Most people with even a passing interest in coffee will realize that Brazil is a huge producer of the crop, but Brazil has always had something of a reputation for producing lower-grade coffees.
Are there any high-quality Brazilian coffees? Here’s a guide to the best Brazilian coffee brands.
The history of coffee production in Brazil
Before looking at the different coffees, coffee-growing regions and coffee brands in Brazil, let’s remind ourselves of the history of coffee production in the country.
Brazil is now by far the world’s largest coffee producer (1).
Even though it is slowly losing market share as other countries increase their output, it still produces more than twice the volume of second-placed Vietnam.
It is also by far the largest grower of arabica beans.
Coffee is said to have first arrived in Brazil in 1727.
The combination of ideal growing conditions in large areas of the country coupled with a plentiful source of labor – slave labor at the beginning, but paid workers later on – allowed the industry to explode.
By the 1840s, the country had become the world’s most important producer, a position it has never relinquished.
Production peaked in the 1920s and has been declining since the 1950s, but no other country comes close to matching the volume produced there.
Currently, over 27,000km2 of land is dedicated to growing coffee.
Brazil is also almost unique in that it is one of the only major coffee producers that is also a significant consumer (along with Ethiopia).
Check out this video about drinking coffee in Brazil.
A reputation for inferior beans
While Brazil is blessed with vast tracts of land with ideals conditions for growing coffee beans, the conditions are not necessarily ideal for growing beans of the highest quality.
Many of the world’s best coffee is grown at high-altitude.
This is because beans grown at altitude ripen more slowly and so have the chance to develop more complex and interesting flavors.
However, in Brazil, most of the coffee is grown at lower altitudes.
Coffee cherries also ripen at different rates. For the best quality coffee, hand-picking is preferred since only trained human pickers are able to select perfectly ripe cherries.
In Brazil, though, most coffee is harvested by machine, resulting in a larger but lower-grade return.
It is for these reasons that the country has earnt a reputation for low-grade beans, not entirely unfairly it must be said.
Brazil’s coffee-growing industry has traditionally concentrated on volume over quality.
Above all, Brazilian beans have tended to be used in blends. Medium-quality Brazilian beans are often combined with higher-grade beans from elsewhere to produce decent quality coffees while maintaining reasonably affordable prices.
In particular, Brazilian beans are commonly used in espresso blends. Most espresso blends in the world contain at least a certain amount of Brazilian-grown coffee.
General characteristics of Brazilian coffees
The climate in most of Brazil’s coffee growing regions is characterized by warm weather and little rainfall.
These are also ideal conditions for using the dry processing method. Whereas most coffee around the world is now wet-processed, Brazil predominantly prefers the “natural” method.
When not done carefully, dry-processing can easily lead to beans being damaged or degraded, but the Brazilians have become masters of the technique and this is one of the positives about Brazilian coffee.
If dry processing is carried out well, the beans can gain extra layers of flavor, complexity, body, and sweetness not present in wet-processed coffee.
The best Brazilian coffees are characterized by a low acidity, a big body and occasionally a sweet flavor with hints of chocolate, caramel or cocoa.
Generally speaking, they are soft, mild and nutty.
What is grown there and are there any specialty coffees from Brazil?
So far, we have been generalizing, but Brazil is a huge country – and it is a country that is also characterized by a great diversity in its coffee.
Yes, there are some unexceptional coffees from Brazil – and a large volume of very low-grade coffee comes from there too – but some very high-quality coffees can also be found.
The main growing areas comprise 14 regions shared between seven states.
Well-known, established varietals are cultivated as well as many more experimental ones.
They include Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Icatú, Catuaí, Iapar and Catuaí to name but a few.
While Brazil has traditionally been seen as the place that produces great volumes of beans to cater for the world’s basic needs.
It should also not be overlooked as a country capable of producing some very high-quality coffees that can compete with the best.
Check out this video about coffee production in Brazil.
Which are the regions to look out for?
Beyond the generalizations about Brazilian coffee, there are several distinct regions capable of producing some high-quality beans, each with their own associated flavor profiles.
