At Nomad, we’re all about coffee. And, this summer, everyone is all about the Olympics in Rio. We’re sure you’ve been watching the games – no one would miss Michael Phelps winning his 21st gold medal or Lilly King shaking her finger at Yulia Efimova and then taking the gold. So, in honor of the summer Olympic games and out of our love for all things coffee, we’ve decided to take this blog post all the way to Brazil. Read on for five facts – inspired by the US women’s gymnastics team who won their second gold medal competing as the last team to have five members, nicknaming themselves the Final Five, literally – about the integrated history and culture of coffee and Brazil.
- Hello coffee, nice to meet you: First appearing in Brazil in the early 1800’s, coffee was introduced to Brazil with a little fateful drama. Rumor has it French and Dutch Guiana governors asked a neutral Portuguese Brazilian officer to help them settle a border dispute. The Brazilian mediator quickly agreed in hopes of gaining access to coffee seeds, since they were not allowed to be exported. He not only successfully mediated the dispute, but became close with the governor’s wife – who helped him smuggle coffee berries across the border disguised in a bouquet of flowers. He planted them in his home, Para, and coffee flourished in Brazil’s climate. Coffee berries rapidly spread southward down the coast.
- Hot commodity: By 1820, soon after its introduction, coffee became the most exported product out of Brazil. This production peaked when coffee plantations reached Vale de ParaÍba – a region including Rio de Janeiro. Fast forward twenty years, and Brazil takes the gold and becomes the largest coffee producer in the world – a position they still hold to this day. But not only do they supply one third of all coffee around the globe, Brazilians need their caffeine fix, too. Brazil is second behind the United States in coffee consumption, drinking about 12 million bags per year. The popular way to enjoy coffee in Brazil is in the form of cafezinho, tiny cups of black coffee drunk several times per day – think shots of espresso.
- Coffee conquers Brazil: Brazil’s coffee industry is massive. The industry is spread among 17 Brazilian states with the largest located in Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, EspÍrito Santo, and more. There’s an estimated 300 thousand coffee plantations in the country, spread in 1,950 cities.
- When frost bites: Coffee plants can survive low temperatures, but frost is a different story. Too bad for Brazil, they’re the only major coffee producer vulnerable to frosts. And, there are two different kinds of frosts they need to worry about – white frosts and black frosts. White frosts are the lesser of two evils and affect only the next year’s harvest. However, black frosts can kill the entire tree, causing severe consequences. After a black frost, new tree’s need to be planted and it takes on average 3-4 years before the trees begin to bear fruit. Harsh frosts occur about every six years, and can affect the entire coffee market and raise prices of coffee globally.
- What’s your type: You can find two different types of coffee in Brazil – Arabica and robust. The primary crop is Arabica, grown in higher terrain in the south of Brazil, including Rio. It’s probably what Phelps fueled up with before winning those gold medals. These southern plateau regions are close to the bottom of the tropical zone and therefore are vulnerable to frost, which as you know now, can be a problem. Robusta is grown towards the northern part of Brazil, where the climate is hotter and terrain is flatter. Robusta beans have a higher caffeine content, and are disease resistant.
Being in the heart of coffee country, we’re sure the Olympians are taking advantage of the delicious cafezihno around them. Grab a cup of your favorite blend next time you’re watching the Olympics and pull out a few of these facts to impress your friends and fellow coffee lovers. You may not have 21 gold medals like Phelps, but you do have coffee, and that’s kind of like the same thing.