Brazilian Coffee: The Complete Buying Guide for 2023

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Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. He started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Now on a road trip from the U.S. to Brazil, Alex visits coffee farms and shares his firsthand experience from field visits.


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Do you want to know more about buying coffee from the world’s biggest coffee producer and exporter? 

Brazil is home to some of the most popular coffee around the world. With its usual full-bodied, sweet profile with notes of chocolate and nuts, it’s no wonder why so many people love Brazilian coffee.

In this Brazilian coffee guide, we discuss everything from the history of coffee in Brazil and where it grows, to commonly used processing methods and tasting notes. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s get into it!

Key Takeaways

  • Brazil is the biggest coffee exporter in the world (producing about a third of all coffee).
  • Brazilian coffee usually has a full body, rich sweetness, and notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel.
  • Minas Gerais is the largest coffee-growing state in Brazil, producing about half of the country’s coffee.
  • Common coffee varieties are Bourbon, Catuaí, Acaiá, and Mundo Novo.
  • The natural or “dry” method is the most common way to process coffee in Brazil.

Facts About Brazilian Coffee

Coffee Production in Brazil

Brazilian coffee is popular due to its accessible flavor profile. Many people love the full body and rich sweetness that accompany notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel. These flavors work great in blends and for espresso, and you will find coffee from Brazil exported all over the world.

Today, Brazil produces about a third of the world’s coffee. With about 63.4 million 60-kg bags produced in 2020 alone, Brazil continues to remain the largest coffee-producing country. (1) Vietnam comes in as runner-up at 29 million bags, with Colombia in third at 14.3 million bags.

coffee-farms-in-brazil

The scale of coffee production in Brazil is massive. Its climate and altitude lend themselves well to both Arabica and Robusta coffee plants, something other countries rarely benefit from.

About 70% of production is with Arabica, while 30% remains with Robusta.

The three states that produce the most coffee are Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, and São Paulo. There are around 220,000 coffee farms occupying over 10,000 square miles (27,000 square kilometers) across the country, ranging from small family farms under 10 hectares to massive estates. (2)

History of Brazilian Coffee

Even though coffee is such a large part of Brazilian culture and production, coffee plants aren’t native to Brazil. 

In 1727, a Portuguese diplomat named Francisco de Melo Palheta introduced coffee seeds into Brazil. The Portuguese were trying to buy seeds from French Guiana for several years, but the Governor of French Guiana had a ban on exporting coffee.

It’s rumored that Francisco was then sent to French Guiana to resolve a border dispute, but during this time he developed a secret relationship with the Governor’s wife.

As a gift when he left, the wife gave Francisco a bouquet of flowers with coffee seeds hidden within.

Once Francisco arrived in Brazil, he planted the first seeds in Pará that would then spread coffee further south throughout the country.

While this myth is romantic, one of the biggest reasons for coffee spreading so well throughout Brazil is not. Since slavery was only abolished in 1888 (3), slave labor enabled the rapid growth of the coffee industry.

Coffee reached the state of Rio de Janeiro by 1770, and the increase in immigration during the 1800s brought even more paid workers to the fields. Coffee production just kept increasing over the years.

Fast forward to the 1900s, and coffee production is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, Brazil’s climate is subject to occasional freezing temperatures. In 1975, the major frost known as the Black Frost wiped out a majority of the coffee plants. 

Because Brazil was and continues to be such a massive producer and export of coffee, global prices fluctuated for the next two years until production started to get better. Two more frosts occurred in 1994 that reduced production by 50-80% and disrupted the global coffee market.

What is So Special About Brazilian Coffee?

Most large producers and exporters of coffee don’t tend to have a large coffee-consuming culture. Brazil is different in that sense.

In addition to being the largest producer of coffee, Brazil is also the largest consumer. 30% of what is produced is consumed, on average, in the country it was grown in. Per capita, Brazil is the 14th largest consumer of coffee, which is still relatively high.

As the biggest exporter of coffee around the world, Brazil shipped 44.8 million 60-kg bags in 2020 alone. That is almost double of the second largest exporter, Vietnam, who shipped 25.6 million bags. Colombia, the third largest exporter, “only” exported 12.5 million bags during the same time. (4)

specialty-coffee-brazil

Coffee Regions of Brazil

Brazil has steady temperatures year-round with moderate sunlight and rain. These are the perfect growing conditions for both Arabica and Robusta coffees.

