Ever since we received a “limited edition” of Brasil Daterra Farms “Sunflower” from Maniac Roasting a month or so ago, I have been a strong advocate of this coffee. It is simply one of the finest coffees I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
As can be noted from the information below, Daterra is an entirely different sort of coffee farm than what we have been dealing with in our weekly Black Drop Featured Bean series. Daterra is a giant in terms of size and innovation in the coffee world. I was particularly struck by their scientific Penta System for harvesting and processing and the manner in which they blend various Arabica cultivars from different plots on the farm to produce unique and remarkable blends.
My first taste of the “Sunflower” remains in my memory like Proust’s madeleine, reaching down into the depths of my life and coffee, archetypal associations of early childhood aromas stretching into dark paneled rooms lined with books, the fragrance of coffee like a thread connecting everything together. A thousand mornings waking up to the smell of coffee, sunlight on my Grandmother’s kitchen table, and a thousand nights up late under a lamp reading, pausing to sip the cup of coffee nearby. Coffee this good is a rare and beautiful thing.
After that, tasting notes can only seem cartoon-like. I think I said: “Chocolate Lightning” as my first descriptor. And the chocolate is there, but not heavy, very light, and yes, electric. Mellow notes of bursting purple grape, blackberry. Hints of soft walnut, sweet pecan. Extremely smooth finish. Leaves the mouth tantalized, clean, wanting more.
Location: Cerrado region (State of Minas Gerais) and in the Mogiana region (State of São Paulo), Brazil.
Property Size, Plantation Figures: “3,250 hectares of preservation land; 150,000 native trees planted; 14,000 tons of organic composting and over 15,000,000 of coffee trees.” “The plantations, settled in different areas, are divided into 215 mini- farms and further subdivided into 2,816 blocks called “quadras”, each of which is planted with a specific coffee variety.” http://www.daterracoffee.com.br
Predominant Varietals: “In partnership with IAC (Agronomic Institute of Campinas) and Illycafé Daterra has carried out deep research to elect the varieties yielding the best cup. Typica – original natural coffee from Ethiopia. Bourbon – mutant of Typica from the Island of Bourbon. Caturra – natural mutant of Bourbon originated in Brasil. Mundo Novo – natural cross pollination of Sumatra and Bourbon in Brazil. Red and Yellow Icatu – back cross of Bourbon and Canephora Tetraploid.” – http://www.daterracoffee.com.br
Elevation: 3,250 to 3,900 ft.
Climate: Stable temperature of around 70ºF (25ºC)
Processing method: Pulp Natural
Drying method: “Sun drying is fundamental for the initial humidity reduction. Thin layers of cherries, spread over heat-insulated concrete pátios, are revolved three times an hour by means of special equipment. Drum Drying is essential to finally achieve the perfect moisture level for high quality roasting. The Wood Silos, much like big wine barrels, rest and soften the green beans for at least six weeks. This resting stage is mandatory for moisture homogeneity.” – http://www.daterracoffee.com.br
Grade: Penta Grade System, Vacuum Pack; .2 d/300gr, 16-18 screen
Quality grades have a unique Brazilian nomenclature, reflecting the cup characteristics of Brazilian coffees. The highest-quality grade is strictly soft, followed by soft, softish, hard, and finally, Rio, which smells medicinal like iodine. The very rare strictly soft-grade coffees give a mellow, sweet cup with little or no tang.
Almost all Brazilian coffees are grown quite far from the equator and at moderate elevations, ranging from 2,800 to 3,500 feet. In a few small areas, like Pos de Caldas and Zona das Montanhas, coffee is grown at over 4,000 feet and is more acidic in the cup. Both areas frame the state of Minas Gerais, the first to the west and the second to the east; Minas Gerais is the state with the greatest diversity of terroirs. To the south is Sul de Minas with mostly gentle hills, reminiscent of parts of Vermont, rising over the 3,000-foot plain. To the north of the state are the table-like landscapes and ancient soils of Cerrado, a savannah once considered too dry for coffee growing. Cerrado, a world frontier of coffee growing, harvesting, and processing technology, produces coffee with the least acidity, ideal for espresso. Other states producing the best qualities are Espiritu Santo (very recently), Parana, and Bahia.
