Brazil Distinctive Cup of Excellence
20 February 2018
It was only 4 weeks ago I was given the news that I would be travelling to Brazil for the inaugural running of the Brazil Distinctive Cup Competition - 2017/18 harvest, collaborated by BSCA, ACE and Apex-Brazil. The coffee cupping and auction was to be held at Casa Camolese at the Botanical Gardens, Rio de Janeiro.
Day 1 - Rio de Janeiro
Tuesday, January 30
I arrived in Rio in the afternoon of Tuesday the 30th. In time join some of the other jurors at a restaurant nearby the hotel for dinner hosted by the BSCA, with some great authentic Brazilian food. This would set the standard for the fine quality (and quantity) of food for the next few days.
Day 2 - Cafe Crawl
Wednesday, January 31
The international Jurors who arrived the night before had the morning free. Staying on Copacabana beach it was only natural for me to spend some time in the ocean, I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of free time later in the week, and having the ocean so close, it would be taunting me seeing it every morning and night.
After lunch we went on a city tour and got to taste the first of what would be many delicious coffees. Along for the ride were Marcelo and Roberto Flanzer from Ecoagricola. First stop Sofa Cafe.
The people I met on this trip were such vibrant, happy people, and walking into Sofa and being greeted by the staff there was a very gratifying experience. It was also the first time I tasted some Brazilian coffee there: Red Catuai Pulped Natural, from Ecoagricola.
We then ventured out to Bastarda cafe that was a cool space; a place for bicycle riders to hang out and have a coffee. I was also treated to an Aeropress coffee, made by none other than the 2017 Brazilian champion!
The final cafe for the café-crawl was something different and was actually inside an office building. It was a cool little fit-out among the offices: Il Barista, with another splattering of Brazilian coffees on offer. More espresso.
We finished the day with a walk down Forte de Copacabana and a postcard view, looking back onto Rio over the water with the mountains jumping up into the clouds.
Dinner was at Fogo de Chão (Brazilian BBQ) and sponsored by Ecoagrícola. Marcelo did a presentation about the sustainability program and the uniqueness of their farm. They are the first to grow coffee in the Serra do Cabral flat lands of the Cerrado Mineiro region, and after only 12 years they are producing some CoE (Cup of Excellence) winners. Marcelo and Roberto are more than happy to chat about coffee all night, and they gave us a sneak peak of their video series that will soon to be released on Vimeo. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people investing everything they have into something they love and these guys love what they do.
Day 2 - Calibration
Thursday, February 1
Calibration - The early mornings begin.
This was held 10 minutes away in a freshly opened brewery: Casa Camolese, a cool place to cup some coffee.
After a quick rundown from Head Judge Silvio, we geared up for the first cupping of the trip. This was to be a range of processes and roast profiles, scored through the CoE scoring sheet. Once we finished, discussions among the international jury took place downstairs. The coffees were then cupped again and re-assessed.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that Casa Camolese was not only a brewery, but a pretty amazing restaurant too, and by lunch time the place was packed! We were lucky enough to have our lunch sponsored by CoE winner, and larger than life personality, Henrique Sloper of Camocim. Henrique also received the highest scoring coffee of the 2017 season, with a score of 93.6. Henrique gave a presentation of his biodynamic farm which he has been refining for decades - a proven winner! I also got to hear some of his surfing stories when he was in Australia over some of Casa Camolese's own beer; he's an awesome guy. Henrique really valued the jurors and had a special offering of jams for us all to try. It was an interesting shift from evaluating coffee to evaluating jam.
Afterwards we headed to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and with the perfect weather I'll let the photos do the talking for me...
The view from the top of Christ engulfed my phone's memory and as the sun started setting, it was time to head to Giuseppe Grill, for a dinner sponsored by SMC (South of Minas, Mogiana, Cerrado). Priscila and Maria presented SMC's vision of quality, solidity and transparency; genuine people, they both spent their time talking to all the jurors, really making us feel very welcome in Brazil. And if you are ever in Rio, the steak at Giuseppe Grill was out of this world, a must try for any red meat enthusiast.
Day 3 - Cupping
Friday, February 2
Cupping. The morning we tasted 20 of the late harvest coffees that had made it through the rigorous, previous cuppings evaluated by the national Jury. With the lowest scoring being 87, this was going to be an intricate, exciting and delicious bench of coffees.
The cupping was split into 2 sessions of which 10 coffees would be cupped and evaluated per session: 5 naturals and 15 pulped naturals. Between cuppings, the judges went downstairs to process scores and share tasting notes; after calibration the day previous, the jury was well aligned and there were some stand-out coffees that I already had my eye on for auction that wastaking place the next day. These high-altitude, late harvest lots were really something special.
This being the inaugural running of the Brazil Distinctive Cup Competition, some of you may not be aware of why this competition is so significant, given there is already a CoE event in Brazil. The Distinctive Cup is an opportunity for growers in higher altitude/ later harvest regions to showcase their coffees, because they miss the cut-off for the CoE (held in October). It's a part of Brazilian coffee that should not go unnoticed as these farms are producing truly amazing flavours and should be rewarded, particularly if we want to continue to enjoy these spectacular coffees for years to come.