The altitude is not as high as other countries, but this enables more yield with easier production. After all, if you don’t have to pick all the coffee by hand while navigating steep mountains at high elevations, you can grow and harvest much more coffee.

The four regions that are responsible for most of Brazil’s coffee production are Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Espírito Santo, and Bahia.

coffee-farm-in-brazil
Coffee farm in Brazil

Minas Gerais

The largest coffee-growing state in Brazil is Minas Gerais. It accounts for close to 50% of the total coffee grown in the country. The climate is mild and consistently in the low 20s Celsius (68-72°F).

Small farms (under 100 hectares) produce about 30% of the coffee in this state, but there is a big mix between small families hand-picking their coffee cherries to large estates using machinery and large equipment to harvest coffee.

Popular regions include Sul de Minas, Cerrado de Minas, and Serra da Mantiqueira. Daterra, one of Brazil’s most famous coffee producers, is located in the Cerrado region. They lead the country in innovation and sustainability efforts, always improving on technology and setting the gold standard for Brazil. They also work with higher-quality coffee in the specialty market.

Sitting between 800-1300 meters above sea level, this region is famous for full-bodied coffees with fruity aromas and notes of chocolate and caramel. You might even find hints of citrus in coffee from Minas Gerais.

São Paulo

The state of São Paulo (not to be confused with the capital city with the same name that has over 12 million residents), also has mild temperatures suitable for coffee and an average elevation of 900 to 1100 meters above sea level.

São Paulo is also home to the biggest port for coffee exports, Port Santos.

The most notable region in this state is Mogiana. It’s famous for well-balanced coffees with a full body, low acidity, and sweet profile. 

Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza is located in São Paulo and is famous worldwide. They operate under the name FAF Coffees as producers and exporters. They focus primarily on the specialty coffee segment, producing high-quality coffees with a major focus on sustainability.

Espírito Santo

Espírito Santo is the biggest producer of Robusta in Brazil. The most famous region is called Conilon Capixaba. “Conilon” is simply another word for Robusta.

This state also has Arabica coffee at higher elevations. Small family farms continue to pick coffee by hand in these areas. Because of the high humidity, producers often find it better to make multiple rounds throughout the season, picking only the ripe cherries and leaving the rest to mature.

The town of Venda Nova do Imigrante sits between many of these farms that are known for producing fruity coffees with low-to-medium acidity. This little city also has a large annual gathering called the Polenta Party, where they make polenta in a giant cauldron. Apparently, many Italians migrated here to work the coffee machines in the late 1800s, bringing their food culture with them. (5)

Venda Nova do Imigrante is home to Café Arq, a team of coffee professionals that travel all around the state assessing coffees and helping find buyers throughout Brazil and internationally. They have greatly increased the quality of the region by cupping hundreds of coffees each week and giving free feedback to the producers on how they could improve their processing techniques.

cafe-arq-brazil

Bahia

Starting production in the 1970s, Bahia got a later start growing coffee than the rest of the country. This is the furthest northeast that coffee is grown in Brazil.

Productivity is extremely high in Bahia due to rapidly advancing technology for harvesting and processing. A coffee cooperative in the area of Piatã, Coopiatã, has become known throughout the world for high-quality Arabica coffees.

Part of the Chapada Diamantina region, farmers in this area are able to produce coffee with flavors that may remind you of more complex Kenyan and Ethiopian coffees. Specialty coffee from Coopiatã often has floral and citrus notes.

Coffee Varieties

Since the first coffee beans (seeds) were planted in Brazil, the amount of varieties available has grown greatly due to natural mutations and forced hybrids.

Some of the most common Arabica varieties in Brazil are Bourbon, Catuaí, Acaiá, and Mundo Novo. While most of the flavor in a final cup of coffee comes from the processing methods and roast, varieties tend to have general flavor notes as well.

picking-coffee-cherries
Picking coffee at Sítio Vargem Grande in Minas Gerais

Bourbon

This Bourbon coffee plant varietal comes in both yellow and red, and it’s known for producing a full-bodied coffee with a strong sweetness and notes of chocolate and nuts.

In the 1930s, a research and development institution called Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC) bred different strains of Red Bourbon. Yellow Bourbon may have come later as a mutation. It tends to have a higher yield than Red Bourbon.

Bourbon is very productive, producing a high yield of better quality than Typica.

