Our latest Brazilian offering, the COCARIVE Natural Reserve comes from the mountains surrounding the town of Carmo de Minas in the southern state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. This natural processed lot of Mundo Novo, Acaia, and Yellow Bourbon type coffees showcases traditional dry processing with modern agronomic and selection techniques to produce a unique and memorable cup
Coffee production in Brazil is bifurcated between two distinct post harvest processing methods. Earlier in the year Brazil begins to ship and export pulped natural coffees, or coffees that have had some (but not all) of the fruit removed from the inner seed during processing. Later comes the naturals or dry processed coffees where the entire fruit is dried intact and removed later.
Natural processing dominated Brazil’s coffee exports for centuries, harkening back to the days when coffee was primarily grown as a commodity product, not for its distinct and beautiful cup qualities. Until the late 1980’s the Brazilian government regulated coffee production nationally, setting quotas for farmers as well as pricing that was based on broad categories of quality. This disincentivized the production of exceptional or unique coffees as coffee farmers received virtually the same price for the best portions of their crop as for the lower quality, while reducing their ability to meet the quota.
During the late 1990’s the coffee market became deregulated, adopting free trade principles that allowed coffee farmers to earn more money for higher quality coffees. This spurred a revolution in post harvest processing and sorting through increased mechanization. Increasing global demand for mild, sweet tasting coffees lead to investment in coffee mills to sort out under ripe, over ripe, and outright defective coffee fruit. The establishment of these sophisticated processing plants allowed for the introduction of mechanical pulping machines that further allowed for separation of under ripe fruit through mechanical means. Pulped natural processing also allows the coffee to dry faster, meaning it has less opportunity to develop off “fermented” flavors on the drying patio, further increasing the uniformity and potential quality of the crop.
The difference between pulped natural and dry processed natural coffees can be striking. The extended contact between the fruit and the seed during the relatively long drying times of naturals brings out sweet fruit- forward notes in the cup with rich body and deep complexity, while pulped naturals bring more brightness to the cup and maintain a sweet, rounded body, often at the expense of exotic fruity notes.
The relative ease of producing uniformly high quality pulped naturals has lead to their dominance in the specialty sector of the Brazilian coffee market. Producing high quality naturals requires an exceptional level of care through the drying process and extensive post harvest processing, either by hand or by mechanical color sorters. When done properly though a Brazilian natural is a real treat.
Our Brazil COCARIVE Natural Reserve is a great example of modern selection and growing techniques being used with traditional processing to produce an exceptional coffee. COCARIVE is a cooperative representing coffee farmers along the headwaters of the Rio Verde which springs from the Serra da Mantiqueira, a mountain range in Southeastern Brazil. This lot, which the co-op calls “Fruty” is a selection of the best natural processed coffees from member farms. While it doesn’t come from one specific farm, it is still considered a microlot, as only 1200 kg of it were produced.
The area round Carmo de Minas has some of the best coffee producing conditions in Brazil. Most coffee in Brazil is grown in the flatlands called the Cerrado at relatively low elevations. The mountainous Serra de Mantiqueira around Carmo is one of the notable exceptions to this rule with peaks up to 2300 meters tall. Due to the relatively cold climate there coffee grows only on the lower slopes of this range, but even this modest boost in elevation provides a noticeable increase in the density and acidity of coffees from this microregion.
These mountains also provide several advantages in terms of soil composition and hydrology. Much of Brazil is composed of soils that are geolocially old and depleted of their nutrients, normally only able to support extensive grasslands without the use of nutritional inputs. The Serra de Mantiqueira represents a geologic up thrust, with less weathered bedrock exposed, providing mineral rich soils that support some of the few natural upland forests in Brazil. Additionally this barrier mountain range traps moisture rich winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean, causing it to fall as rain in the highlands, feeding the region’s rivers, streams, and natural springs.
JC Coffees imported this lot into the United States. Owned by Sergio Junqueria Dias and Ibraim Chaib de Sousa, two member farmers of COCARIVE, JC imports coffees from both the two owner’s farms (Condado and Canaan Estates) as well as other co-op member’s farms. Sergio spends a portion of the year in Seattle while his brother in law Ibraim spends the majority of his time in Brazil, managing the family’s farms. While here in the United States Sergio puts cooperative members in touch with roasters like Water Avenue Coffee, and helps to facilitate transactions between COCARIVE and the roasters.
This is one of those cups that can change the way you think about coffee from Brazil. It brings the nutty, chocolaty flavors present in the country’s best lots, but also features a distinct fruitiness. Notes of sweet almond paste and toasted sesame are balanced by tangy dried fruit flavors like dried cherry and cranberry tartness with hints of pleasant oak like characteristics. This is a very balanced and complex cup that has something for every coffee drinker’s palate. Look for it in our café, our online store, and with select wholesale partners.