Minamihara Farm Stay with Elias Zwyssig
THE BARN gave me the opportunity to explore the world of coffee with the chance to go to Franca in Brazil and live on the Minamihara (www.minamihara.com) farm, which is part of the region Região da Alta Mogiana. So far, half of my three month internship has passed, and I can’t believe how much I’ve experienced in just six weeks.
My experience began with working on the farm in the morning and at the local association AMSC (Alta Mogiana Specialty Coffees) in the afternoon.
The farm is organic, and they their grow coffee in the sun and shade of avocado trees, which gives their coffees a unique flavour. The picking process is therefore mainly done by hand in the months of May - August. The harvesting machine is just used for the remaining coffee beans. The coffee fruits are picked when fully ripe, but some are left on the tree for drying (tree-dried process). Nonetheless, the major part of the beans is naturally dried in layers of beds. They are divided into three layers and the coffee is placed in one layer for one to two weeks, when it is moved up into the next one, and so on. This ensures a slow and even drying of the coffee to preserve the unique flavours. The moisture content drops from about 60 % down to 11-12 %.
The next step is to remove the flesh and let the coffee rest in a huge tank for at least 45 days in plastic bags, which are covered in jute bags. The coffee is then separated by hand to get rid of all the defects.
My job for the first week was to prepare whole coffee bean samples of the different lots, which Is where the whole coffee beans are taken and separated with a sieve from branches of the coffee tree. As I had never done this before, I was lucky to have one of the farm workers helping me. Following this was the de-hulling of the beans done by a small peeling machine. After which we used smaller sieves to separate the coffee from remaining shell.
The final step was to separate the other defects using our eyes and a reference sheet with pictures of defects. Defects include black beans, pods, in parchment, sour beans, quakers, un-ripes, shells, broken, floaters and stones. An additional separation is then used to sort the sizes of the coffee beans, because only the ones above size 14 are used for Specialty Coffee (in some cases the size starts at 16). This is done to ensure an even roasting process so that none of the beans are roasted too early, which would lead to off flavours.
Let’s dive into the second week, which was all about the FamCafe Event where the coffee producers and the coffee shops had their own stands to exhibit their coffee. Adding to that, there were a lot of lectures about different coffee topics, including different brewing methods or the presentation. There was also a presentation from 2origin (www.2origins.com) who want to bring farmers and farm workers (students or other people who are interested on working on a farm) together.
My job was mainly brewing coffee for the farm I’m staying with, the Minamihara farm. It was a fun week, especially when visitors to our stand realised I could speak a bit of Portugese.
During this week, I also got to visit another farm that grows medicinal herbs and all kind of fruits that are common here in Brazil, such as cacao, acerola, jackfruit, and graviola. The farm is located close to the Minamihara farm.
I also got to see another farm, the Bela Époqua farm that grows organic coffee, and was placed 9th in this year’s cup of excellence.
The third week was dedicated to find the best coffee of the region in the categories lots and microlots. The head judge was from Hamburg, Germany. His name is Thomas Kliefoth and together with Annika Taschinski, he is the owner of the Elbgold coffeeshops based in Hamburg. The cuppings were done alongside Q-Graders from the region, and I learnt that they only know about the flavour profiles of the coffees in Brazil, because here in Brazil it's not allowed to import green coffee beans.
Thomas pointed out that in his opinion the Brazilian coffee can unfold its whole potential when the farmer’s try to produce high (but not the highest of all) quality coffee beans in high quantities, because that is what is going to separate them from the rest of the market. This is because so far coffee production is either concentrated on producing high quantities, but low quality (other parts of Brazil, Indonesia, etc.) or the highest possible quality, but just small quantities (Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, etc).
The awards ceremony took place a bit outside of Franca. We were more than happy with the results of the competition, because the Minamihara farm won second and third place in the category microlot.
The fourth week was the most intense and the most interesting so far. It was all about the Semana Internacional do Café (SIC) in Belo Horizonte. A lot of producers from different regions of Brazil presented their coffee and offered cuppings. The other exhibits were mainly roasters, espresso machines, and other coffee equipment.
The exhibitors included Probat, Victoria Arduino, Wolff Café, La Marzocco, Hario, Ally coffee, and many more. Again, my work was mostly brewing coffee, but this time I was given the responsibility of representing our coffee region Região da Alta Mogiana, by offering the best coffee from the previous weeks competition for degustation. My personal favourites were the winner of the microlot (fruity notes of red grapes, a tartaric acidity and long aftertaste) and of course the Minamihara coffee (floral aromas, a citric acidity, taste of honey, milk chocolate and oranges).
I got to know a lot of interesting people, including:
-Ricardo Pereira, the specialty director of Ally Coffee and representer at the different competitions
-Naomu Kimura, representer of Hario and sales manager of Latin America
-Sabine Parrish, writer for the Standart Magazine and doing a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Oxford University in England. Her research is about the contemporary changes in coffee consumption in producing countries, with a focus on Brazil.
-Evelyn Rosa, the Swiss cup taster champion and now 5th place at the World Cup.
-André Eiermann, Swiss Barista Champion 2017 and second place at the World Barista Championships in 2017.
-Nina Rimpl, a judge in the category Latte Art and former Swiss champion in Latte Art.
-Henry, the CEO of Perfect Daily Grind, who is actually a friend of the Minamihara farm owners.
-Emi Fukahori, Swiss Brewer’s Cup champion and now also World Brewer’s Cup Champion and owner of the MAME coffeeshop in Zurich.
-Mathieu Theis, the co-owner of MAME and third place at the World Barista Championships in Amsterdam.
-Daterra coffee, as Emi Fukahori used their coffee and they cheered her on during the presentation of the winner of the World Brewer’s Cup.
After the intense first four weeks, the last two weeks since the SIC, were relaxed. I learnt how coffee is planted and grown in the nursery before being re-planted. It involves a lot of sorting to see if the coffee plants are ready to plant, or if they need to grow more and become more stable. The focus was mainly on contacting the farmers who competed at the regional competition, to discuss the selling of their coffees. Their coffees were roasted and cupped again to see if the initial ranking at the competition was still accurate.
After this week, half of my internship is over, and so far it was a great experience. I’m learning a new language, coffee’s journey from the bean until the final cup, Brazilian culture, and much more.
For the second half of my internship, the focus will be on helping more at the farm. In the morning, I will participate again in helping in the nursery planting new coffee. In the afternoon and evening, the focus now is more on training with the new bought Victoria Arduino and the Gina’s.
- Elias Zwyssig