Catuaí

Catuaí was created after crossing Yellow Caturra with Mundo Novo. It grows best between 1000 to 1300 meters above sea level. Like Bourbon, it comes in both red and yellow and gives a sweet and chocolatey flavor profile in the final cup. Often, you can et citrus notes out of Catuaí variety coffees.

picking-coffee-cherries-at-brazil-coffee-farm
Catuaí Amarelo

Acaiá

The Acaiá variety is very popular among the coffee regions of São Paulo. It was selected from Mundo Novo and distributed to farmers in Brazil starting in 1977. 

Acaiá is susceptible to coffee leaf rust, but it produces a great yield when not affected by the disease. Coffees from this variety have a medium body and notes of chocolate and caramel.

Mundo Novo

Mundo Novo is a natural cross between Typica and Bourbon. It produces coffees with low acidity, a medium body, and a basic sweetness.

Of the popular varieties in Brazil, Mundo Novo tends to produce simple coffees that drink well, but don’t provide any rich complexity. Not many specialty coffees come from this variety.

How Does Brazilian Coffee Taste?

As seen above in the many varieties of coffee, Brazilian coffee is known for having a full body, low acidity, and medium sweetness with notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel. 

To many, this is simply how coffee should taste. Brazilian coffee is so popular and widespread that many people associate this flavor profile with coffee in general, not just Brazilian coffee. 

The full body and chocolatey/nutty notes make it a great coffee for everyone. It’s simple, tasty, and not too crazy. The sweetness of the coffee beans also pairs well with milk.

As the complexity of the coffee increases, notes of red fruits like berries become more common. Citrus and floral notes can be present as well, especially in specialty coffee. Sweetness usually depends more on the processing method and roast.

Processing Methods

The processing method affects flavor much more than variety types. In Brazil, there are three common ways to process coffee beans: natural, semi-washed, and washed.

drying-coffee-brazil-coffee-farm

Natural

This is the most common coffee processing method in Brazil. It’s also known as the “dry process” because no water is involved to wash the coffee cherries before drying.

For natural-process coffee, the cherries are left intact after being picked from the plant. They are then placed in the sun to dry over many days or weeks. Naturals lend themselves to sweeter, more full-bodied coffees, like the profile Brazil is known for. This type of coffee also has a fruity aroma and low acidity.

Semi-Washed

Semi-washed coffees are also referred to as “pulped natural” coffees in Brazil. This method is used in humid regions to help speed up the drying process.

The cherry pulps are usually removed by a machine, but the remaining mucilage (the sticky residue) is left on the beans as they dry. Semi-washed coffees also tend to be sweeter than washed coffees, but not as sweet as naturals. They have a medium body and a complexity similar to natural-processed coffees.

Washed

The washed (or “wet”) process is less commonly used in Brazil because it uses a lot of water. Coffee is first pulped, fermented, and washed before being set out to dry. 

Because the coffee beans are drying without any cherry or mucilage in tact, the resulting taste tends to be “cleaner” with less body. You trade a bit of sweetness for nuanced acidity that lots of coffee lovers find pleasing in the cup. To many, it’s an acquired taste.

Brazil Coffee Grading System

The Official Brazilian Classification (COB) provides a grading system for the entire country’s unroasted green coffee beans. With this system, you analyze the size, number of defects, and cup quality within a 300-gram sample. (6)

Group 1 is for the highest quality coffees with no defects, while Group 4 is reserved for coffees with many defects. Groups 2 and 3 permit only a certain amount of defects and bad flavors in the final cup. (7)

Roasted coffee beans in Brazil are also categorized by quality, but this classification isn’t as strictly followed as the COB. In the supermarket, you may find Traditional, Superior, and Gourmet bags of coffee. This ranges from lots of defects to little defects, but it is well-known that this system is more a marketing gimmick than anything else.

Specialty coffee is a classification from the Specialty Coffee Associated (SCA) that grades unroasted green coffee beans on a 100-point scale. If a coffee receives 80+ points and reaches traceability benchmarks, it can be designated as specialty coffee, greatly increasing its value in both domestic and foreign markets.

brazilian-coffee-cupping

How to Brew Brazilian Coffee?

The best way to brew Brazilian coffee beans is by using a method that highlights the sweetness and full body that is standard for this country.

Using a French press is a tried and true way to get the most out of chocolatey and nutty coffees. Espresso machines also work well with the body of Brazilian coffees, creating a heavy and sweet shot. Cold brew is another great option due to the coffee’s low acidity. This method highlights the sweetness in coffees from Brazil.

