January 23, 2017

Coffee Cuppings, Pro Baristas: Brazil’s Growing Specialty Scene


Thiago Borba wants Brazil to have a strong specialty consumer culture. And he’s got a plan to make that happen.

He’s part of Burgeon Coffee, a Brazilian specialty coffee exporter. He believes in the quality of his country’s coffees, and he also believes that local people deserve to drink it too. But to make that a reality, he needs to craft an appreciation of it. He needs to help people understand what specialty can taste like, why the brewing is important, and why that’s worth paying a little more for.

Thiago presented on this during Micro Festival El Salvador, and he agreed to chat to me about it afterwards. Read on to discover how he’s promoting specialty coffee to Brazilians, from his parents to producers and consumers.

Lee este artículo en español Cata de Cafés, Baristas Pro: La Escena de Especialidad en Brasil

Thiago Borba

Thiago Borba presents on Brazilian specialty coffee culture at Micro Festival El Salvador.

Changing Attitudes

Thiago tells me that it can be hard to make people value specialty coffee in Brazil. The country, despite having great coffee, doesn’t have a reputation for it. And the specialty coffee you can buy in coffee houses is expensive.

He explains that it’s easy to drink free coffee in the world’s largest coffee-producing country, as long as you don’t mind bad coffee. And so why would you pay US $15/kilo for a bag of specialty instead?

But things are changing. Danilo Lodi, the first Brazilian to become a certified judge for the World Barista Championship, tells me, “Importers and roasters outside of Brazil play an important role in developing the specialty coffee in Brazil… [And] we have several farms that have been doing an amazing job with specialty coffee for a couple of decades. They are the ones improving the quality.”

SEE ALSO: Interview with James Tooill: Brazil Is the Future of Specialty

Thiago’s goal is for more locals to discover high-quality Brazilian coffees. He believes it’s possible to create a specialty consumer culture here. And he’s starting with his parents.

coffee cherries brazil

Some of this coffee will be exported; some will go to Brazilian roasteries. Credit: 3 Brothers Coffee

Sparking Curiosity

“I want my mom and my father to talk about what a good and a bad coffee is,” Thiago tells me. “What I did was simply show them, through a cupping session, different kinds of coffees. And I let them decide which ones were good or bad.”

The result?

“My father was really surprised when he discovered that, for many years, he had really liked bad coffee.”

Thiago explained that he doesn’t want to tell people how good Brazilian coffees are. He wants them to discover it for themselves. It should be simple, he tells me. And it’s also effective: experiencing good coffee will inspire passion for it in a way that a conversation never will.

coffee cupping baby

Thiago teaches his family how to cup. Credit: Thiago Borba

Redefining The Barista

As well as getting Brazilians to taste specialty coffee, Thiago knows it’s important that people understand the value of a coffee house and a barista.

Lucas Salomão, the 2016 and 2015 winner of the Copa Barista Brasil, also believes this. He tells me of café na rua (“coffee on the street”), where baristas served free high-quality coffee to passersby while explaining their role in the industry. It was a popular event. People came back and asked for more, newspapers covered it, and Café Container made Feita por barista (“made by a barista”) stickers.

barista patch

Feito por barista, made by a barista. Credit: Lucas Salomão

Furthering Coffee Education

Once people have started to reconsider their coffee, it’s time to further their education. And Thiago believes this is particularly true with producers.

Burgeon currently runs producer workshops on coffee and cupping. As the producers develop their sensory skills, Thiago says that they often become even more passionate about the coffee. It’s also important, he believes, for them to understand what kind of coffee they’re selling.

Burgeon sells green beans to local roasters, such as Wolff Café and Bica Torradores de Café. And farmers will buy their own freshly roasted coffee from there. Marcos Carvalho, a producer from Cabo Verde, Sul de Minas, tells me, “To taste my own coffee, the one I have produced with love and lots of effort, it is indescribable. It’s exciting… [After that,] I could tell the difference between a good coffee prepared well and other coffees.” [Translated from Portuguese into English.]

But Thiago doesn’t want to stop there. After presenting at Micro Festival El Salvador, he contacted Hugo Wolff of Wolff Café to organize their own event. He wants speakers to spark debates within Brazil about specialty and share the latest innovations – and also to make connections.

coffee plant

It’s important to understand the whole plant. Credit: 3 Brothers Coffee

Developing Relationships

Thiago believes connections are crucial for developing local specialty coffee culture. He tells me of a Korean woman who, when she tried specialty Brazilian coffee for the first time, wanted to learn more. The café owner had a good relationship with the producers, and so arranged for the customer to visit their farms. She then bought coffee from them.

The relationships here boosted the reputation of Brazilian coffee on an international level. But Thiago thinks it can also do this on a local level.

“These are the real connections I want to create,” he tells me. “When somebody in a café  connects you with the roaster, and the roaster with the hunter and the exporter. This is the real meaning of a relationship.”

Creating a local specialty coffee culture is a difficult task – but Thiago and other industry actors know the importance of it. And they are seeing the impact already.

Burgeon Coffee was a sponsor of Micro Coffee Festival El Salvador. This interview was conducted in accordance with our editorial policies, and Burgeon Coffee has had no greater influence on the final copy than any of our other interviewees.

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