Many varieties of Arabica are grown in Brazil, Mundo Novo, Catuai, Icatu and the heirloom variety Bourbon being the main ones. Almost all Brazilian coffees are processed either the natural or the pulped-natural way. In both processes the sugars of the drying coffee fruit migrate to the seed, the coffee bean. These added sugars contribute more soluble solids to the coffee bean, which impart greater body to the coffee. Coupled with Brazilian coffee’s ‘soft’ character, this heavier body can make it ideal for elegant, lighter-roasted espressos, so popular in Milan and Trieste.
Highly recommended to view the photos at George Howell: Coffee Country Visits: Daterra Farm: Brazil 2010
Daterra is located in the Cerrado region. A region you’ll have a hard time finding on a map, since it’s not a political but an ecological region. It’s a very dry area with lots of small Savannah-like vegetation. The farm itself is located around 1100-1200 meters above sea level and measures a whooping 6.000 hectars of land – half of that, though, is actually reservation area, where no coffee is grown. To say Daterra is one farm, is technically incorrect as it is actually made up of three farms: Boa Vista, where the office, the Dry Mill and Quality Control Center is located, Tabuões neighbouring Boa Vista, and finally São João, which is pretty far away in the Sao Paulo state.
There’s about 300 people employed full time year round at Daterra and an additional 150 during the harvest season. I didn’t get to meet them all. But I did get to see Luis Pascoal, the owner and visionary behind Daterra. Luis is an amazing guy whose commitment to sustainable practices and innovation is unsurpassed. He bought the farm 18 years ago and within a decade it was already renowned throughout the specialty coffee world – not the least for it’s research, much of it done together with Illy in Trieste, Italy, specifically on growing and processing coffee for espresso. They were the first farm in the world to vacuum pack coffees in stead of packing in jute sack. Their dry mill have machines that are state-of-the-art and some which Daterra even invented themselves. And to hear Luis speak about politics and environmental challenges almost makes me wish he was a political leader – but then again I’m sure he’s doing plenty good where he is now. Besides the farm Luis is the C.E.O. of Dpaschoal – the largest tire supplier in Brazil. And even in that business he’s committed to environmentally sustainable practices and is right now re-schooling all of his 4.000 employees. Besides that he finds time for a charity fond and even design coffee cups for his roastery Ateliê do Café. The man must never sleep.
Daterra Farms is a remarkable force in the Brazilian coffee world, and the entire coffee world in general. Here we find one of the most innovative coffee cultivators, where each step is scrutinized, rethought, reinvented. It is more of a coffee research institute than a farm! Well, that’s not true … like all farms the coffee tree predominates, but here we have each plot marked off in terms of what “experiment” is currently being conducted to improve cup quality. When I visited there were plots of huge 20 foot tall “native” coffee trees, then pure Catuai cultivar areas, Icatu, Mundo Novo and other cultivars I have never encountered. And then there were the old traditional cultivars, Typica and pure Yellow Bourbon. They blend the various plots, like a vintner might blend their grapes from within a farm, to get the desired results.
From Crema Magazine:
There is a pocket in the Minas Gerais region called Cerrado which is where you will find a company called Daterra: currently producing some of the most exciting coffees you are ever likely to come across. Daterra epitomises what a modern coffee plantation should be: innovative, experimental, sustainable and inspiring. They possess certifications such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ and are also leaders in organic farming, environmental preservation and social standards for their workers and their community. But the ace up Daterra’s sleeve is when it comes to quality assurance. Daterra has developed the Penta® system; an elaborate series of technological procedures that follow the coffee from seed to shipping that eliminates defects and ensure that only the best beans make the cut.
Be sure to check out Daterra on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/daterracoffee