Notes from Brazil's Cup of Excellence Competition – Year of the Big Beans

I just returned to Portland from helping judge the most recent 2009 Cup of Excellence® competition, which was held during the end of November in Machado, Brazil. It was a fantastic competition, held in an amazing coffee producing country I have wanted to visit for many years.

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, much of it admittedly mediocre-to-average in quality. But as I became intimately aware during my 10 days in Brazil, it is also capable of producing exquisite coffees that completely belie the skeptical (or something less derogatory) feelings about this origin that most specialty coffee roasters around the world have. I admit that – prior to this Cup of Excellence competition – I shared some of these views, primarily because the vast majority of Brazilian coffees I have tasted over the years have been just ordinary. Having tasted hundred of these coffees over the past two weeks, I feel confident that Brazil isn’t given the respect it deserves for its better coffees, nor for the passion for quality exhibited by many of its growers.

The Brazilian event was the second Cup of Excellence competition I’ve judged this year – the first was held in March in Pereira, Colombia. Since Colombia is the world’s second largest producer of coffees, I guess that 2009 for me was the "Year of the Big Beans" as a COE judge! These two events contrast with the other COE competitions I’ve helped judge over the years in smaller producing countries Rwanda and Bolivia.

Because Brazil is such a huge country (fully 90% the size of the United States in area, with over 190 million citizens), it’s hard to generalize about it. But I have to say that I was expecting something completely different than what I discovered during my visit. The competition was held in the heart of the coffee producing region of Brazil, the state of Minas Gerais - north of São Paulo and west of Rio de Janeiro. I expected the land to be flatter and not nearly as attractive (who knows how or why), but I was blown away by just how beautiful the countryside in Minas Gerais (known locally as "MG") actually was. The land is full of hills and forests, streams and lakes, with much of the land in pastures and fields that would have looked at home in Kentucky or Tennessee. MG is the cattle and dairy region of Brazil, with coffee – despite its well-manicured and impressive presence around almost every corner – playing a supportive role in the region instead of a dominate one.

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