2016 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship: Brazil

Elika Rowell, Head roaster at Square One Coffee Roasters, shares her experience at the first stop of her trip around the world exploring the coffee farm, Fezenda Ambiental Fortaleza in Brazil.

Brazil, a very well-known coffee producing country, and for good reason. It’s been producing since the 18th century and is the highest producing country in the world. Most commonly their coffee is known for its big body, nutty and often cocoa like flavours, and to be honest when I started in coffee it was possibly one of my least favourite producing countries - as crazy as it sounds I have a pretty big dislike for most nutty flavours. I would often avoid buying them as I knew I wouldn’t like them. In 2015 I purchased my first Brazilian coffee. I had a friend who had a similar dislike to this nutty trait often found in Brazil coffee, but she was adamant on the fact that I should try this new harvest. And she was right. It turns out there is way more than what meets the eye in Brazil, and boy was this an exciting discovery! It was like a cup of passion fruit, orange and caramel. 

When I applied for the scholarship one of the three destinations in which I had named on the application form was Fezenda Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF), a family run farm in Mocoa, Sao Paulo. I had recently invited Felipe Croce, the son of Silivia and Marcos, as a guest at an event in Melbourne to speak about sustainability and how they approach the financial, environmental and social aspect of it on their farm. I didn’t realise until late last night when Felipe was sharing some educational matter for local farmers, just how important every single step of this way of thinking is. The ideology itself is a very important ecosystem.

Felipe, a 29-year-old Brazilian-born American-educated gentleman, met me in São Paulo ready to be my official tour guide. He has a living base in the city of São Paulo, with a roastery attached next door named Isso é Cafe. The roaster also has a shopfront located off a the busy road Av Paulista, down a steep flight of cement stairs, in a sleek building which feels almost suspended-like above a motorway. Here they serve not only the coffee from FAF, but also coffees from farms which work alongside FAF, who act as a sort of umbrella group for them.

FAF is located in the region of Mococa, São Paulo, which is a few hours out of the city. It originally was a high producing coffee farm. When Felipe and his parents took over the farm he decided to drastically drop that yield to 500 bags per year. This was to allow him to concentrate not only on the quality of the coffee, but to also regenerate the fertility of the soil which had be plundered by many years of heavy synthetic fertilization. 

At FAF they practice many different styles of farming, but one which I was most interested in – agroforestry. This is a way in which different trees and shrubs are grown together around crops to create a more diverse growing condition. It’s a very sensitive way of growing – too much light means uneven and maturation of the fruit, too little light results in low yields, so finding the balance is integral. Despite the difficulties, the diversity creates softer, more fertile soil, allowing water to easily reach the root systems of the coffee trees. Companion planting plays a large role as well, using certain trees to add elements like nitrogen to the soil. The leaves of the taller trees fall and break down to feed the plants, and the shade from the trees minimizes tall bush growing between trees. They have recreated an eco-system where everything works together in harmony.

Beyond this, experimenting with the drying and fermentation of the coffee – Felipe served me a coffee fermented with champagne yeast – resulting in some of the best and most interesting Brazilian coffees I’ve tasted in a while! Not just a nutty chocolatey cup of coffee!

Follow Elika on the next stop of her Scholarship journey as she visits coffee farms in Nicaragua and Guatemala in Central America - stay tuned! 

Grace Dorman