Once the coffees had been tasted, the hard work was done - or was it? Lunch was a short walk next door to Rubaiyat sponsored by Capricórnio coffees and you wouldn't believe it, but steak was on the menu, yet again! You had better like your red meat if you're visiting Brazil.
That afternoon some of the jurors headed up the famous sugarloaf mountain for more exceptional views, seeing as I had already filled my phone with amazing views Rio from Christ the redeemer tour, I headed with a few others headed to Lapa, about a 30 minute drive from our hotel in Leme. There we found our way to what seemed to be an old hotel. The first thing I noticed was the strong smell of chemicals coming from a room: a nail salon. In fact each room was home to a different business. We visited 2 vynal record shops, and played a bunch of music through their speakers. A great afternoon experiencing a different side of Rio.
Dinner that night was really interesting, with shoes off and sitting on the floor and a food fusion at ZAZA restaurant! I had the fisherman's curry which was a squid and banana combination in a really relaxed environment. The night was sponsored by Camocim and Fazenda Samambaia/Sancoffee, who showed us through their collaborative works.
Day 4 - The final day: Auction
Saturday, February 3
Auction day: the plan was to taste all the coffees again in the morning, via different brewing methods. We had four stations: Espresso, Aeropress, V60 and Chemex. Due to time restraints (and possibly how much caffeine our bodies could handle), we couldn't brew all of the coffees through all the methods so the day before we had come together as a group and decided upon the particular methods for certain coffees.
The farmers were invited along for the day so they could interact and share their passion with the jurors. This really lifted the enthusiasm amongst the jury, if it wasn't already high enough. And this is perfect for an auction, as you can imagine.
Tasting this time would go over 3 sessions while rotating coffees through the various brew methods, at which time the jury had the opportunity to bid on as many lots as they wished. The way it worked was: a sheet of paper for each lot with lines underneath to write down the company, and the bid (USD/Pound). Making sure you kept an eye on the lots you were bidding on, over the 3 sessions, as the coffees were tasted via new methods, the list would race down the page. This would ensure a very interesting time.
The sessions were all run, but the auction wasn't in fact over. For some of us, especially those with high BCC (Blood/Coffee Content), myself included, it had just begun. The bidding sheets were collected and then we headed downstairs to a room full of chairs to be filled by members of the BSCA, ACE, the jury and the farmers. We filled the room for one last open outcry auction.
Darrin Daniel, the executive director for ACE/Cup of excellence took the microphone as auctioneer and ran through the selection for the final time, starting with the lot with the lowest amount of bidding activity. There were some hot spots emerging... I really wanted to get involved at that point, but kept my head down as I had my sights fixed on one lot in particular; and of course it had to be the final coffee to be bidded on.
I was given a budget before I left Australia and the current bid price was well below my limit so I had some confidence when the lot was actually called. However, my confidence was shaken when I became involved in a three-way bidding war and my fight-or-flight response was activated. Well actually my fight response was activated. I flew the Espressology flag above my head to bid as part of the initial three-person, then two-person Mexican wave around the bidders. The bidding went well above my pre-approved budget. But I said to myself repeatedly: "Don't worry, I'll pay the difference" as if it was on a repeated recording in my head. Eventually though, I couldn't compete with Magnolia Coffee Roasters from Japan. Congratulations to them on their win!
This didn't mean that I was coming home empty handed though. Another juror from Australia, Mike from Proud Mary's in Melbourne, was kind enough to offer me a bag from their winning lot. This was another coffee that I had had my eye on. Yes, coming soon to Espressology and Proud Mary's, is this amazing Brazil Distinctive Cup Competition coffee. It will be on offer for lovers of quality coffee to enjoy!
All the lots sold. At the conclusion there was a room of happy farmers and buyers, all chatting coffee and establishing relationships with one another. I met some very knowledgeable, humble and dedicated people in that room.
Lunch this time was put on again by the BSCA and we had some more lovely jams to try from Henrique.
We had the afternoon free, and by this time, the jam-packed days (some literally) had caught up with me. I needed some rest, but as I headed back to my room, I could start to hear music, as outside the street was filling fast with early carnival parties. At that point though, the rest was non-negotiable but I made sure to set my alarm. After resting up I went out and explored the bustling streets of Copacabana beach and enjoyed a cool beverage or two and I arrived back at the hotel 30 minutes before my taxi was scheduled to pick me up for the airport. All good things must come to an end.
I've always appreciated the flavour profile of Brazilian coffes and I'm not sure if it was the complexity of the late harvest coffee I tasted, the hospitality provided from the BSCA & ACE or the genuine people I met who lit up the room, or the beautiful, natural structures of Rio de Janeiro, but I have certainly fallen in love with Brazil. I have returned to Australia more motivated than ever to be apart of such a rewarding industry.
Head Roaster, Espressology