Brazil has held the title of the largest coffee producer in the world for the last 150 years. With hundreds of thousands of coffee farms spread out across millions of acres of land, the country brings a lot of variety to the market.
Brazilian coffee beans are recognized for their mild acidity and balanced flavors. Brazil produces predominantly arabica beans, which are often found in blends and instant coffees. The beans’ unique and smooth taste can be attributed to the country’s elevation levels and climate conditions.
The flavor contained within Brazilian coffee beans after they’re processed is only part of the journey. Most beans are exported before they get roasted, and the roasteries will develop the beans the rest of the way. In the rest of the article, I’ll look at what it takes to produce a Brazilian coffee bean, the flavor profile, and what to look for when buying your coffee.
What Makes Brazilian Coffee Beans Unique?
Due to varying climates and growing conditions, every coffee-producing country has something unique to offer in terms of flavor and quality, and Brazil is no different.
Brazilian coffee beans are unique in their variety. Brazil produces some of the cheapest beans intended for mass production, as well as highly artisanal batches from small, family farms. Elevation levels, growing conditions, and processing methods also create a unique flavor profile.
However, by some standards, Brazilian coffee beans are considered lower quality when compared to other countries. This is due, in part, to the need for mass production, which naturally tends to reduce quality.
The beans are also grown at lower elevation levels than some other countries, and for reasons discussed below, lower altitudes tend to produce lower quality beans.
Growing the Brazilian Coffee Bean
Out of Brazil’s 26 states, 13 contain coffee plantations. Most of the coffee grows in the Southeast, and the largest producing regions include:
- Minas Gerais
- Espirito Santo
- São Paulo
Like all coffee, Brazilian coffee beans begin as a plant. Four to five years will pass before the coffee cherries sprout, and they’re then cultivated, processed, and exported to the entire world.
The majority of the beans that come out of the country are arabica beans, and you’ve probably seen the phrase “100% arabica coffee” or something similar on the packaging of coffee you buy. This is referring to the species of plant from which the coffee was grown.
Most of the world’s coffee is classified as arabica, but Brazil’s climate is particularly ideal for growing this type of plant.
Growing Conditions for Brazilian Coffee Beans
Arabica coffee beans thrive in temperatures between 18° and 21°C (64° - 70°F), making Brazil’s southeastern regions perfect for growing.
Temperatures too far outside of this range will affect everything from the plant’s ability to grow to the final flavor of the beans, given that they’re able to be cultivated at all. When people discuss the threat of climate change on coffee production, this is usually what they’re talking about.
In addition to climate, Brazil’s topography is often ideal for coffee growth as well. The plants require a certain elevation level to grow properly, and as a result, you’ll find many coffee farms on the sides of mountains at around 1,100 m (3,600 ft) above sea level.
While that might seem high, Brazil’s growing elevations are often lower when compared to other coffee-producing countries like Costa Rica or Ethiopia, which might have farms as high as 1800 m (6,000 ft).
The Effect of Elevation on Coffee Flavor
The quality of a given coffee is often associated with altitude, among other things. Temperatures are cooler at higher elevations, which extends the growth and development period of the plant.
When coffee plants have more time to develop, they release more sugars, and the end result is a complex tasting cup of coffee.
Elevation also affects the beans themselves. At lower elevations, coffee beans will turn out less lighter and more delicate, as opposed to being hard and dense like those grown at high altitudes.
Brazil Also Produces Robusta Beans
The other popular type of coffee is the Robusta coffee. While most of Brazil’s farms produce arabica beans, there are a few areas where you’ll find Robusta beans being grown. The two primary states where Brazil grows Robusta beans are:
- Espirito Santo
How Do Robusta Beans Differ From Arabica Beans?
Robusta coffee beans differ from arabica in their flavor and caffeine content. Due to the growing conditions, they are known for having a more “robust” flavor and a higher concentration of caffeine.
On average, robusta coffee beans are grown at even lower elevations than Brazilian arabica beans. The higher caffeine content makes them more resistant to pests, which is one of the reasons they’re considered easier to grow.
Their caffeine concentration and slightly bitter - yet robust - flavor make Robusta beans suitable for espresso blends. They also produce a better crema, or the velvety layer of foam found on top of the brew.
Roasting the Brazilian Coffee Bean
Roasting Brazilian coffee beans is similar to roasting any other coffee beans. The length of roast time and temperature will determine the final outcome.
However, coffee grown at lower altitudes, like Brazilian coffee, tends to produce a softer, more delicate bean. This will change how roasters are able to roast the beans and how much heat the beans can withstand.
Processing Methods for Brazilian Coffee Beans
After the coffee cherries are picked from the plant, they must be processed before being shipped out and roasted. Different processing methods will affect the flavor in different ways, if only subtly, and there are three primary methods.
