In just ten years, we will celebrate 300 years of Brazilian coffee. For more than half of that time, Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee producer. The U.S. state of Maryland is not large enough to contain all the coffee plants in Brazil, even if every inch of the state was growing coffee. Over 300,000 coffee farms in 2,000 cities grow coffee in Brazil.
Given such a long held title, it may come as a surprise that Americans, or “colonists,” had been drinking coffee for fifty years before the first coffee seed was planted in one of Portugal’s own colonies not far from the Amazon river in 1727. A hundred years later, Brazil accounted for 30 percent of the world’s coffee supply. A hundred years after that, in the 1920’s, Brazil held a virtual monopoly, producing 80 percent of the world’s coffee.
Although Brazil’s market share peaked at 80 percent 90 years ago, its continuing status as the world’s largest coffee producer gave the country considerable influence on the market over the years, including the ability to affect pricing, intentionally and unintentionally. It is often noted that when Brazil sneezes, the coffee world catches cold. On July 18, 1975, Brazil sneezed. A “black frost” destroyed over 70 percent of the crop and as a result coffee prices doubled world-wide.
But Brazil’s influence over the years also took the form of leadership in scientific research and promotion. Brazil was a founding leader of the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, which can be credited with inventing the idea of taking a “coffee break,” with an ad campaign created in the early 1950’s.
Internal deregulation and the collapse of formal agreements among coffee producing countries brought a virtual end to Brazil’s ability to structurally affect coffee pricing, but the coffee industry in Brazil took up the challenge of a new era. Brazil introduced a very successful internal consumption campaign, the first of its kind in a coffee growing country, that encouraged Brazilians to drink more coffee and decrease the country’s export dependence. Internal consumption grew from 8.2 million bags in 1990 to 20 million bags in 2012. Still, most Brazilians, with some exceptions inside large cities, are drinking coffees below export grade, causing them to adopt an old saying of unknown origin when they add sugar and cream to their coffee: “Life is bitter enough.” Nevertheless, Brazil’s per capita consumption of coffee is now greater than that of the United States.
The 1990’s also saw the beginnings of a slow but steady rise in the number of Brazilian coffee producers focused on quality over quantity, a trend that has continued for 20 years. Thirty years ago, the idea of high quality coffee from Brazil would have been met with skepticism. Undaunted, a group of 12 coffee producers from South of Minas founded the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association in 1991 and began promoting quality. As consumption of specialty coffee increased around the world, demonstrating that coffee drinkers were willing to pay for higher quality, the pursuit of specialty grade coffees in Brazil was here to stay.
Olam has had a presence in Brazil for 15 years and entered the coffee sector in 2004, growing quickly to become one of the largest players in the traditional coffee space. Rahul Banka, Vice President for Olam Coffee in Brazil, says there are many reasons for this success. “First, we have a passionate coffee team,” says Banka. “Their eye for detail, their trading prowess, and their insights into the dynamics of supply and demand are unmatched in the region.”
With a strong team in place and a growing track record for successful execution and an efficient coffee infrastructure already in place, Banka began to explore Brazil’s emerging specialty coffee sector. Olam sourced it first Brazilian specialty coffees in 2012, and introduced the Eagle specialty brand in 2014. These efforts were very successful, so Olam’s Brazil leadership decided it was time to make a larger commitment. In 2016, Banka spearheaded the launch of a Specialty Coffee Division within Olam Coffee Brazil. Coffee veteran and Brazilian coffee industry expert, Nelson Carvalhaes, was brought in to lead the Specialty Coffee Division.
The new division has been busy. Over eight months, Olam Specialty Coffee customers have been introduced to a number of new specialty brands from Brazil, including Eagle Monte Carmelo, Eagle Sul de Minas, Eagle Bahia, and finally, Eagle Espresso and Eagle Mogiana, both currently on offer.
The specialty team used coffees from the Minas region with cocoa and toffee notes to develop a unique green coffee blend designed for espresso under the Eagle brand. Eagle Mogiana is a sweet and structured natural blend of hand-picked farms created with consistency in mind, and works well as an espresso component or single origin.
The Specialty division is also keeping pace with the needs of specialty roasters with bourbon, honey coffee, and highland varieties. But the greatest signal of Olam’s commitment to specialty coffee in Brazil is the opening in December of 2016 of a new coffee lab where the focus is not only quality control, but innovation.
The specialty coffee eagle had landed at Olam Coffee Brazil.