January 2020, Ilicinea
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Brazil, as one of the world’s largest coffee producer, is that everything about it has been stated a thousand times before. And yet, that country which stretches along the two latitudes southbound the equator, covering an area larger than the whole European continent, always surprises me with its endless potentials, both in geographical advantages that it has, in comparison to other coffee-producing countries, and human and intellectual values and capacities reflected in all the segments of life and production, especially coffee production, in that respect.
As it is well-known to everyone in the specialty coffee world, the harvest of the specialty coffees is a long-lasting operation, and if only the ripe cherries are really hand-picked, the harvest can last even a few months. However, in the country such as Brazil, where coffee is grown both at the equator and the low altitude regions, and in the regions which are on the edge of the COFFEE BELT (the zone in which the coffee is grown 23* 27’ south and north of equator) and high altitudes as well, and the beginning of harvest can start in a different time depending on the position of the region, we can freely say that the harvest in Brazil lasts more than 10 months.
The one of the regions where the harvest finishes only by the end of the year, while in other regions starts already in March, is situated on the edge of the coffee belt, south of equator, on the Mogiana mountain. High on the altitudes between 1200-1400m.a.s.l., far away from the equator, in this region the coffee bean is developed slowly, forming a very dense bean with the exquisite sensory features. Still, the farmers from this region and their coffees don’t participate in the Brazil Cup of Excellence.
If you think that their coffees are not good enough to win this most prestigious competition in Brazil with regard to coffee quality, then you are completely mistaken. The reason for that lies in the fact that in this region, harvest starts so late that they simply are not capable to prepare their coffees before the start of the Brazil Cup of Excellence competition. It is unbelievable, that the region with, perhaps, the greatest potential for growing and production of specialty coffees is not capable to present their coffees to the world, in the right way.
And for these reasons, in January, 2020, BSCA (Brazil Specialty Coffee Association) organized the special event (showcase) with a view to present and promote the specialty coffees from this region of Brazil. More than thousand farmers from the whole region brought their best Micro-lot coffees, which were cup-tasted and evaluated many times in a few days, by the professional cup-tasters, certified by the SCA and BSCA. Gathered in a small town ILICINEA, with only 30-40000 inhabitants, on the southern edge of the COFFEE BELT, after a many repetition, the cup-tasters succeeded to reduce the number of coffees from more than 1000 to 20 best ones, where all coffees without exception were marked with 88+.
And that is how everything was ready for beginning of BSCA MICRO-REGION SHOWCASE ILICINEA.
The event itself was organized as an auction of the best Micro-lots, where the auctioneers were carefully chosen and officially invited by BSCA, as their guests and connoisseurs of coffee, to cup-taste and once again evaluate and confirm the qualities of these coffees, and with a participation in the auction to determine their value.
I had both an honor and privilege, to be one of the 20 auctioneers invited by BSCA, as a representative of Serbia and the whole region. It is obvious, that BSCA recognizes this region as a fast-growing market in a segment of specialty coffees, and Serbia and Belgrade as a leader in the whole region. How, in a different manner, can you explain the invitation to a representative of “Mlin Produkt”, from one small country such as Serbia, besides the representatives of the companies such as “Madcap Coffee” from Michigan-USA “, “Sey Coffee” from New York-USA (which was declared the best cafeteria in USA for 2019.), “Stockholm Roast” from Sweden, “The Beans on the Fire” from Paris-France, “Nine Seeds” from Australia, “Monogram Coffee” from Montreal – Canada, “Drip Coffee” from China (which owns more than 2000 cafeterias in China), representatives from Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia….
Maybe, even, my long-term persistent repetition to all the coffee aficionados (more or less known in the world of specialty coffee industry) to pay more attention to Brazil coffee which is unjustly neglected and the allegation that it is only matter of time when Brazilian coffees will knock at the door of the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), and take the place that it deserves, was the reason to receive this invitation, but that is not important any more. After this event, I am sure that the doors are widely open (or even broken down), and that the unfairly neglected Brazil coffee will soon dominate the whole specialty coffee scene, so that the coffee from this producing country will be the inevitable part of the menu of all the good cafeterias in the world.
Showcase lasted for 4 days.
On the first day, we visited some of the best farms in the vicinity of Ilicinea, where we have learned about the new techniques of drying the coffee and found out the potentials for growing the coffee, such as: the type and quality of the soil, altitude of the farm, wind shades, variety selection according to the conditions of the particular farm…and about all the efforts which farmers invest in improving the quality, as well.
On the second day, we practice the calibration, we tried (cupped) all the coffees that were on the table, found out about the auction offer and adjusted the way of scoring.
