Sertão. His old school Diedrich Perfekt was whirring in the background, a line formed out of the door of his Wynwood cafe, and the cup exhibited everything you could want from a pulped natural. It was juicy, red fruit-forward, bright, and clean. 

A few days before, Rising Star Roaster Brandon Wells told us about bags of Brazil he had just ordered from Ally, and Manny Carrera at Argyle served us a French press of his nutty, full-bodied Catui from Cerrado Mineiro. 

In most markets, specialty Brazils get boxed into espresso blends (80 percent by some estimates), lending their characteristic sweetness, chocolate and nutty notes, and soft mouthfeel to a shot. South Florida roasters use Brazils for espressos, too, but they’re also seeking out extra special Brazils that can stand alone as single origins. Take Scott Angelo at Oceana in north Palm Beach County. He initially brought Brazils into his program to work toward an Italian-style espresso, but later this year, he’s entering a Yellow Catuai from Chapadas de Minas into the U.S. Roaster Championship later this year.

Panther—with four cafes, national distribution, and a soon-to-open production facility—leads the South Florida market, and its founders’ knowledge and preferences have created a niche for singular Brazils. Pollock worked for years as a Brazilian green buyer, and his wife and business partner, Leticia Pollock, grew up in Brazil. “It was the coffee I knew best. You can taste single origin coffees from all over the world in the United States and Europe, but you can’t import coffees from other countries into a coffee-producing nation,” says Leticia Pollock. “In Brazil, I could really get into the specifics of micro-climates and varietals.”

The best beans coming out of Brazil are on par with any coffee growing region in the world. But they represent a fraction of the 60 million bags exported each year, most of which contain low-altitude commodity coffee. “There are tremendous volumes of coffee of questionable quality to wade through to get to the top lots, but once relationships are formed it becomes much less of an issue,” says Joel Pollock, who sources Panther’s beans at the farm level and brings them in through a third-party importer. 

Because commodity coffee is so integral to Brazil’s economy, the federal government and state universities devote resources to improving crops—and the knowledge trickles up to help benefit specialty farmers. “Brazil has first world infrastructure that helps coffee to move, plus a level of education and money that allows farmers to achieve high-quality results with higher yields,” says Joe Marrocco, senior sales associate and director of education for Cafe Imports. 

Still, Brazil gets a bad rap among specialty roasters, who either don’t have the relationships or have a hard time seeing duality in a market that’s dominated by Folgers-bound bags. Ally Coffee, a Fort Lauderdale-based importer that specializes in Brazils, is working to change that reputation. Ally has its own farms in Chapada de Minas (at an altitude of 900 to 1,100 meters) and works with farmers in other regions to bring specialty-grade beans to market. “Right now, you can find almost any flavor profile coming out of Brazil,” says Ricardo Pereira, Ally’s specialty coffee manager. Pereira recently hosted a blind cupping of seven Brazils for the Southeastern Roaster Consortium, and the roasters guessed Central America, Guatamala, Kenya, and Ethiopia as origins. “It’s time for people to explore and experiment with Brazil,” says Pereira. “In terms of coffee technology in development, production, and processing, Brazil is way ahead of many other countries.”

Marrocco thinks that roasters have been slow to warm to Brazil because the image of a businessman selling coffee doesn’t fit the sourcing romance that many third wave roasters value (or at least market). Leticia Pollock bristles at the idea: “What is romance? There are lots of growers who have been producing coffee for generations. They’re passionate. There are small farms, and big farms. They build smart, sustainable businesses, and provide for their families, workers, and communities. Small- and medium-sized towns survive because of coffee.”

