February 5, 2016

Coffee Tourism: The Ultimate Origin Experience?


Like coffee? Like travelling? Then you need to try coffee tourism. And while I may be a bit biased, in my opinion Caparaó, Brazil is the perfect place in which to begin your coffee adventures.

Of course, wherever you go in the country, Brazil is a traveller’s dream. It’s a place of rivers, waterfalls, mountainous national parks, and beautiful islands – not to mention coffee! You could take the slow boat from the old capital, Salvador, through the mangroves to a remote beach for a lobster dinner. Or you could hike through Bahia’s national parks, right in the middle of coffee-country.

Spanish Version: Turismo Cafetero: La Experiencia de Origen Definitiva

 Yet, if you’re a coffee lover, you shouldn’t miss Caparaó. This national park is situated in Minas Gerais, on its border with Espírito Santo. Minas Gerais itself is 1.5 times the size of Norway, full of the trappings of history and, in 2014, the producer of 50% of Brazil’s 50.2 million bags of coffee. To put that in context, that’s 17% of the world’s coffee production.

coffee on the beach

Coffee on the beach at Boipeba, a prime coastal destination south of Salvador. Credit: @e_roast

The Caparaó Mountains

The Caparaó region is rich in coffee history and has a great variety of terroir. In fact, you’ll even find Brazil’s third highest mountain, the Pico da Bandeira, here.

The Espírito Santo part is mostly known for its production of Robusta, yet it also offers incredible flavor profiles for Arabica. This side of the mountain massif is more humid and the coffees are generally dried in greenhouses or in driers. The profiles are dominated by bright acidity and fruity flavors with a medium body and a sweet cup.

On the eastern side of the mountain massif, you’re in a different state with a different climate. This side is much drier, the soil is different, and the majority of the coffees produced here are naturals. They offer more body; the climate allows producers to sun-dry the cherries, giving them more punch. A clean natural from here is sweet, fruity, and has a big body.

Clayton Barossa Monteiro

Producer and roaster Clayton Barossa Monteiro makes an AeroPress at 2892 m.a.s.l. with his coffee of the year 2014. Also pictured: the Aerosabre, winner of the 2014 Norwegian Aeropress Competition. Credit: @e_roast

It’s also here that I found one of the flavor-notes I enjoy the most in coffee: bergamot. Are we in Ethiopia? No, we are most definitely in Brazil. This country offers a wide variety of coffees, and has everything from grand machine-harvested mega-plantations to small family-run sítios that make 30 bags of coffee per harvest.

The Sítios of Caparaó

For me, it’s these family-run sítios that are the most interesting, since you can so easily talk to the producers themselves. They have an intimate knowledge of the entire process and will willingly share their insights. Sometimes you can even contribute ideas and make a difference yourself.

My good friends at Casa Simples Hospedagem, Miriam and Fred, have already been exploring coffee tourism for a while. They are located near Dores do Rio Preto, on the border of the Minas Girais and Espírito Santo states. They decided to turn their home into a B&B and help tourists experience the world of coffee production.

Their B&B is surrounded by Sítio Santa Ria, a family farm. Coffee trees stretch to the horizon and, just metres away from the B&B, lies the patio where the coffees dry during harvest.

Experience the Complete Coffee Journey: From Cherry to Cup

Yet you don’t just surround yourself with coffee; you immerse yourself in it. Miriam and Fred offer several tours: you can go for a ride through the coffee fields on the back of a pickup, you can take part in harvesting and post-harvesting work, and you can walk the fields to discover more about coffee production and the region’s history.

field trip

Tour of Sítio Santa Ria’s fields on a Toyota pickup. Credit: @fredtatagiba

During the process of making a coffee laboratory for Jhone, a coffee producer and Q-grader on the sítio, they took the opportunity to create specialty coffee café complete with a wide range of brew methods: AeroPress, Hario, Chemex, Clever, french press… You name it, they’ve got it.

A Cafeteria no Sítio (the café at the farm) is truly special. The opportunity to see coffee being produced, choose your favourite brew method, and then drink it – it’s sublime.

A Cafeteria no Sítio

A Cafeteria no Sítio, a specialty café on the a coffee farm. Credit: @fredtatagiba.

And this truly is a specialty location. Remember what we said about Jhone’s coffee lab? He’s experimenting with controlled fermentations with a large contraption of his own design and making. Several large boxes with grated floors allow for the control of temperature and air-flux through the drying cherries. With this, he can with great control the fermentation of the coffees at specific speeds and temperatures before drying them.

The results are highly encouraging. By my palate, a plain 81-pointer went to an 86 with an extremely integrated fruity flavor. You can often spot fermented coffees by their imbalance of aroma and flavour, or their slightly artificial feel. Yet through controlling the process, Jhone allows the coffee to achieve a higher level of integration.

raised coffee beds

Clayton Barossa Monteiro working the raised beds. Credit: @e_roast.

The Fazendas of Western Caparaó

The small sítios aren’t the only things Caparaó has to offer, either; large fazendas also provide an excellent experience for coffee tourists.

On the western side of Caparaó, at the gateway to the national park, you’ll find Fazenda Ninho da Águia. Coffee producer and roaster Clayton has, through many years of hard work, made his fazenda a guiding beacon for the producers of the region – and he’s been rewarded for his work with the prestigious “Coffee of the Year” award in both 2014 and 2015.

Fazenda Ninho da Águia

Overview of the upper part of Fazenda Ninho da Águia, 1,350 m.a.s.l. From here on up, it’s all national park. Credit: @e_roast

With this fame came the tourists. Sometimes there are only a few a day, but at other times there are hoards. Most are Brazilians, yet there are also many international visitors in the mix, looking for great coffee and a great experience.

The area is very accommodating of tourists. Thirty years ago, a local visionary opened a hotel along the dirt path leading to the national park. Today, the little town is full of hotels and B&Bs ready to host all the people who want to experience Caparaó’s natural wonders (and coffee).

This is good news, because Fazenda Nino da Águia doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to host all the visitors. Clayton’s working on this, though. A café is planned, which will overlook the patio and where you can sample the best the farm has to offer. There will be coffee roasted fresh on site, cake and sweets, honey, homemade cured and fresh cheese.

SEE ALSO: The Quest to Find the World’s Best Food & Coffee Combination

He’s also constructing new housing, converting the old farmhouse into more quarters, and building new homes for the family. Part of these new quarters is being built among the coffee trees, and is there for the most dedicated coffee tourists: those who want to come and work the fields and raised beds, to develop a truly intimate understanding of what producing coffee really is. And that’s exactly what I’d like to recommend.

Visiting origin, and taking part in the harvesting and post-harvesting, is one of the best parts of coffee tourism. It will inspire you, inform you, and impassion you. It will make you a better barista, roaster, or consumer.

There are more coffee tourism options than the two farms mentioned in this article (although they come highly recommended) and, no doubt, more and more will appear. Remember that coffee tourism often develops out of necessity. It is one more source of support in an often unstable economy that’s vulnerable to drought, disease, and pests. When you go to origin, you’re deepening your understanding of coffee – but you’re also helping to support the very industry you love so much.

So what are you waiting for? Check with your doctor about vaccines, brush up on your Portuguese, and start planning your itinerary. Caparaó’s waiting for you.

Perfect Daily Grind.