A Narrative Trip Report
I spent nine days in August with twelve women and a bus driver as part of a Women in Coffee tour hosted by Elan Organic Coffees and Daterra Coffees Brazil. Along the way we met a few of the 17 million people in Sao Paulo and its surrounding towns. Before I left the States, Sao Paulo looked like a mere dot the map, but in life it's huge. Really…it's massive! Simi, my taxi driver from the airport into the city, knew just enough English to tell me his name and confirm that yes, everything I could see for miles was the Sao Paulo. In a gritty worn way, Brazil is beautiful. It's a mesh of historic and cosmopolitan, countryside and construction, poverty and wealth.
Our first event was a dinner with artist Rodrigo Mendez. He's been paralyzed since the age of eighteen, just before he was to go off to a University on a soccer scholarship. After his paralyzation, he redirected his talents and now paints with a brush guided by his mouth. He has had solo shows and started an art school for people with disabilities. He created the Hope Cup-a set of coffee cups and saucers--designed and decorated by his students. After dinner--a buffet of appetizers and salads and men walking around with skewers of meat ready to slice off a piece at any moment--we said goodbye to Rodrigo. Looking around at all the wet eyes I wondered if I had brought enough tissue for the trip.
In between towns, we drove for hours, as the bus driver dodged potholes, and I peered out a window at a vast landscape. It seemed at times that we could be somewhere in the US, and then I'd see a palm tree, or out in the distance a dark tree decorated with bright yellow flowers, or rows of sugar cane, and eventually grand rows of coffee plants. Along the way we saw the towns of Ribeirto Preto, Franca, Araxa, and Santos.
Mid way through the trip we arrived on a plateau in Petrocinio, and in the midst of meticulously laid out coffee trees over 7000 acres was Daterra Coffee Farm, our host for the next few days. It's truly the cleanest most organized place I've ever seen--my mother would have loved it! They pride themselves on the care they give to their employees, to the coffee, and the technology they encompass. While they use machine pickers, GPS systems to track the growth and history of the plants, and every type of sorting machine I didn't even know existed, the people who work there are the ones that make the difference.
Along with all its advancements Daterra is decked in certifications from Utz Kapeh, Eurepgap, Rainforest Alliance, the International Standards for Organization (ISO), and is a member of the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA). They maintain half of their 15,000 acre farm to the preservation of the environment and do all they can from recycling water to composting.
We arrived at the end of the picking season, so most of the plants had already been stripped or stumped. Out in the fields workers were gathering the last of the cherries, stripping the trees with great speed and agility. One of the women sorted with a screen, tossing and shaking as the leaves and debris flew away, leaving the cherries to fall back onto the screen. The jobs they do are physically demanding, but although every inch of them is covered in dirt, their smiles are still bright.
After picking, truckloads of cherries go to be sorted and washed at the processing center. Cherries are sorted by size, color, density, and defects. Lighter cherries are scooped away; unripe cherries are shot down a tube. Some of the ripe cherries are squeezed through a hole and pulped; others go directly to the drying patio for dry processing. After pulping, the beans are dried on the patio and in drums, shaken through a destoner, hulled, put under lights to look for defects, and eventually sent to rest from their big ordeal before being bagged and shipped.
Even at this early stage, coffee is cupped and tested by Daterra. Based on the harvest, they decide how each batch of coffee will be processed. After processing, the coffee is cupped again before samples and shipments are sent. Brazil has a plethora of species and types of coffees, which produce a full range of cup characteristics from full bodied creamy sweetness (more of what I'm used to) to a lighter acidic flavor.
We also visited The Lambari Farm-a much smaller farm that grows all organic coffee. In scale and topography, it was an interesting contrast to Daterra. The fields were all along the hills, and as a result the picking, planting, and pruning is done mostly by hand.
Throughout the trip I saw persistence and substance in the people that I encountered-both the Brazilians and my fellow travelers. Certainly, we spent time sharing, shopping, and taking pictures--but the trip was mainly an opportunity for women to learn about the business of coffee first hand, to meet and talk to mentors in the field (no pun intended), and to be inspired to take our new knowledge and contacts home and grow our own parts of the vast coffee industry.
One of my favorite moments, while I was waiting in a store the woman beside me spoke in Portuguese, from her animation I think she was calling the clerk a twit, but she was so happy I was listening all I could do was nod and agree. It was sad, in a way, to come back to Seattle, where I can understand all the insults and they just don't seem so colorful.
Thanks to Elan and Daterra for developing the trip, my fellow travellers for the conversation and inspiration, the people of Brazil for their hospitality, and to the rest of the staff at Atlas for holding down the fort while I was gone and helping me to continue my coffee education.
Atlas Coffee Importers, LLC
1402 NW 85th Street
Seattle, WA 98117 U.S.A.
1-800-701-5211 -toll free
(206) 652-4880 -office
(206) 652-4881 -fax