Brazil's Cup of Excellence Competition – Touring the Farms

I spent Sunday and Monday traveling through Minas Gerais, meeting other farmers and visiting their farms. I was fortunate to be able to spend Sunday visiting Fazenda Sant’ana (“St. Anne’s Farm”), this year’s second place COE finisher Sr. Paulo Sérgio Noronha Barleta’s estate, located outside of Olimpio Noronha, a small community of about 2,500 people a few kilometers west of Carmo de Minas, MG. On Monday, it was my pleasure to visit the Sr. Junqueira’s Carmo Estate operation, and spent the day touring his impressive operation. He was unable to enter any of his coffees into the competition for obvious reasons, but I have no doubt that his coffees are among the finest ever grown in Brazil.

Sr. Noronha Barleta’s coffee was also fantastic – it stood out to me every time it was on the table. His entry was one of only two Presidential Award coffees in Brazil this year with a score of 90.83, and was the highest placed coffee from Minas Gerais.

His beautiful farm was originally started by his great grandparents over 150 years ago, and we were received by him and his family in the sitting room of the farm’s original colonial-style farm house. We had Sunday dinner with his family (delicious roast pork and beef, with rice, boiled potatoes, vegetables, and slices of sweet, ripe pineapple “to help our digestion”). The foods had been cooked in the kitchen on an ancient built-in brick wood stove that was designed to burn 3 to 4 foot-long sections of coffee wood, trimmings from the farm’s coffee trees. The meal was, of course, finished with cups of their own coffee – roasted in a skillet, and served strong and hot, poured into tiny, delicate porcelain cups.

After dinner, Sr. Noronha Barleta – who in addition to being a prize-winning coffee farmer is also the Honorable Mayor of Olimpio Noronha – led us outside to his venerable 4WD Toyota Bandeirante stake-bed truck, and proceeded to drive us up the deeply rutted roads to the highest land on his property where he grows his best coffee. My companions and I had to ride in the back of the truck, holding on for dear life as the Bandeirante was slammed into lower and lower gears to cope with the increasingly steep pitch to the land. The heavy tropical rains that wash down these jeep roads create ruts and expose rocks that made the trip feel like we were ascending a stream bed instead of a road. After thirty minutes of being thrown around, thankfully we finally reached the top of his coffee orchards. Above us was virgin forest – intentionally left alone for the 150 years this land has been in his family – climbing many hundreds of feet up to the summit of the steep mountains, providing Fazenda Sant’ana with its clean water and habitat for many species of birds and animals.

Visiting his farm and walking among the exact trees that produced his extraordinary coffee was very enlightening. The higher elevations provided his coffee with the cooler temperatures needed to build up the acidity, complexity, and depth I had noted in his winning coffee. The mountains above us provided shade during most of the day, and protection from the storms that can rage through this part of Brazil during their summers’ wet season.

A sense of place and a sense of pride were clearly evident in Sr. Noronha Barleta’s face as he showed us his trees, and explained to us in Portuguese how careful he and his workers work to harvest only the perfectly ripe coffee cherries during harvest. He hoped – as do I – that the auction prices received for all of the winning farmers’ coffee during January’s Internet auction of the Brazilian Cup of Excellence coffees would be a vindication of their hard work. Unspoken, but evident in his face, was his desire that these coffees would also help show the world that Brazilian coffees can rank with the best found anywhere.

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