Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the mountains in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian Coffee- A Complete Guide

How did coffee come to Brazil?

Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer, with a rich history dating back to the 18th century. The origins of Brazilian coffee can be traced back to 1727, when Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta was dispatched to French Guiana to settle a border dispute. During his visit, he fell in love with the coffee plants he saw and sneaked some seeds back to Brazil. These were the first coffee seeds planted in the country.

sunset over water with a mountain range in the background and a church

Where did Brazilian coffee originate?

Coffee cultivation spread throughout Brazil between 1727 and 1820. The plants brought back from French Guiana by Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta were initially planted in the state of Pará, but quickly spread to other regions as well. As more farmers began to plant coffee, the industry grew and developed.

Farmers faced numerous challenges in the early years of Brazilian coffee production. Coffee plants were difficult to cultivate, and there was a lack of knowledge and expertise about how to do so. Furthermore, the country's transportation infrastructure was underdeveloped, making it difficult to transport coffee beans to market. Despite these obstacles, farmers persisted, and the industry began to take shape over time. In the 1820s, the first commercial crops were grown in the state of Pará, and by the 1850s, coffee had become Brazil's leading export. This was a period of rapid economic growth for the country, and coffee played an important role in that growth.

coffee farmer harvesting coffee cherries and placing them into a basket

Who is the father of Brazilian coffee?

Francisco de Paula Monteiro de Barros is a key figure in Brazilian coffee history. He is regarded as the "Father of Brazilian Coffee," having introduced new techniques and technologies to the industry. He was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1848, which was already a major coffee-producing region at the time. He became interested in coffee cultivation as a young man and began experimenting with various growing techniques and technologies. To learn more about the coffee industry, he traveled to other coffee-producing countries such as France and Italy.

In the 1870s, he established Brazil's first coffee school, which helped train future generations of coffee growers and processors. He began to introduce new techniques and technologies to the industry, such as pruning and fertilization, which helped improve coffee quality and productivity.

coffee seedlings growing in individual containers

At the end of the 19th century, the coffee rust fungus began to decimate coffee crops across the globe. Brazil was especially hard hit, with coffee production dropping by half. However, Francisco de Paula Monteiro de Barros was instrumental in assisting the country's recovery from the crisis. He continued to work on improving coffee quality and productivity, as well as advocating for government investment in research and development to combat the fungus.

His efforts and contributions to the industry were recognized in the early twentieth century, and he was given the title "Father of Brazilian Coffee" by the Brazilian government. He worked in the coffee industry until his death in 1911, leaving an indelible mark on the industry and the country.

When did Brazil become the largest producer of coffee?

In the early twentieth century, the coffee industry in Brazil thrived. The country was the world's largest coffee exporter in the 1920s and 1930s, and it has remained so for over a century. The industry has continued to play an important role in the country's economic development and growth, providing jobs and income to millions of people.

woman in black tank top sitting on chair holding coffee mug in Brazil

However, the Brazilian coffee industry faced a major crisis in the 1960s and 1970s as coffee prices plummeted dramatically. First, competition from other coffee-producing countries such as Colombia, Vietnam, and Ethiopia increased, resulting in increased production and exports. Because of the increase in global supply, coffee prices fell, making it less profitable for Brazilian farmers.

Furthermore, consumer tastes began to shift, with more people switching from traditional coffee to instant coffee. This shift in preferences reduced demand for traditional coffee beans, further reducing the industry's profitability. Instant coffee, which is made by drying coffee into a powder or granules that dissolve easily in hot water, had been around for a while, but it wasn't until this time that it began to gain a significant market share. Because of the convenience it provided in an increasingly fast-paced world, instant coffee grew in popularity. It was simple to make, required no brewing or grinding of beans, and could be stored for extended periods of time. Furthermore, instant coffee was frequently less expensive than traditional coffee, making it more affordable to a broader range of consumers. Marketing was crucial in the growth of instant coffee in the United States. With brands like Maxwell House, Nescafe, and Folgers, companies like Nestle, General Foods, and Kraft heavily marketed instant coffee as a convenient and cost-effective alternative to traditional coffee.

Domestic demand for coffee fell as a result of Brazil's economic and political instability during this time period. This resulted in a decrease in consumer purchasing power, which in turn resulted in a decrease in coffee demand. Finally, rising labor and input costs contributed to an increase in production costs, further reducing the industry's profitability.

Why Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee

Despite these obstacles, the Brazilian coffee industry has remained resilient and remains a major player on the global stage. In recent years, the country has prioritized productivity and efficiency while also investing in R&D to improve the quality of its coffee. Furthermore, the country has worked to promote its specialty coffee production, which includes rare and unique varieties. To protect the environment and improve the social and economic conditions of farmers, the country is also promoting sustainable practices such as water management and reforestation.

