Cafe do Brasil
Coffee has always been a typical Brazilian product. In 1860, Brazil was already the world's foremost coffee producer - in its heyday, the commodity answered to 75% of the country's exports. From the 1970s onwards, though, with the entry of other producers in the global market, Brazilian coffee saw a significant depreciation.
Meanwhile, it earned a terrible reputation on the domestic market. Drinking national coffee was always a surprise, since no one was sure about the conditions under which it had been produced. The good grains were said to be reserved for foreign sales only.
But from the late 1990s until now, this scenery changed dramatically. Brazilian coffee currently represents 30% of global sales of the commodity - against 20% in the beginning of the 90s -, and Brazilians have rediscovered the joy of drinking coffee.
According to Nathan Herszkowicz, executive director at the Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (ABIC), who dubs this period as "the magic decade", the rebirth of coffee can be explained based on three major factors: quality grains, increase in production, and the good news that it is beneficial to health.
The quest for quality is perhaps the main reason. After losing a lot of money in the 92/93 crop, when prices dropped sharply, producers realized it was time to invest heavily in technology and professional qualification in order to improve grains.
"The reaction could already be felt by 1995 and 1996, when the industry naturally took to producing higher quality roasted and ground coffee. In 2000, the improved product hit the supermarket shelves, becoming available to end consumers," says Nathan.
To Maurício Miarelli, president of the National Coffee Council (CNC), the techniques for planting coffee have been changing for decades. But the latest of these changes was a true revolution in terms of inputs and resources for planting.
"Nowadays, there is a wide array of technological possibilities available for all crop sizes, and we have prices for all budgets. Mechanization played a key role in the productivity increase," said the president of CNC, who represents coffee planters.
"We now have the best production framework in 280 years of Brazilian coffee history," says Guilherme Braga Abreu Pires Filho, director-general at the Brazilian Coffee Exporter Council (CeCafé).
Proof of that is the number of coffee bags produced per hectare, which rose from nine, in the early 1990s, to an average nineteen in recent years. The figure may go up to thirty-five - as is the case with producers affiliated to the the country's largest cooperative, Cooxupé, located in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais -, or even fifty-five, in the case of irrigated coffee producers in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia.
Other evidence is the total production of coffee bags. In the 1990s, the yearly production rate was 24 million bags. Over the last five years, the average rate was 37 million bags. Last year, specifically, production reached 44 million bags. Research conducted by organizations such as the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) played a key role in the rebirth of coffee.
With greater productivity, the sector managed to lower prices and make good coffee accessible to domestic consumers. "Presently, the increasingly demanding domestic market has access to special grains at prices compatible with the reality of the country," says Miarelli, of the CNC.
Coffee and Health
Increased production led to an increased supply of espresso coffee machines. More modern and practical, they prompted the spread of cafés - including luxury ones, the latest trend in large cities in Brazil.
"Nowadays, one can even have an espresso machine at home," says Nathan. The lunchtime coffee, as well as coffee breaks throughout the day, are becoming more common for Brazilians.
Amidst all these events, there is an ongoing wave of news stories and articles about researches proving that coffee is not hazardous to the health. "In ten years, coffee went from villain to hero," says Nathan, from ABIC.
With more, better quality coffee available on the market, and knowing it is beneficial to health, Brazilians are now consuming more of it. Brazil is presently the world's second largest coffee consumer in the world. Last year, the country drank 16.3 million coffee bags - the Americans, avid drinkers, had 21.6 million bags.
But the order tends to get inverted. Soon, it seems, Brazil will not only be the largest producer, but also the largest consumer. "Global consumption is increasing 2% per year. In Russia and Eastern Europe, the increase rate is 3%, and in Brazil, it is 4%," says Guilherme Braga, of Cecafé.
Considered as the world's second largest generator of wealth - losing only to oil, the "black gold" - coffee currently generates approximately US$ 91 billion per year worldwide, and US$ 4 billion in Brazil. The country has 350,000 producers spread throughout 14 states and 1,900 municipalities. The Brazilian coffee chain is estimated to generate 8.4 million direct and indirect jobs.
According to sector projections, by 2015 the world will be consuming 145 million bags of coffee. Should Brazil intend to continue being the largest producer and still cater to the domestic market, the country will have to increase its current production to 60 million bags. In order to maintain pace and quality, Brazil must keep pushing on all fronts - from coffee genome research to export policies.
More than this, though, the government needs to overcome a few obstacles. A classic example is the fact that the country is known to export green grains of low added value, while Germany and Italy sell coffee by the pound without planting a single tree.
And even within the domestic realm, producers are the ones who lose the most. When the harvest is less than ideal, small coffee planters, who comprise the majority of producers, cannot even make one minimum wage per month.
"In developed countries, the income transfer process is compensated through subsidies, often in an exaggerated manner, thus harming the sector. But there are other support measures that do not distort the market and which might make up for these losses," according to Maurício Miarelli of the CNC.
Besides, there are also the classic problems affecting all exporting sectors, such as the lousy port infrastructure, the appreciation of the Brazilian real against the dollar, and too much red tape, etc.
A successful effort promoted in the 1990s, and not surprisingly one that was also responsible for the "magic decade", was the unification between the sector's organizations and the federal government, by means of the Coffee Policy Council (CDPC), established in 1996. Currently, all policies regarding the commodity must have the approval of the Council, comprised of seven representatives for each side.
