Head Roaster, David Faulkners Journey to Brazil & Colombia……
A few months back we lost our head roaster to the pull of South America. Witnessing first hand coffee farming, picking, processing, grading and of course cupping at source, Dave was able to visit farms we knew, and some we didn’t, to expand Extract’s knowledge of the coffee journey; also to build relationships with the people we rely on everyday to bring us great crops, and you your coffee fix! After a crazy summer of roasting and blending, its time to reflect on Dave’s trip and hopefully bring some amazing new coffees to the table.
‘The first stop was Fazenda Ouro Verde in the Cerrado, Minas Gerais, Brazil. After the obligatory pose of coffee roaster next to coffee farm, farm sign, coffee plant, coffee farmer… I was hit by the heavy ferment of the naturals on the drying patios, it reminded me of wineries I’d visited in Capetown. We were told that pulped natural production was on the increase as it attracted more demand and higher prices. I was handed some cherries from the nearest coffee plant to eat and was amazed by the difference in taste between each varietal. The mechanisation of the farm, whilst impressive, also came as a surprise, but this appears to be fairly common in Brazil, and one of the main reasons that Brazilian coffee exports are so cost effective. There was a guy on a home made mechanical coffee turning machine that I loved watching, it definitely looked like something Extract would have cooked up to sort the job!
The mission that followed was getting to the next farm, Fazenda Pantano, close to the small town of Patos de Minas. On dry clay roads that had been partially washed away, I was ready to loose my composure in a 4×4 at breakneck speeds. But I was soon distracted by a tour of this second farm, a real contrast to the last, with a much larger production site, pulping machine, African drying beds, offices and a lab. The farmer, Wagner Ferrero, told us how the farm boasts 148 different coffee varietals, some still in the early experimental stages. The regimented attention to detail of the micro-lots is exciting and trials are being run on multiple drying methods, and rare – hybrid coffee varietals. Unsurprisingly, in the cupping lab, the coffees did not disappoint. We were served young cheese curds and fudge alongside very strong, very sweet, black coffee – which seems at odds to the amazing coffees we cupped. However, I’d be really excited to work with this farm in the near future.
The following day held another hair raising car journey down a dirt road. At the end, was a fantastic tropical looking farm – Colonia Agricola. Here, we met Marcus, the farmer, and his family. He talked to us about the farm and the varietals grown there (mostly Yellow Catuai) – whilst I tuck in to some of the juiciest star fruit and tangerines fresh off the branch! We were proudly shown round the farm, both to the new plants and on to the fruiting trees. At the drying patios I got to give the pulped natural a turn.
The final farm of the day is MNK State Coffee, which has its own sorting and grading system which was really interesting to see. The sounds of the machinery were deafening and the dust, exhausting. But what is produced is fascinating – high grade coffee one side, twigs the other! Another reason why Brazilian coffees are so competitive.
The second part of our journey began the next morning aboard a flight to Bogata, Colombia. (After 14 hours via Sao Paulo!) After a days rest, we boarded a tiny propellered plane with a Colombian coffee exporter from VIRMAX to the Huila region. The cupping at Virmax is very impressive, there was even a defect coffee on the table that I missed first slurp round, much to the amusement of everyone present. We are taken through the Colombian coffee process and the role that Virmax play in this. They have set up a promotional program to help farmers improve farming and processing methods. The quality of the coffee in the region is increasing and in turn the farmers are earning higher scores for the coffee they produce, which means higher returns for their hard work. There is a strict grading and cupping protocol, and the coffees with the highest scores will be exported as micro-lots and ones with a lower score are placed into blends AAA/AA/A. Those that fail to meet the grade are not sold on by Virmax.
The final day of farm visits takes us to Villa Esperanza. The journey begins on a tarmac road, to my delight, but this is soon dashed by a quick turn off-road onto yet another hairy dirt track. Its pouring with rain, and the drive takes us to 1730m above sea level, over a stunning mountain range. Either side of the 4×4 the track disappears downwards to what looks like nothing beneath. The first farm is down a sharp descent, so it was on foot from here. I was relieved to arrive to a warm welcome from the family of farmers, and we were quickly joined by neighbouring families and the atmosphere started to feel pretty festive. As soon as we arrived we were thrust a cup of super sweet black coffee and were proudly shown around the wet mill and new fermentation tanks they are building. We were also given an extensive tour of the whole farm, which embarassingly, takes even longer to translate for me!’
The trip really demonstrated the contrasts between these coffee growing cultures, which is reflected in the difference in coffees we’ve been buying from them over the past few years. The trip was, if anything, too short. The dirt tracks were long, and the chicken feet stew a little too free flowing… but Extract have definitely got some exciting prospects ahead as we start to team up with farms and bring exciting new coffees to the roastery.
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