South Florida seems more open than most U.S. markets to nuance yielded from regions like Carmo de Minas, Cerrado Mineiro, Chapadas de Minas. Whatever the reasons—the Pollocks’ infl uence, a general sense of openness, or the ease of boarding a plane for São Paolo from MIA—South Florida’s young coff ee scene is a bright spot for Brazils, six of which we assembled and tasted in our Brooklyn offi  ce. All are sold as single origins, with four of the six contributing to espresso blends (Argyle, Panther, Per’La, and Oceana’s Cerrado Mineiro). They represent a spectrum of Brazil’s potential. While all the coff ees presented natural sweetness, the nutty notes ranged from peanuts and roasted hazelnut to amaretto. We found notes of juicy orange, lemon, coconut, berries, and olives in the coff ees. We also tasted the roasters’ voices and perspectives through six distinct bags of Brazilian beans.

Argyle Coffee Roasters
Roaster:
Manny Carrera
Varietal: Catuai
Region and farm: Cerrado Mineiro, multiple farms
Tasting notes: Quintessential Brazil with bakers chocolate and hints of roasted peanuts and natural honey sweetness. Rich body with very low acidity.
Why this Brazilian: It has clean fl avor and consistency. The coff ee is also available almost year-round. We source from a local distributor who owns the farms, so there is more of connection between us and the farmer.

Panther Coffee
Roaster:
Joel Pollock
Varietal: Yellow Bourbon
Region and farm: Carmo de Minas, South Minas, Fazenda Sertão
Tasting notes: Juicy and sweet with chocolate fudge, amaretto, vanilla bean, coffee fruit, orange, and sugarcane. Rounded acidity and soft body
Why this Brazilian: I have been working with this group in various capacities for over 10 years, and we love the coff ee. This farm is also very special to us because it is just over two hours away by car from the house Leticia grew up in, and is, in fact, connected to the same mountain range that makes up the landscape of the valley of her home town. That range is called “Serra da Mantequera.”

Per'La Specialty Roasters
Roaster:
Paul Massard
Varietals: Bourbon and a Mondo Novo hybrid
Region and farms: Mogiana, Cooperativa de Cafeicultores e. Agropecuaristas, a collective of 2,000 farmers
Tatsing notes: Full-bodied with notes of roasted almonds, caramel, dark chocolate, and hazelnuts. Minimal acidity.
Why this Brazilian: I personally sourced this coffee for the last three years and am very pleased and astounded at the quality and consistency in the cup. It is used primarily as the backbone to our signature espresso blend because it gives our blend an elevated mouthfeel, along with notes of roasted hazelnut and chocolate. We feel that these notes help the espresso shot stand out when incorporated into a milk-based beverage.  

Oceana Coffee
Roaster:
Scott Angelo
Varietals: Mundo Novo, Yellow Catuai, Red Catuai
Region and farm: Cerrado Mineiro
Tasting Notes: More developed caramel, chocolate, and roasted almonds notes with hints of coconut and tropical fruit.
Why this Brazilian: One of the main reasons I brought Brazil into our line-up was for espresso, to use it as a component. It is very heavily used in Italy with their espresso blends, and my goal has been to get close to that blend. I lived in Italy for six months and loved the place: the coff ee, the food, the wine and the experience. 

Varietal: Yellow Catuai
Region and farm: Chapadas de Minas
Tasting notes: Juicy wine-like fragrance with lemon zip, light nuttiness, and round finish.
Why this Brazilian: We’re always looking to enhance the natural sweetness of Brazils. I am still dialing the Brazil Minas, getting it ready to enter the U.S. Roaster Championship.  

Wells Coffee Co.
Roaster:
Brandon Wells
Varietal: Red Bourbon
Region and farm: Cerrado Mineiro, single origin
Tasting notes: A sweet, lighter bodied cup with cherry-lime acidity, floral tea-like qualities, and a hint of olive and praline.
Why this Brazilian: This region’s plantations are known for their consistently high-quality coffees, and they’re “Origin and Quality Certified” by a regulatory board. Cerrado Mineiro has well defined seasons—a hot summer followed by a pleasantly dry winter—that ensure for us that this world-recognized origin lives up to its reputation.

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