One of the tasks of CDPC is to manage Funcafé, a fund that covers expenses ranging from the Brazilian Coffee Research and Development Consortium, an arm of Embrapa, to financing plans that cater to all segments in the coffee chain.
According to Lucas Tadeu Ferreira, general manager for strategic planning at the Coffee Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, the fund is currently R$ 4 billion (US$ 1.8 billion). The fund also covers the Integrated Marketing Program (PIM), established in 2003, and the rigorous crop quality control exerted by the National Food Supply Company (Conab).
"All this effort is still very recent. It started during the 1990s, but only four years ago did it begin to gain steam," says Lucas Tadeu. In other words, if it all boils down to teamwork, Brazil will see a profusion of green gold over the next ten years.
From Ethiopia to Brazil
There are many legends about the discovery of coffee. The most famous is that around the year 800, in the mountains of Abyssinia, currently Ethiopia, a young shepherd noticed that his goats became more agitated when they ate the fruit of a bush. On tasting the fruit, the shepherd discovered that he felt more energized and prepared to work.
It did not take long for the news to reach the Arab world, making them the first to make use of coffee, in around the 15th Century. In the beginning, the fruit was consumed mainly as an energizing paste, used for the Arabs to stay awake longer to be able to pray.
In the 14th and 15th Centuries, the first commercial coffee farms started operating in Yemen. In the 16th Century, coffee had already arrived in Istambul. At that time, Cairo was the greatest distributor of the product.
But it was the Dutch who, after acquiring the Arab fruit, invested in plantations in their Asian colonies (Java, Ceylon and Sumatra) and, later, in the Dutch Antilles, Central America.
In 1714, King Louis 14 of France was presented with a coffee plant that grew in a greenhouse in Versailles. When it gave fruit, the seeds were spread out and the saplings taken for cultivation on Reunion Island, at the time called Bourbon Island. That was how coffee started being consumed all around the world. Taken to Europe it was initially consumed as a medication for various maladies. It was only in the 17th century that it became a drink.
Coffee in Brazil
Coffee took around nine centuries to arrive in Brazil. The product entered the country in 1727 through the northern state of Pará, brought from the French Guiana. From the northern region, coffee was taken to the Northeast, before arriving in Rio de Janeiro southeastern Brazil, in 1773. It spread throughout the coastal region and in 1825 reached Paraíba Valley, then reaching the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.
The development of coffee came at the time of the independence of Brazil (1822). At the time, sugar and cotton farming were undergoing a crisis and farmers needed another product that was easy to sell on the foreign market. Apart from that, the decadence of mining made available significant numbers of workers who could be used in more lucrative activities.
In 1830 coffee became the main Brazilian export product, exceeding cotton and sugar. In 1860 Brazil became the greatest world producer and exporter of coffee and in the early 20th century the product represented 75% of Brazilian exports. In 1929, with the Wall Street Crash, came the crisis. In the early 1930s, there was a large loss of crops and 80 million bags of coffee were burnt.
To strengthen the coffee policy, the National Coffee Council was created in 1931. Other institutes arose after that, among them the famous Brazilian Coffee Institute (IBC), which was extinguished in 1989. Today, the sector is run by the Deliberative Council of the Coffee Policy, established in 1996 by sector organizations connected to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
If in the early days of coffee farming the sector was connected to the image of coffee barons, the scenery is currently very different - 90% of the coffee farmers are small and medium producers.
It was with the money of the inheritance of the greatest coffee farm in Latin America that Santos Dumont developed the inventions that caused the world-famous aircraft 14-Bis to fly on November 12, 1906, in Paris. And it was with equipment for the production of coffee, at the farm that belonged to his father, that the Brazilian inventor first got in contact with the world of machinery.
Santos Dumont's father, Henrique Dumont, was the engineer responsible, during the reign of Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II, for part of the Central Brazilian railway grid, that linked the southeastern Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
This job provided great prestige to the patriarch of the family and, aligned to the inheritance that his wife, Francisca de Paula Santos, had received from her father, caused him to be known as the "king of coffee".
With the end of the works of the railway, Henrique purchased the Arindeuva farm, close to Rio Preto, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, also southeastern Brazil, where he planted 500,000 coffee plants, (some say they were millions) and the structure of the farm was established.
At the age of seven, Santos Dumont drove the locomotives, steam engines that transported the crop to the main railway. At the age of 12, he convinced a steam engine driver to let him drive one of the main locomotives in the country at the time, a Baldwin, pulling a car full of coffee to a processing mill.
In his book of memories "My Airships", Dumont opposes the idea of precarious coffee farms. His father's farm was once the most developed in South America. According to him, the machines involved in the production of the commodity were what was closest to the universe found in the pages of fiction written by Jules Verne.
Santos Dumont always transported a thermos full of coffee. Even during his adventures. In 1897, when he first flew in a rented balloon, he did not forget to put his thermos in his luggage.
In October 1901, Dumont won the Deutsch award for flying around the Eiffel Tower in his Nº 6 dirigible, which was shaped like a cigar. When he left his balloon, Alberto Santos Dumont received from one of the spectators a steaming cup of coffee to celebrate the feat that proved that men could control flying machines.