About one-third of all of the world’s coffee is grown in Brazil, and much of Brazil’s premium coffee is labeled Santos after the port it is shipped through. Brazil is the largest exporter in the world, supplying approximately 60% of the world’s coffee – this is due in part to the sheer size of the country. While Brazil is a prolific exporter, it’s average elevation for coffee production is only about 1,100 meters. This qualifies most of it as High Grown Coffee (900-1,200 meters), but some crops certainly fall below that threshold.
Many high quality espresso blends are made from either Bourbon Santos or Brazil Cerrado due to the ability of Brazilian coffees to take dark roasts without turning overly bitter. This is due in part to the mild, balance flavour of Brazilian coffee beans.
Altitude Range: 400 – 1,600 meters above sea levelLanguage Spoken: Portuguese, English, SpanishHarvest: May – SeptemberAnnual Coffee Production: 40 – 60 million bagsCommon Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Catuai, and more
Best Brazilian Coffee Qualities
A good Brazil coffee has a relatively low acidity, and exhibits a nutty sweet flavor, often bittersweet with a chocolaty roast taste. Most unroasted Brazilian green coffee is dry processed (unwashed; natural).
The most favourable quality of a Brazilian coffee is its price – but after that, the mildness helps to balance out more intense coffee beans, making it a feature of many blends.
Roasting Brazilian Coffees
Quality Standards for Coffee in Brazil
Generally speaking, the majority of coffee grown in Brazil is common low-altitude, low-grade Arabica – not bad, but unlikely to be considered a premium gourmet coffee. Those who enjoy a smooth, mild cup of coffee would tend towards Brazilian beans, and it is frequently used in blends by coffee companies to mellow out the flavour profile.
Recent efforts by the Brazilian government have sought to change that perception and rebrand Brazil as a specialty coffee. Organic and Fair Trade certified coffee originating from Brazil are becoming more common.
Because of the relatively lower elevations in Brazil, only very rarely is there Brazilian coffee available as Strictly High Grown (SHG), a title reserved the best beans in the world. While snobs may not appreciate this, Brazil coffees shouldn’t be overlooked, as their smooth flavor make a great cup.
Changes in the Brazilian Coffee Industry
Improvements in cultivation methods and green coffee processing, however, may not be enough to overcome the fact that the country’s non-volcanic soil is less than ideal for growing coffee, as are the lower-than-optimal growing elevations (most of the world’s fine Arabica coffees are grown at higher elevations).
That said, it should be known that Brazil does grow some great green coffee. A well-oiled exporting machine means that brokers always have green coffees on offer to wholesalers, distributors and importers in North America and Canada. Brazil coffee is the dominant coffee in blends provided by the biggest roasting companies, and also the main bean used in packaged coffees.
Brazilian Coffee Beans in Espresso
Furthermore, if you order an espresso or an espresso drink at your local coffeehouse, there is probably a predominance of coffee from Brazil in the grounds used – often up to 90% of the coffee in an espresso blend is from Brazil.
Prime Coffee Growing Regions in Brazil
Microclimates within certain regions of Brazil can produce some outstanding coffees. In particular, some specific areas within Cerrado, Matas de Minas, Mogiana, and Sul de Minas regions are known to cultivate excellent coffee.
Bourbon Santos Coffee Farming
Most Bourbon Santos is grown at elevations from 2,000 to 4,000 feet in northern Minas Gerais or in the State of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, and is distinguished by its smooth and mild flavors, often sweet and nutty.
Bourbon Santos Coffee Characteristics
A good Brazilian Bourbon Santos has a light to medium body, yields a low acidity, and has a very pleasant aroma. The Bourbon coffee plant varietal (Coffea arabica var. bourbon) tends to produce coffees that are fruiter and brighter (more acidic) than other Brazil coffees.
The low acidity of Brazilian Bourbon Santos derives from the region’s lower growing elevations compared to areas such as Central America where higher elevation plantations (e.g., 5,000 feet above sea level) produce premium gourmet coffees that are brighter (higher acidity).
Brazilian Coffee Growing History
The story of coffee in Brazil begins with an intriguing tale involving a Brazilian lieutenant and his liaison with a Guiana governor’s wife who secretly gave him coffee cuttings in a bouquet of flowers.