Coffee Farm Visit in Capitólio

Aerial footage of the farm.

I was recently talking with a new friend I met in Brazil about my desire to study coffee. A few weeks prior, he had met a Brazilian by the name of Henrique Soares living in the small city of Capitólio, Minas Gerais, whose family has several coffee farms in the area dating back to the 1980s. I got his contact, sent a message, and it wasn’t long before Henrique picked me up in Belo Horizonte to drive four hours west. I very quickly realized he was an extremely generous person, offering to pick up and drive a total stranger to his house in his hometown!

On the ride to Capitólio, we quickly bonded talking about life, travel, and coffee. Already, he was enlightening me about different processes during the post-harvest to properly wash, select, sort, and dry the coffee beans, to get them ready to be sent off!

Henrique studied agronomy in university after thinking for most of his life that this wouldn’t be the path for him. He specialized in coffee management and production and also completed an internship with Fazenda Ninho da Águia, a specialty coffee farm in Minas Gerais voted the best coffee in Brazil in 2014 and 2015. (I will be going there in two weeks, too!)

Henrique with his coffee beans from this year’s harvest.

Henrique’s coffee farms are primarily divided among two separate fazendas – Santa Izildinha and Santa Antônio. With these two locations, Henrique’s family is the largest coffee producer in Capitólio. They primarily work with the following varieties: Catuaí Vermelho, Catuaí Amarelo, and Mundo Novo.

The first location Henrique took me was one for all of the post-harvest activities. After the coffee cherries are collected from the main farms, they are transported by truck and dropped off here. There is plenty of equipment for washing, sorting, drying, and packaging the coffee to send off in 40-kilogram bags. Since I arrived a few weeks after the harvest season, I didn’t have the chance to see any of these machines in action, but there is always next year (or another coffee farm)!

Henrique recently led the building of raised beds (also called “drying tables”). This structure suspends the coffee above the ground during the drying process, where workers then mix the beans by hand. More commonly, coffee beans are laid out on concrete and raked at specific time intervals to rotate the beans and allow other sides to dry. Because air enters from above and below the beans thanks to the mesh net in the raised bed drying process, this method arguably dries the beans more uniformly and results in less fermentation. The goal is to drop the coffee beans’ humidity to 11%, when it is then ready to be packaged and shipped.

Later, we drove to the two main coffee farms. As this was my first visit to a coffee farm, I had no idea what to expect. We drove and drove and drove some more, and the coffee trees never seemed to end! My curiosity piqued, I asked Henrique how many coffee trees were planted. His response: more than one million!

There are two ways to harvest coffee: by hand or with machines. Brazil is famous for mechanical harvesting because many coffee farms are on relatively open and flat enough land that tractors can drive through. Henrique’s farm was one of these. Here is a picture of me standing under the largest tractor at the farm, exactly where a coffee tree would be before being harvested! The driver sits up top looking through the glass in this particular model.

As I mentioned above, I arrived after the harvest, so the coffee trees were bare of fruit. It had been some time without rain as well (dry season in Brazil), and fires had started raging nearby and throughout the city. Nobody knew exactly how they started, but workers at the farm said they were the worst they have seen since 2012. People were working to clear out plants and brush from specific areas so that, in the event of the fires reaching the farm, they would reach this point and hopefully slowly die out with nothing else to burn… a barrier of sorts.

After the farms, Henrique insisted on introducing me to Pedro Brás, owner of Canastra Coffees. Canastra Coffees is a high-end coffee exporter. Pedro built a network/collective of farms whose producers care about improving quality and producing incredible coffee, where he helps connect Brazilian farmers with buyers worldwide. He offers assistance, workshops, and counseling to establish better practices to increase quality, thus also increasing recognition of these farms and bringing about better prices for everyone.

Even though he just got back from a work trip to Japan and had lots of work to do, Pedro took the time to share some stories with us over a cup of coffee sourced from his personal farm and roasted on-site.

When Henrique and I were not visiting the farms, he showed me the bountiful nature of Capitólio. We took a boat tour on the freshwater river in the neighboring town of Escarpas to visit waterfalls and go for a swim in the beautiful, green water. We also drove a 4×4 on dirt roads to access hiking trails and view amazing rock structures. The surrounding reminded me a bit of Utah, where I went to university for four years!

After about a month of mainly being in different big cities, it was amazing to meet Henrique and head to a beautiful small town with coffee farms and abundant nature. Thanks for everything!

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