Brazil: Climate Change and Coffee (Part 1)

By Eton Tsuno, Temple Director of Coffee

This year, my time spent in Brazil was focused on the state of Espirito Santo and more specifically, the town of Pedro Azul. I focused on this area for two reasons: one of our most fascinating producing partners, Fazenda Camocim, is here, and that I believe climate change has been affecting the cup profiles of Brazil. Both of these things are intertwined, yet separate.

Let’s start with what I believe is beginning to happen to the cup profiles of Brazilian coffee and circle back to Fazenda Camocim in the end.

Brazil has been in drought from 2014-2017, I will preface this with an excerpt from the all-knowing Wikipedia. Keep in mind that the Minas Gerais state produces slightly more than half of Brazil’s approximately 50 million 132 pound bag Arabica production, the rest coming from Sao Paulo, Parana, Espirito Santo, and Bahia very roughly in that order of production. All of these states would be considered Eastern Brazil, ranging from South to North.

From Wikipedia:

“The 2014–17 Brazilian drought is a severe drought affecting the southeast of Brazil including the metropolitan areas of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In São Paulo, it has been described as the worst drought in 80 years.(1) The city of São Paulo appeared to be affected the most and by the beginning of February many of its residents were subjected to sporadic water cutoffs.(2) Rain at the end of 2015 and in early 2016 brought relief, however, long term problems in water supply remain in São Paulo state.(3) Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo still being affected by drought in 2016 due to the 2014–16 El Niño event. In these areas the rains are irregular since 2014 and the drought worsened from 2015.(4)(5)(6) In 2017, the rains remained extremely irregular in Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo and most parts of the regions Central-West and Northeast. This is the worst drought in Brazil in the last 100 years, according to the O Estado de S. Paulo in September 2017.(7)

Due to drought and climate change, I believe the flavor profiles of growing regions in Brazil are changing. Areas that were more arid are increasingly arid, and growing regions that were historically wetter and colder due to rainfall, elevation, and location are becoming more arid. If I were to generalize growing regions in Brazil from dry to wet, hot to cold, and flavor profiles it would look something like this:

Cerrado, Minas Gerais

● Classic Brazil; arid, historically very clear definition between rainy season and non-rainy seasons. Non-rainy seasons are hot and dry lending to nearly 100% natural processed coffee. Nutty,chocolate, slightly citric. The best coffees having highly focused citric and brown sugar flavors with subtle florals and peach-like additions.

South Minas Gerais

● Slightly slower maturation of coffee when compared to Cerrado. Good definition between rainy and non-rainy seasons. Non-rainy season can still have some precipitation, fog, and moist nights and mornings. Produces both natural and pulped natural coffees. Nutty, chocolate, citric, some fruit notes towards stone fruit and plums. The best coffees often offer concentrated sweetness leaning towards cola, raisins, prunes, and dates.