Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer of coffee beans, and, astonishingly, has been for approximately 150 years. It currently produces over a third of the global coffee bean production, which stood at around 9.5 million metric tonnes last year. Good quality Brazilian coffee is known around the world for it’s soft, sweet flavour with an almost chocolate-like aftertaste.
The best conditions for coffee plantations are in the south-east of the country, where the soil conditions and weather are favourable for the plant. The soil in this region has the correct balance of acidity and moisture to allow the coffee plants to flourish, and the amounts of sunshine and rainfall are perfect for the plants. Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, and Mundo Novo coffee varietals are grown in the states of Paraná, Espirito Santos, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Bahia. Historically, however, a few uncharacteristic summer frosts have devastated the yearly Brazilian coffee harvests, causing a doubling in coffee prices worldwide.
Brazil has approximately 220,000 coffee plantations which are usually harvested during Brazil’s dry season, between June and September. Usually, only one annual harvest is produced, after which the berries are dried in the sun, then the outer shells are removed and the beans are put into 60kg sacks. The bulk of the beans produced in Brazil are Arabica, with Robusta making up the remaining 30%.
Besides Brazil, other large-scale coffee producers include Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Honduras, but Brazil still dominates the global market today.
Contrary to popular belief, coffee is not actually native to Brazil and was brought there by travellers in the 18th century, the first plant being planted by Francisco de Melo Palheta in the state of Para in 1727.
According to the legend, the Portuguese were looking to find a way into the coffee business, but could not get the seeds from neighbouring French Guyana due to a diplomatic dispute. Palheta was sent to French Guiana on a diplomatic mission to resolve this argument. On his way back home, he managed to smuggle the seeds into Brazil by seducing the governor’s wife who secretly gave him a bouquet spiked with seeds.
Coffee spread from Pará, where it was first planted, and reached Rio de Janeiro in 1770, but was only produced for domestic consumption until the early 19th century when foreign demand increased, creating the first of two “coffee booms”. This boom continued for many years, and the coffee plantations grew very rapidly. In the 1840s, both the share of total exports and of world production reached 40%, making Brazil the largest coffee producer.
In the beginning, the coffee industry was heavily dependent on slave labour. More than 1.5 million slaves were working on Brazilian coffee plantations in the first half of the 19th century. When the foreign slave trade was outlawed in 1850, plantation owners began turning more and more to European immigrants to meet the demand of labour. Nonetheless, the use of slaves continued in Brazil until slavery was finally abolished in 1888.
There was then a second boom in Brazilian coffee production between the 1880s and 1930s, which coincided with a period of politics in Brazil known as cafécom leite (“coffee with milk”), as both the dairy and coffee industries were booming.
By the 1920s, Brazil had all but a monopoly on the global coffee trade, with over 80% of the market.
In the 1980s, when the International Coffee Organization and the Brazilian Institute do Caféset limits and quotas for the import and export of coffee, focus shifted from quality to quantity in the Brazilian coffee trade. Predictably, the quality of the product dropped. Arguments ensued, and in the mid 90’s the new government in Brazil infringed upon the share and security laws for both the coffee and sugar industry. This achieved an upheaval in how coffee was traded in Brazil paving the way for modernisation of the industry, and the opening up of a free market. It also prompted a return to good quality coffee production, which continues today.
Nowadays coffee remains an important export for Brazil but constitutes a far smaller proportion of their exports than it once did. Coffee made up 63.9% of Brazil’s exports in 1950, but this gradually declined to only 2.5% in 2006.
Brazil, however, continues to be the world’s largest producer and consumer of coffee beans, and for many coffee drinkers around the world, Brazilian coffee will be their preferred type.