What are the regions of Brazil?

Brazil is now the world's largest coffee producer, known for its diverse and high-quality coffee beans. The harvest season lasts from April to September. The country is divided into five major coffee-growing regions, each with its own distinct climate, soil, and altitude, all of which contribute to the distinct flavor profiles of the beans grown there.
Coffee map of Brazil
Credit: Mare Terra Coffee,

Northern Brazil

coffee trees in northern Brazil

The Northern Region of Brazil is the country's largest region, but it produces less than 5% of the country's coffee. The region is known for its high elevation and mild temperatures, making it ideal for coffee cultivation. The Amazon Rainforest covers the majority of it, and the coffee is grown on mountain slopes that provide good drainage and sun protection. The soil is mostly clay and clay-loam, which are rich in organic matter, and the beans grown here are known for their bright acidity and fruity notes.

The following states are located in the region:  

  1. Acre
  2. Amazonas 
  3. Amapá 
  4. Pará
  5. Rondônia
  6. Roraima 
  7. Tocatins 

The Arabica bean is primarily grown in the north, and it is known for its bright acidity and fruity notes.

Northeast Brazil

The Northeast Region of Brazil is considered the birthplace of coffee cultivation in the country, accounting for slightly more than 6% of total coffee production. The semi-arid climate and rocky terrain distinguish the region. The coffee is grown in the region's mountainous areas, which provide good drainage and shade from the sun under foliage. The soil is mostly clay and sandy, and it is rich in organic matter and minerals.

The following states are located in the region: 

  1. Alagoas
  2. Bahia 
  3. Ceará 
  4. Maranhão 
  5. Piauí
  6. Paraíba 
  7. Pernambuco 
  8. Rio Grande do Norte 
  9. Sergipe 

The Arabica variety of coffee grown here is known for its sweet and fruity notes. The region is also known for its environmentally friendly coffee production methods.

Southeastern Brazil

Image of Rio de Janeiro overlooking the sea

The Southeast Region of Brazil is the most important coffee-growing region in the country, accounting for more than 86 percent of total production. It has a varied geography with a variety of altitudes and climates, and it is mostly made up of rolling hills and mountainous areas that provide good drainage. The soil is mostly clay and sandy, with lots of organic matter and minerals.

The following states are located in the region:

  1. Espirito Santo- The second largest coffee producing state in the country, producing mostly robusta coffee. It has a mild climate and altitudes ranging from 700 to 1000 meters. 
  2. Minas Gerais- The most important coffee producing state, accounting for nearly half of total coffee production in the country. The area's rich soils and high elevations make it ideal for growing the country's finest specialty coffees. 
  3. Rio de Janeiro 
  4. São Paulo- home to the main export port of Santo in the southeast. 

The Arabica variety of coffee grown here is known for its smooth and balanced taste, with notes of chocolate and nuts. The region is also home to some of the most advanced coffee research and development institutions in the country.

Southern Brazil

brown grass field under white sky overlooking Parana, Brazil

The Southern Region of Brazil is known for its cool and mild climate and produces less than 2% of the country's coffee production. The terrain in the region is mostly hilly and mountainous, and the soil is mostly clay and sandy.

The following states are located in the region: 

  1. Paraná 
  2. Santa Catarina 
  3. Rio Grande do Sul 

The Arabica variety of coffee grown here is known for its sweet and chocolatey notes.

Central Brazil

green grass field under blue sky in Goias, Brazil

The Central Region of Brazil is located on the country's inland, western side, in the center between the northern and southern regions, and produces less than 1% of the country's coffee.

It is home to the following states:Goiás 

  1. Mato Grosso 
  2. Mato Grosso do Sul 

The Arabica variety of coffee grown here is known for its nutty and chocolatey notes. The region is also well-known for its efforts to promote environmentally friendly coffee production.

Brazil has a long and illustrious history with coffee. From its early beginnings in the 18th century to the present, the country has played a significant role in shaping the global coffee industry. Brazil's various regions each have their own distinct characteristics, ranging from the high altitudes of Minas Gerais to the tropical climates of Sul de Minas. Brazil's geography is also important in coffee production, with altitude, temperature, and soil quality all having an impact on the flavor and quality of the beans. Ultimately, the history of coffee in Brazil is one of innovation, hard work, and dedication, and the country remains a major player in the global coffee market.

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About the Author

Justin Kramp is a coffee fantatic and the owner and founder of Final Grind Coffee Co. He loves drinking single-origin specialty-grade coffee from around the world while researching interesting topics in the coffee world to share with his readers like you.

He founded Final Grind Coffee Co. in college in a quest for better coffee in a more convenient way.

To learn more about Justin and Final Grind Coffee Co., click here!