The third day was the day for a rest. Our hosts arranged the roundabout of the longest artificial lake in the world, which is longer than 1000km and which is full of the branches, canyons, waterfalls and lagoons… Honestly, I don’t know which impression is greater, the gorgeous lake and the beauty of the canyons, lagoons and the waterfalls… or the hospitality and attentiveness of our hosts.
On the last, fourth day, the auction took place.
The event started with the gathering in the big hall in which all the participants of the auction and the farmers (with their families) whose coffees were part of the auction have settled. Every farmer, one by one, would come up on the stage, introduced himself, his family, and described his farm. The same did all the auctioneers, we presented our work, our companies and what is our business. After that ceremonial part, the auctioneers came inside the room once again where on the five huge tables, freshly ground coffees were waiting for us to enjoy in the dry aromas of these superb coffees (while the farmers stayed outside and waited with the uncertainty the end of the auction). As all the standards of the cupping procedures dictate, soon after that the ground coffee was poured over and prepared for Brazilian cupping, so we had a chance to once again cup-taste the auction’s Micro lots, and to think over for the last time which coffees to bid (offer the price for the particular lot). We had 60 minutes to compete for coffees which were set on the five tables, four coffees on each table and each of them were extracted in three cups, and besides them, the paper with the name of the farm and the important characteristics of the coffees and the fields where we could write down our bids, as well.
The initial price for each of these coffees was 15$/p (33$/kg). After 60 minutes, the representative of BSCA started bidding, from one coffee to another and the real auction just started… Although, we all thought that the last written price on the auction list was the final one, after 60 minutes we understood that it wasn’t. The representative of the BSCA, as in the all auctions, started to bid …” who gives more, first time, second time…” and the atmosphere started to rise. All the auctioneers interested in a particular lot wrote down the new, higher prices/values all the way to the final winner, and it continued in that way one by one, to the very last lot. The most expensive coffee, was bid for 30$/p ( 64$/kg) and the least ranked coffee, sold for 15,4$/p ( 33,9$) .
The coffee that I bid for 25$/p (55,11$/kg) is produced on the farm Sitio Posses, whose owner is Mauro Cezar da Silva and which is situated in the region Mantiqeira de Minas, at the altitude of 1200m.a.s.l. and it was dry (naturally) processed. Each of the Micro-lots that were the part of the auction had exactly 20kg, packed in 4 vacuum packs together in the leather travel bag, made, especially, for that occasion by BSCA. Immediately, after the auction we entered the hall again in which the farmers waited for us with the great impatience, and the last official, ceremonial part of this event could start. Coordinator of the BSCA read the bids for the coffees, and the coffee packed in leather bags were handed to us auctioneers directly by the farmer who produced it. What an experience!! Everything was followed by the applause of the participants, farmers and their families and the exclamations of the enthusiasm for the prices achieved at the auction. There were a plenty of photographs and eruptions of happiness …
For those who didn’t know, it is very interesting fact that the import of the green and roasted coffee is completely forbidden in Brazil. It sounds unbelievable that in 21st the import of any product in any civilized country is banned, but coffee is one of the main export products of Brazil, so if looked at that aspect, it can be understandable. Still, that law makes a lot of trouble to the farmers and all the aficionados of the specialty coffee in Brazil, to try coffees from other producing countries so they can come to know in the short period of time all the novelties from the world of producers of specialty coffees and to compare their products with the other world renown and famous producers. That was the main reason why the BSCA organizer asked from all of us who were invited to this event, to bring 2 or 3 samples of the interesting coffees of different origins that we are serving in our cafeterias, back home.
The end of this exquisitely organized and very nicely conceived event was marked with the cocktail in which, besides the fruit and juices served, we auctioneers (on three stations) prepared the coffees which we brought with us and served them to the curious farmers and their families. Besides, the famers who participated in the auction with their coffees, there were many farmers from all around this region, whose coffees didn’t succeed to get to this final auction. The interest was enormous and the work on the espresso machine pulling some shots of espresso, where farmers are stepping towards your “brewing station” in order to try Guatemala natural or Vietnam Whiskey Barrel aged coffees, for someone at my age (54) , was really hard, but it was a worthwhile!
Really beautiful thing to see, the fourth wave (fourth wave of the specialty coffee) in its full meaning and at its best!
The direct trade connections of farmers and roasters, which don’t suppose only the sell/buy relations, but the cooperation and bilateral education, here were expressed at the full extent. ..With this, the curtain fell down on BSCA MICRO REGION SHOWCASE –ILICINEA. The applause, as far as I am concerned, still goes on…