One more option that most Brazilians use at home is a Melitta. It’s a household staple in Brazil with its bright red plastic on the countertop. It’s a type of pour-over similar to that of a V60 or Chemex. It uses paper filters that can be found at any supermarket.

We recommend using a fine-to-medium ground coffee for the Melitta.

Best Roast for Brazilian Coffee

Medium or dark roasts work best for Brazilian coffees, as they bring out the nutty and chocolatey flavors more than a light roast.

It’s important to emphasize the sweetness and full body of these coffees. We recommend extending the Maillard phase of the roast in order to get as much complexity and potential fruity notes out of the sweetness as possible. Develop the roast past the “first crack” but before the “second crack” when flavors start to degrade.

Below are some of the best Brazilian coffee brands. While there are a lot of options to choose from online, we think these Brazilian coffee brands stand out.

Volcanica Brazil Peaberry Coffee

This medium roast is famous for its smooth flavor, complex intense aroma, and rich body. The beans come from the Sul de Minas region of Minas Gerais and are Rainforest Alliance Certified. 

This peaberry coffee has notes of nuts, sweet hazelnut, and raspberry.

volcanica-coffee-packing

Coffee Bros Brazil Coffee

Coffee Bros specializes in medium and dark roasts from Brazil. Try one of their signature blends and grab a coffee with notes of hazelnut, brown sugar, and red fruit, or choose one with notes of sweet chocolate, caramel, and maple.

They even have a blend made specifically for cold brew, if that’s your thing. This is one of the best Brazilian coffee brands that we have tried.

coffee-bros-brazilian-ethiopian-blend

Green Beans from Coffee Bean Corral

Do you prefer to roast your own beans? Coffee Bean Corral offers a wide selection of unroasted green Brazil coffee beans. They have beans that are perfect for blends and espresso, as well as more complex options that could be perfect for a lighter roast.

Most of their coffee comes from the state of Minas Gerais, with five options specifically from Daterra.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Brazilian coffee stronger than regular coffee?

Brazilian coffee tends to be stronger than regular coffee because of its roast level. Brazilian coffees are generally full-bodied with notes of chocolate and nuts, and this combination pairs well with darker roasts. For that reason, Brazilian coffee may taste “stronger” than regular coffee.

Does Starbucks have Brazilian coffee?

Starbucks has been sourcing coffee from Brazil since it was founded in 1971. Brazilian coffee beans are a part of many signature Starbucks coffee blends sold in thousands of stores on a daily basis worldwide. Starbucks also uses Brazilian coffee in its espresso blends.

Colombian vs Brazilian coffee, which is better?

While Colombian coffee is generally more complex than Brazilian coffee, one is not better than the other. It depends greatly on your personal preferences in coffee flavors. Brazilian coffee tends to have a full body, low acidity, and pronounced sweetness with notes of chocolate, nuts, and red fruit. Colombia coffee tends to have a rich taste, medium acidity, and fruity flavors.

What is a cafezinho?

Coffee is a major part of the culture and everyday life in Brazil. Cafezinho literally translates to “small coffee” and is served during all hours of the day during social situations. If someone comes over, the host will always offer a cafezinho to the guest, regardless of how long the person plans on staying. Cafezinhos are often brewed with cane sugar to make a very sweet beverage.

Final Thoughts

That’s a wrap!

In this Brazilian coffee guide, you learned the complete history of coffee in Brazil, where it grows best, what varieties are used, how farmers produce coffee, and even received a few suggestions on our favorite fresh roasted coffee.

Now go get yourself some Brazilian coffee beans, make a cafezinho (or two), and invite your friends over to share. Enjoy!

References

  1. http://www.ico.org/prices/po-production.pdf
  2. https://www.greenfarmcoffee.co.uk/brazil-coffee-facts/
  3. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/slavery-brazil#:~:text=On%20May%2013%2C%201888%2C%20Brazilian,slavery%20in%20all%20its%20forms
  4. http://www.ico.org/prices/m1-exports.pdf
  5. https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venda_Nova_do_Imigrante
  6. http://www.sapc.embrapa.br/arquivos/consorcio/legislacao/Instrucao_Normativa_n_8.pdf
  7. https://volcafespecialty.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/April-12-IS-Brazilian-Coffees.pdf
Photo of author

Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. During his time living in Brazil, he spent months learning directly from producers how to pick and process coffee the right way. One thing led to the next, and he started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Currently, Alex is traveling slowly from the United States to Brazil in his self-converted camper van, trying to visit as many coffee farms as possible along the way. If you see him on the road, be sure to say hi!