Towards the end of March 2021, I spent a week working with Giancarlo Curti of Abuela Café to get his first coffee roasts designed and ready for sale.
Abuela Café is based in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. It was my first time venturing to the very southern tip of Brazil. The weather was colder than you’d imagine in “tropical Brazil” and perfect for drinking a hot coffee.
Giancarlo and I originally met in São Paulo in early 2019 at a coffee roasting course. He was one of the few people in the course determined to open a coffee roastery in the near future. We quickly became friends and kept in touch throughout the Semana Internacional do Café (International Coffee Week) in 2020 and after.
Earlier this year, Giancarlo called me and asked if I would be willing to come to Porto Alegre and help him set up his roaster and design some initial roast curves before the official launch of coffees from Abuela Café. Since I had spent the past year roasting at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte, I thought I would be able to offer some knowledge and welcomed a trip to the south to get to work with coffee and see a dear friend.
Abuela Café is located in a beautiful co-living/co-working space of Vila Flores. In the past, the neighborhood was associated with prostitution and drug use, but Vila Flores has been changing that. This cultural association offers classes and workshops to the public and carries out various campaigns to help the neighborhood and people living there. In addition to this, the once run-down building has been turned into an architectural and design heaven filled with creatives. Next door to the roastery are a few ceramicists, a bakery using only organic ingredients, and a flower shop… just to name a few.
We only had five full days to work together, so the week was jam-packed with things to check off the to-do list.
Days 1 and 2 consisted of installing the 1.2 kg capacity roaster from Caparaó Roasters. It had a similar design to Atilla roasting machines, which I had become familiar with. After mounting the machine, connecting the exhaust, and installing the propane gas tank successfully, we discovered there was a malfunctioning sensor for one of the temperature readouts. While neither of us are electricians, we sought out advice from others in the Vila, picked up some additional wires, and jimmied up a fix until a new sensor arrives.
On Day 3, the roasting started. Using a program called Artisan to track the temperature curves of the coffee beans and the air, we started roasting Giancarlo’s first coffee, a natural-processed (meaning the coffee bean is dried with the cherry intact), organic coffee from Fazenda Klem. With notes of brown sugar, spices, and nuts, it’s a sweet and full-bodied coffee perfect for everyday drinking.
After extensive cupping and analyzing of the roast curves, we decided some best steps to move forward. Initially, we roasted three 1 kg batches. The tricky thing about starting with a new roasting machine and a new coffee is that there are so many variables to test. Where do you even start?
What temperature do you begin with? How long should the roast be? How much gas should you use throughout the roast? When should you change the airflow? What development time is right for this coffee?
While I had been roasting for a year and had general parameters that I knew should work well, there really is no better way to learn and find out what works than by roasting, tasting, and adjusting based on the outcomes.
Of the three initial roasts of the coffee from Fazenda Klem, we had one that was slightly overdeveloped, one that was pretty underdeveloped, and one that was more in the direction of how we believed the coffee would taste best. All roasts were necessary because they helped establish limits and parameters of temperatures, roast time, gas levels, etc.
I’m proud to say that after extensive analysis of the roasts and making a game plan for the next ones, Giancarlo roasted two great batches of coffee on just his second session roasting with a new machine (and two years since the roasting course in São Paulo)!
Days 4 and 5 consisted of more cupping, making pourover V60s, getting opinions from everyone at the Vila, and roasting some more. Abuela Café is launching with two coffees: one from Fazenda Klem and the other from Delmar Benelli.
This second coffee is from a micro lot of a smaller scale farmer in Minas Gerais. After more roasts, it proved to be an extremely succulent coffee with a bright, citric acidity. With strong notes of berries and honey, this coffee was definitely something to be tried. I took home two 250-gram bags myself!
After five days, it was almost time to say goodbye to my friend and wish him the best… but not until having a massive and delicious lunch with his partner Stefani, both their families, and their two dogs. Even after three years in Brazil, the hospitality of the people I meet here continues to amaze me. Friends quickly become family!
Overall, I think we had a very successful week and that Giancarlo made a lot of progress with his roasts in such a short time. Being the detailed-oriented person that he is, I’m confident that Abuela Café will be a major success.
If you live in Brazil and are curious about trying these coffees roasted by Giancarlo, head over to Instagram @abuela.cafe.
Being one of my last weeks in Brazil until I return to the United States for a bit, this was such a fun experience. Thanks for including me in your project, Giancarlo!
(For those interested in visiting Porto Alegre, don’t forget to try some chimarrão (maté) and enjoy some of the best vegan restaurants I’ve tried in Brazil.)
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