October 25, 2021

A guide to coffee production in Campo das Vertentes

Campo das Vertentes is a coffee-producing region in Brazil, located in the heart of the state of Minas Gerais. Technically a mesoregion, it boasts altitudes of above 1,000 m.a.s.l., consistent rainfall, and good conditions for post-harvest practices.

In recognition of its optimal conditions for coffee production, Campo das Vertentes received an Indication of Origin from the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property in 2020.

To learn more about the region, its high-quality natural processed coffees, and its rich heritage of coffee production, I spoke to a researcher from Embrapa and a producer from Sancoffee. Read on to find out what they said.

You might also like our article on how to roast Brazilian specialty coffee.

drying coffee

A history of coffee production in Campo das Vertentes

Located in the heart of Minas Gerais, Campo das Vertentes is some 200km south of Belo Horizonte, the state capital. It sits between two geographical water basins, providing it with rich and fertile soil that have historically made it perfect for agriculture.

Professor Helena Alves is a researcher at Embrapa, a state-owned Brazilian research corporation.

Helena was actively involved in the process of applying for Campo das Vertentes’ geographical indication. She says that coffee has been grown in the region since the mid-19th century.

“With the constitution of the Empire in Brazil in 1824, new paths began to open up for the coffee sector,” Helena says. “It was around this time when Minas [Gerais] began to be seen as attractive for coffee.

“Zona da Mata was the first region in the state to be widely occupied by coffee farms. In other regions of the state, including Campo das Vertentes, some scattered farms began planting coffee plants on an almost experimental basis.”

While early evidence of coffee production in the region can be traced back to 1860, Helena says that it wasn’t until 1881 that it became truly prominent. At this point, railroads were established, connecting the region to the coast and making coffee farming more financially viable. 

“The arrival of the railroad boosted coffee growth in the region,” she says. “Coffee trees become part of documents such as family asset statements and/or wills.”

Helena also notes that the region’s rich history and heritage of coffee production is reflected in how farms operate. 

“Most of the coffee in Campo das Vertentes (as with most of Brazil) is natural processed,” she explains. “This is actually associated with the strong tradition and history of the region.

“In many cases, the farms today are very old and traditional, with processes that were passed from generation to generation. Coffee production here is characterised by family ownership.

“Moreover, the region’s rich culture is expressed in a number of different ways. This includes traditional festivals such as Congado (an African-Brazilian religious festival), [other] religious festivals, and gastronomy. All of this gives Campo das Vertentes a strong historic identity – which is similarly reflected in the region’s coffee [culture].”

coffee farm sunset

The terroir of Campo das Vertentes

Rural producer Henrique Cambraia is a fourth-generation coffee producer and part of Sancoffee, the most prominent coffee co-operative in Campo das Vertentes. 

He says that the terroir in the region makes it “quite easy to produce natural processed coffees with high complexity”.

“In other regions, there can be a lot of issues with the climate,” he adds. “Here, we have a consolidation of a number of positive climatic factors, such as topography, temperature, and so on. These mean the conditions are optimal for arabica production.”

According to Helena, these factors include:

  • A good annual average temperature. This is around 20°C (68°F), with a 14°C (57°F) minimum and a 26°C (79°F) maximum.
  • Consistent, healthy rainfall. Average annual precipitation is about 1400mm, and it is quite consistent.
  • Ideal altitude. Most of the region’s coffee farms are in the altitude range of 900 to 1,000 m.a.s.l., and approximately one-third of all coffee is grown above 1,000 m.a.s.l.
  • Perfect topography. The terrain is uneven, but flat enough for advanced farming equipment. 
  • Healthy soil. The region’s soil is dominated by latosols, which have excellent physical properties including great depth and texture. 

“All these environmental characteristics make the region suitable for growing coffee,” Helena says. “They provide conditions that favour the production of high-quality coffee.”

Henrique also tells me about a few of the varieties that are especially popular in the region, which include Yellow Bourbon, Yellow Catuai, Red Catuai, and Mundo Novo.

coffee cherries

What do coffees from Campo das Vertentes taste like?

According to Helena, it is difficult to generalise when it comes to a flavour for Campo das Vertentes coffee. 

“We know that sensory profile, as well as coffee quality, is a complex interaction between environment, genetics, and processing,” she says. “However, we can simplify this and examine what most buyers look for when they come to buy Campo das Vertentes coffee.

“[The “classic” flavour profile] would be a coffee with sweetness, a creamy body and aroma, and strong chocolate and fruity notes.”

Henrique largely agrees, but notes that the “main characteristic” is a “striking flavour of chocolate”. 

He says: “Brazilian coffee itself has soft notes of chocolate and nuts – almonds and chestnuts for the most part. However, the coffees in our region are made to stand out by an intense chocolate flavour, a striking body, and outstanding cleanliness.

“The cleanliness in particular comes from the low variance in climate conditions in the region,” he adds. “For me, that’s what defines Campo das Vertentes coffee – cleanliness, chocolate, and body.”

He notes that these characteristics make coffees from Campo das Vertentes an ideal choice for espresso blends, especially if roasters are looking for sweetness and body.

Helena also notes that while most of the coffees in the region are natural processed – which accentuates both body and sweetness – producers in Campo das Vertentes are starting to explore a range of processing methods. 

“These include pulped natural, wet hulled processing, and even controlled fermentation coffees,” she says. “Even if we only consider the post-harvest method, you already have the possibility for a great diversity of flavours and aromas.

“I also think that buyers will get a pleasant surprise when sourcing from Campo das Vertentes – because the region’s coffee growers do not stop innovating.” 

coffee farm rows

Geographical indication: What is it and why is it important?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a geographical indication (GI) is a “sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin”.

Henrique explains that in the process of registering a geographical indication in Brazil, there are two steps you must go through.

“Indication of Origin is the first step, where you showcase that coffee,” he says. “This is confirmation that it is produced in a certain region.

“After that, you go on to the Designation of Origin. This shows that in addition to having been produced in that region, it has characteristics specific to that region.

“Having received an Indication of Origin, the Campo das Vertentes Association has been the promoter and holder of a programme with the INPI (Brazilian National Institute of Intellectual Property), and we are moving towards the Designation of Origin.” 

Helena says: “A geographical indication is a certification from the Brazilian legislature which is valid in international trade agreements of which Brazil is a signatory. This effectively means that a Brazilian indication is valid in other countries, just as indications from other countries are valid in Brazil.

“We cannot, for example, produce champagne in Brazil because this wine can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.”

This is good for the producer and the consumer. Firstly, it improves traceability, meaning that the producer is more likely to be adequately remunerated for their efforts and quality. It is also a certification of minimum standards of quality, meaning that prices should in theory increase.

“Consumers who know about the characteristics of coffees produced in Campo das Vertentes and enjoy them will have a guarantee it was produced in that region, with the right environmental characteristics,” she adds.

She adds that a regulatory council from the local association will also start to monitor the indication. This council will inspect all steps of the production process, making sure that the coffee is grown according to stringent, accurate requirements.

The producers, on the other hand, are protected by this seal, which guarantees the origin of their product.

coffee farm and tractor

Campo das Vertentes is just one of the many prominent coffee-growing regions in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. However, the fact that it is close to achieving full geographical indication shows that it offers outstanding, distinctive flavours. 

The region is popular among buyers for its delicious chocolatey sweetness, nutty notes, clean flavour, and striking body. As Henrique says, this makes it a perfect choice for espresso. Why not ask your roaster about it next time you buy coffee? You never know – you might just find something you love.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on Brazil’s specialty robusta scene.

Photo credits: Sancoffee

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