origin trip 2023 - 2024


notes from the field - jay ryu, roastery manager

Last year, we had the chance to take our first origin trip since 2020. Over the last five years, the coffee industry has faced significant challenges. Due to a variety of factors, the price of green beans increased enormously e.g. flash overnight frost in Brazil, cutting supply by a third, and the pandemic, to name a few. This has been felt across several origin countries, particularly in Colombia, where the cost of green beans had gone up 30-50%.

We wanted to find a sustainable solution – continuing to source high-quality coffee whilst being conscious of rising cost of production in the current market at origin and at home. We started to explore other options and got in contact with Carmo Coffee in Minas Gerais Brazil. Luckily, we knew the owner, Luiz Paulo, from a previous purchase of coffee way back in 2014. We knew Brazil was the largest coffee producer in the world – we just had to find the growers who were producing the most delicious and sustainable beans.

We spoke to Luiz, who sent us some samples. After weeks of cupping and testing, we were impressed with the coffee and ended up purchasing a full container from Carmo. This sparked curiosity about Brazilian coffee. Could we find better ones when visiting Brazil and meeting the farmers? The coffees we had experienced, the data and feedback from our wholesalers gave us enough reason to visit the origin site myself.

And so, we went to Brazil.

Day 1 – Exploring FAF

On the very first day, I landed in Sao Paulo and headed straight to FAF (Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza) to see its owner, Felipe. Felipe and his family run FAF coffee as well as a few other local coffee farms. After meeting Felipe, we drove to Mococoa, which is located in the north of Sao Paulo. We had long conversations during the five-hour drive and he explained his experience of the coffee industry in Brazil. I quickly realised what an abundance of knowledge he had. He told me that FAF and his ultimate goal was to educate other farmers and grow as an industry and a community. After a long drive to FAF, we jumped straight into the cupping table. The quality of the coffee was impressive, and most of FAF’s stock tasted exceptional – clean and fruity with bright citrus notes. They tasted like honey-processed or Colombian coffee, rather than the classic Brazilian natural coffees that we were used to.

at home with

Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza

room with a view

FAF works with 229 partners across 5 regions, 2,915 hectares of coffee farms and 58,000 bags production capacity. Their main Regions are; Mogiana, Sul de Minas, Caparo, Espirinto Santo and Alta Mogiana. 

After the first table of cupping, we moved on to the second, which had all of Felipe’s personal coffees. His beans were all organic, and sourced mostly from Mogiana and Alta Mogiana. Some micro-lots that Felipe planted were Ethiopia Guji and Kenya SL34, both of which were very impressive. 

(The image to the left is FAF’s dry mill in front of the cupping room)

After the cupping, Felipe gave me a tour of his coffee farm, which was absolutely stunning. It was luscious and well-structured. Visiting that place was one of the best experiences of my life.

 Day 2 – Joao Hamilton

On my second day in Brazil, we returned to FAF to meet another grower, Joao Hamilton. Joao is one of the old-school farmers who now works with Felipe. He’s very passionate and grows some incredible coffee.

(Pictured: Joao Hamilton from left, myself and Joao’s son Victor) 

Days 3 & 4 – Carmo Coffee

After spending two and a half days at FAF, I headed to Carmo Coffee at Minas Gerais, which is a six-hour drive from FAF.

Carmo’s factory was enormous and also very impressive. They sold 900 containers of coffee last year alone – most of the coffees they purchased are from the Luiz's family. They also buy and work with some smaller farmers. Since they operate mostly as an exporter, they don’t own a farm like FAF. However, the founder Luiz has his own farm and his family are the main coffee suppliers in Carmo.

On the second day at Carmo, Leticia, one of Carmo’s staff, and I moved down to their head office in Sao Lourenco to visit some farms. 

The first stop was Fazenda Irmas Pereira, which was a coffee we had bought before. It was owned by Luiz Paulo’s aunty. The farm was beautiful and all the processes were structured and efficient. The workers worked very efficiently and some cool experimental techniques were being explored.

We drove for another hour to check out one of the oldest coffee mountains in Brazil. It was amazing as some of the coffee trees were 40 years old. They were so tall, around 2m high, but people don’t harvest these areas since the coffees aren't of great quality. They mentioned that they kept the trees to show the visitors, but also out of respect as they had such a natural history and heritage.

I also visited Fazenda Santuário Sul, which was another memorable farm. As I was there, I got a sense of the reality facing many specialty coffee farmers. There’s a shortage of hand-pickers in season and a lack of farming equipment where it’s needed. This has led to many specialty coffee farmers closing down in the past few years, particularly during the pandemic. (2020 was a particularly low production year for Brazil).

What speciality coffee means to us

I felt incredibly lucky to spend four days at Carmo Coffees. Visiting farms that we've been using for the last few years was really special and interesting too. 

Whilst there was so much joy and hope throughout the trip, it was heartbreaking to see lots of great farmers giving up due to financial issues and a lack of support, even though Brazil is the biggest coffee-exporting country in the world.

After the trip, I brought back many samples from both FAF and Carmo Coffees and we decided to purchase 2 full containers from Carmo Coffees. I'm really excited to share these coffees with our customers this year, in both our blends and on our single origin rotation. I hope to represent our producers well and build on these relationships in the future and bring more delicious coffees for all to enjoy.

why is transparency important?

As a small business, we pride ourselves on supporting our coffee producers, ensuring a more sustainable income and lifestyle for their families and communities. We believe presenting the prices we pay for our coffee adds to an ongoing industry movement of transparency and accountability and in doing so, helps ensure the sustainability of the industry we love.

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