Part 2: Visiting Origin | Minas Gerais & Espírito Santo

Find Part 1 of this story here.

After my time with Sítio Vargem Grande, I packed the rental car and headed down the mountains of Alto Jequitibá to the nearby village of Alto Caparaó in the state of Minas Gerais. This would be my base for visiting three more specialty coffee farms focused on sustainability.

Fazenda Ninho da Águia

My friend Henrique from Capitólio (whose coffee farm I visited earlier), previously interned at Fazenda Ninho da Águia – which translates to “Eagle’s Nest” – with producer Clayton Barrossa Monteiro. Previously a surfer, Clayton moved to the mountains of Minas Gerais to run the family coffee farm. During this time, Clayton was the only one working with specialty coffee in the area, and many people thought he was crazy for believing in the potential of coffee.

Fast forward to the present day, and Clayton and his family have received many awards for their organic, high-quality coffee, including winning 1st Place two years in a row with Coffee of the Year Brasil. At just 55 hectares of property (of which only 25 are used for coffee), Clayton’s specialty coffee consistently stands out each year. He is known worldwide for his excellent crops, with buyers in France, the UK, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and many other locations around the world.

When I asked Clayton why his coffee is so tasty and complex, he gave a lot of credit to the system they use for growing the coffee. In addition to having an altitude of about 1300 meters with a great microclimate for producing coffee, Clayton also plants other trees and fruits in the same area as the coffee trees, such as bananas, pineapples, African mahogany, and ipe. These plants help give natural nutrients to the coffee trees and enable better growth. The soil becomes richer without the use of pesticides or any chemicals. It was quite a treat to see huge bundles of bananas next to beautiful coffee trees.

Neighbor Paola cutting down some bananas to take home.

Oh, and don’t forget that all the coffee cherries are picked by hand only when they are ripe!

Clayton graciously took the time over two days to show me the coffee farm and the post-harvest processes, such as drying in the mechanical dryer and on raised beds. We even roasted some fermented beans together on his Atilla roaster. And (of course) we tried lots and lots of freshly brewed coffee!

Café Cordilheiras do Caparaó

Situated about a 1-hour drive away along a dirt road is the home of Café Cordilheiras do Caparaó at their coffee farm called Fazenda Alegria (“Farm of Joy”), on the Espírito Santo side of the border of Minas Gerais.

Just a beautiful truck they work with. Had to snap a pic!

While the entire family welcomed me so kindly into their home, brothers Douglas and Deneval Júnior took charge of showing me the property and how they work. This farm had a similar size to Fazenda Ninho da Águia, and the family harvests everything by hand and only when the cherries are ripe. They primarily use raised beds in a greenhouse type setup to dry the different coffee varieties that were harvested. They recently built a new greenhouse themselves that was the most well-built and spacious one I’ve seen to date!

After lunch and a few delicious coffees, Douglas and I talked a lot about the pricing of coffee and the position that producers of this crop find themselves in each year. In order to produce specialty coffee (above 80 points), you have more costs as a producer… paying people to selectively harvest, higher-quality post-harvest processes, working more with natural coffees in a climate that is constantly cycling between sun and rain. It should make since that higher-quality coffee means higher costs, and thus higher prices to purchase.

Just like any other business, coffee farmers have their costs that they have to meet, and then they need to make additional money to be able to live and continue to work (shelter, food, cars, gas, etc.). Coffee buyers often want to negotiate until coffee producers are not making any money, and sometimes even losing a bit of money after all costs are considered. This is a situation close to the heart of Douglas, and I agree with him that it is important to pay a premium for specialty coffee. A better cup should come at a higher price. It makes sense.

Even though Cordilheiras do Caparaó has won 2nd and 9th place at Coffee of the Year Brasil in 2018 and 2017, they still wanted a way to help bring in more profits and showcase their amazing coffee at the same time for those visiting the property (like me). They have a coffee shop and a roastery on-site, where they roast and serve their own harvested beans. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! It’s a very homey space that I enjoyed meeting the rest of the family in and sharing some delicious food together.

For the rest of the afternoon, we worked to fill two 30kg bags to ship to a roaster. To do this, one must first separate all the beans by size (also called “grade”). This family only ships size 16 and above. This number refers to how many 64ths of an inch the holes are in the screens for sorting… so 16/64 of an inch diameter. After this, we separated any defects from the pile, such as black beans, cracked beans, or any rare sticks or rocks that might have passed through the electronic sorter.

Fazendas Dutra

The next specialty coffee farm I visited was a bit different from the others. With a whopping 750 hectares of coffee, Fazendas Dutra is the largest specialty coffee producer I have seen personally so far. While the coffee is still harvested by hand, those harvesting the coffee must use handheld machines to help speed up the process. This means that the green cherries are collected together with the ripe and overripe ones.

However, Fazendas Dutra is extremely focused on quality and makes sure their beans are of specialty-grade! They have over 85 awards, 60 years in the business, and 200 types of coffee (AKA lots of varieties you don’t normally see in Brazil)!

Pedro Dutra, the member of this family who welcomed me and gave me a tour of the area, showed me how the cherries are separated using high-tech sorting machines, then distributed to the fourteen 18,000 liter-capacity mechanical dryers. The sorting machine ensures that ripes cherries are only grouped with ripe cherries. At this large of a scale, it makes sense to function this way.

Where the coffee cherries are separated.

Fazendas Dutra has over 300 hectares of protected forest, and they are certified organic here in Brazil and with the USDA. In some of the areas, they use an agroecology system (like Ninho da Águia’s system) with avocado trees!

Pedro shared several types of coffee with me, but the one that caught my attention the most was a variety called Pacamara Amarelo. This coffee is exclusively produced in nano-lots and harvested at an altitude of 1250 to 1350 meters. The grains of this variety are usually larger than most other common varieties, which is a valued quality. This coffee brewed had high acidity and sweetness with notes of chocolate. It was bom demais! (“really good!”) This variety originated from a cross between the Pacas and Maragogipe varieties and is grown primarily in El Salvador. Definitely a special experience to taste this coffee, and I’m excited to brew some at home thanks to Pedro’s generosity!

Pedro (left) and me (right). Thanks for all the coffee!

Pico da Bandeira

Before arriving in Alto Caparaó, I learned that this region has the third-highest peak in Brazil at 2,892 meters. I love hiking and mountains, so I scheduled in a day to summit this peak. It was a beautiful hike in a super nice national park! I recommend anyone visiting the area for coffee to take some time for the surrounding nature as well.

While it was a cloudy day for me with lots of fog, on sunny days there is a 360° view of all the mountains, coffee farms, and little villages.

As the saying goes in Portuguese, “Vale a pena!” Worth it!

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