- Dry (natural): The dry-processing method involves drying the coffee naturally in the sun while the bean is still in the cherry.
- Wet (washed): The wet-processing method involves removing the exterior layers of the coffee first and then sending the shedded beans into a washing process to remove any excess. Afterward, the raw coffee beans are set out to dry.
- Pulped Natural (semi-washed): The semi-washed process (sometimes called the honey process) combines both methods. The coffee beans are partially stripped of their exterior shell, but rather than go through the full washing process, they are set out to dry with some of the pulp still attached. This adds to the flavor and protects the beans against fermentation.
Brazilian coffee farmers often use the dry-processing method, and this is somewhat unique to Brazilian coffee beans. The country’s climate allows them to use this method more than other countries since the wet and dry seasons line up well enough to let the beans dry naturally.
The roasting process for Brazilian coffee beans does not really differ fundamentally from other types of beans. Brazilian coffee beans need to be dried and browned in the same way that any other bean would need to be.
However, roasters may consider growing conditions when deciding how they will approach the roasting process.
Given the effect of altitude on the coffee in Brazil, roasters may need to consider the density of the bean to determine how to apply heat.
Lower density beans like those grown in many Brazilian farms will turn out to be softer, and they also contain more air pockets, which slows the transfer of heat. As a result, too much heat may burn the outside of the bean before they’ve been roasted fully, so roasters may apply light heat in the beginning.
What To Look For When Buying Brazilian Coffee
Not all coffee is created equally, and given how gigantic the industry has come to be, you’re bound to find dramatic variations in quality.
However, coffee tends to be a “get what you pay for” kind of product. Generally, the price of coffee is an indicator of not only quality but rarity as well, and while this isn’t true in every case, it can be a good place to start if you are looking for something of a higher quality.
Still, looking solely at price may not always lead you to the highest quality coffee. There are other factors to consider, including the following:
The subtle flavors of the coffee are usually listed on the front of the packaging. They range from chocolate to citrus and floral to smoky.
Keep in mind that these flavors aren’t flavors that were added to the coffee. These are flavors that are specific to the growing conditions and roast levels of the particular beans, and they’re usually very subtle. Those that aren’t regular coffee drinkers may not always notice them.
However, a bold coffee with flavor notes of chocolate or caramel can taste quite different from a light coffee that is more acidic and citrusy.
That is why it’s important to think about the kind of coffee you like and how you want your drinking experience to be.
Coffee beans, including those from Brazil, are roasted at various levels to achieve different flavor profiles. The roast level of a coffee is just one of the many things that will affect the flavor.
- Light roast coffee. Lightly roasted coffees tend to be much less bold and a lot lighter on the tongue. They’re typically lighter in color as well. They’ll often be more on the acidic end and have flavor notes that are more citrusy or herbal since they retain more of the natural plant flavors.
- Medium roast coffee. The middle-range coffees can vary quite a bit. They tend to be more balanced, but their flavor profiles may lean towards either end of the spectrum.
- Dark roast coffee. Darker coffee roasts produce a darker cup of coffee. These coffees can have flavor notes that are more chocolatey. They tend to be very bold and less acidic than lighter coffee, and they may appear to have a thicker consistency.
Traditionally, darker roasts have been the dominant roasting style, and lighter roasts are a newer concept. People often associate the strength of coffee with the darker roasts.
If you are looking for quality and freshness, some coffee brands list the date that the beans were roasted.
While this won’t tell you how long the beans were sitting before they were roasted, it will still give you an idea of the freshness level. Other brands might have a “packaging date” rather than a roast date, which is a little more vague.
The idea of a “single-origin” coffee is one that comes from a single region, country, or farm, and the more specific the location, the better.
While the majority of the world's coffee comes from Brazil, this doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Brazil is an enormous country with hundreds of thousands of coffee farms, so there’s no telling what might be in the batch of coffee you’re getting, and blends of different beans are very common.
However, the more you can narrow down the origin of the coffee you buy, the more confident you can be in terms of quality and consistency.
Smaller places of origin tend to produce more homogenous mixtures of beans. These farms frequently produce artisanal or specialty coffee that can be noticeably different from beans that are intended for mass production.
As mentioned above, coffee grown at higher elevations tends to be better in quality. Companies will sometimes print the growth altitude on their products, so if you are searching for quality and complexity of flavor, it might be wise to search for this detail.
However, Brazilian coffee beans usually are not found above 1,200 m (4,000 ft), so if this is an important feature for you, you may need to source your coffee from a different country.
Brazil’s climate allows them to grow large amounts of arabica beans, but the altitude at which they are grown may put limits on the flavor. Due to their mildness, Brazilian coffee beans are often mixed with other roasts to balance them out, but you can still find single-origin batches from smaller regions that will be more unique.
Still, Brazil produces around ⅓ of the world’s coffee, and as a result, you’re bound to find some varieties no matter where you go.