Minas Gerais is Brazil’s biggest coffee-producing region, accounting for around 50% of total output. 30% of this comes from Sul de Minas.
Coffee from this part of the country is described as being full-bodied with fruity aromas and hints of citrus.
The São Paulo area contains Mogiana, Brazil’s highest-altitude coffee producing zone, and Centro-Oeste de São Paolo.
Bahia is a relative newcomer to coffee production in Brazil but is now perhaps the fastest growing.
Also worthy of a mention is Bourbon Santos coffee, a medium-high quality coffee grown in northern Minas Gerais and São Paulo that is – unusually for coffee in Brazil – processed using the wet method.
Bourbon Santos displays a lower acidity compared to Bourbons grown in other South American countries due to the relatively low altitudes at which it is cultivated in Brazil.
The best Brazilian coffee beans of 2020
Here are our picks for five of the best Brazilian coffee brands.
1. Coffee Bean Direct Dark Brazilian Santos (Our Top Recommended)
This 100% arabica Brazilian Santos from Coffee Bean Direct is dark-roast for intensity yet displays an aroma and smoothness normally only associated with lighter roasts.
It comes in a foil-lined, valved bag to preserve the freshness after roasting.
Tasting notes describe a typical dark roast flavor that is rich and full-bodied with the low acidity we expect to find in a Brazilian coffee.
The aroma is strong and delicious, and the finish offers hints of cinnamon, dark chocolate, and dried cherry.
2. Dark Brazilian Cerrado Coffee by Fresh Roasted Coffee
This is an exceptional single-origin Brazilian Cerrado from Fresh Roasted Coffee.
This company selects its beans carefully and then pays meticulous attention to the roasting process – done in their environmentally friendly roaster – to ensure customers receive the best possible product.
This coffee is medium-dark roast with a flavor profile that includes a bold body, a smooth finish, the typical low acidity of a Brazilian coffee and with hints of cocoa and walnut detectable.
A wonderful choice for those who don’t like their coffee too dark-roasted.
3. Brazil Mogiana Green Unroasted Coffee Beans
If you are looking to buy Brazilian green coffee beans to experiment with roasting yourself, these Mogiana beans could be worth a look.
Mogiana is located on the border of the São Paulo and Minas Gerais growing regions.
These beans offer notes of peanut brittle and hazelnut with a creamy body and a sweet finish.
They are rated Fine Cup (FC) and Strictly Soft (SS), the highest grade of Brazilian beans. The recommended roasting level is light to begin with to allow for further experimentation later.
4. Três Pontas Brazilian Gourmet Coffee
These Fair-Trade single-origin 100% arabica beans are hand-picked and shipped within 48 hours of roasting to ensure perfect freshness.
They come from the Minas Gerais growing region where they are cultivated at 1,100m (3,600ft), and are of the Catuaí varietal.
These beans are processed using the natural method and tasting notes describe a coffee with a sweet taste and hints of chocolate, caramel and fruit.
5. Peet’s Coffee, Brazil Minas Naturais
For those who enjoy the convenience of a Keurig-style machine and who are looking for some top-quality Brazilian coffee to try, these pods from Peet’s are an obvious option.
This coffee is made from Minas Naturais beans, referring to the natural processing method used.
The beans originate in Brazil’s Minas Gerais growing region, and tasting notes describe a sweet and mild coffee that displays notes of fruit and caramel and a hint of luxurious hazelnut.
The body is smooth and full. An excellent choice of Brazilian coffee in K-Cup format.
Huge volume, but some quality too
While Brazil certainly has the reputation of producing huge quantities of mediocre or even poor coffee, there are some places capable of doing much better, and more and more farms are trying to do so.
If you take the time to look, there are some exceptional coffees that are certainly worth a try.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we have all almost certainly had coffee from Brazil before – most likely mixed in with coffees from elsewhere as part of a blend.
However, if you hunt down some of the best Brazilian coffee brands, there are some beans out there that might surprise you.
How do you rate Brazilian beans? Have you ever found any really exceptional ones? Or do you think all Brazilian coffee is sub-standard?
Let us know what you think since we always love hearing from you. And if you enjoyed our article, please don’t forget to give us a share!