2011 Southeast Regional Barista Champion Michael Harwood takes time out of his schedule at Open Eye Cafe to visit Brasil with the other U.S. Regional Champions, National Champ Pete Licata, along with the 2011 World Barista Champion from El Salvador, Alejandro Mendez. Leading the trip were Tim Chapdelaine & Noah Namowitz from Cafe Imports, and along for the education and fun were Sarah Allen from Barista Magazine, Gianni from Nuovo Simonelli, Reg Barber from Reg Barber Enterprises.
Cafe Imports offered this trip as a prize to all these Baristas in recognition of the hard work & effort put forth to become champions; and to further connect all levels of the coffee industry, thereby promoting education, understanding & appreciation of coffee from seed to cup.
This very special trip allowed these coffee professionals to learn from the farmers & producers they met with. With this much barista talent it proved to be a truly remarkable trip since everyone was so engaged and hungry for more information. Noah stated ”It is easy to see why these barista champions have achieved the level of success they have”.
Watch this great short video of the first part of the trip shot by Cafe Imports:
Cafe Imports Origin Trip – Brasil Report
The moments following the winner’s announcement at the South East Regional Barista Championship bled together as I looked into flashing cameras while shaking hands and receiving hugs from friends. It proves difficult to recall specifics, but I can picture Noah from Cafe Imports making a beeline for me before the crowd hit and dropping, “How’s your July looking for origin travel to Brazil?” Dumbfounded, I mustered, “I’ll check my schedule?” Just like that I was applying for visas and steadying myself for multiple immunizations. Joining me would be my fellow 2011 regional winners from the United States Barista Competitions, who were being revealed throughout Spring. Also joining us was current reigning King of the baristas, World Barista Champion Alejandro Mendez, hailing from El Salvador. Leading and teaching us were Tim Chapdelaine and Noah Namowicz of Cafe Imports. Rounding out the crew was Sarah Allen of Barista Magazine, Gianni Cassatini of Nuova Simonelli, Reg Barber, who is world-renowned for his beautiful tampers, and filmmaker Jake Szymanski.
Our journey focused on honing our cupping skills, learning to distinguish specialty-grade practices from commercial-grade, observing labor conditions, understanding the logistics of buying and shipping green coffees, and very importantly, figuring out how to brew coffee wherever we went. To accomplish most of these goals, Tim and Noah hooked us up with Agricafe and Bourbon Specialty, two of the finest coffee exporting companies in Brazil.
Agricafe hosted us during our week in the state of Bahia. On our first full day, we visited their polished coffee lab in the sunny coastal city of Salvador. Our gracious hosts Silvio and Fernando led us through a thoughtful tasting of diluted organic acids & other solutions to calibrate our palates. Our next challenge was to taste defects one might find in coffee. This round exhibited many harsh flavors, but gave me an appreciation for specialty coffee as well as farming and processing practices that avoid these problems. Our last cupping for the day was a table of specialty coffees from farms around Bahia, some of which we would be driving to see in person over the next few days. We were very excited!
Leaving Salvador, we drove a long way west to the smaller towns of Mucugê and Piatâ. On the farm, we would chat with the farmer and typically their family while checking out the processing stations and trees. After three or four farms, I was gaining context for comparing and contrasting. I learned that there are pros and cons to farms both big and small, and that cup quality has a lot to do with terroir, how effectively the farmer harvests, processes, and stores their coffee; and lastly to the whims of the weather. It was difficult to get over my notion that small farms are best because they are the most endearing. There is no definitive best in regards to farm size, but I see something beautiful in a small family being personally invested in their land, harvest, and processing. Romanticism aside, some of the bigger farms we visited were producing amazing specialty coffees along side commercial-grade.
After flying to São Paulo, we drove to the small city of Poços de Caldas, located in the coffee-famous Minas Gerais region. We were in good hands with Bourbon Specialty, who led us to some of the finest farms and finest restaurants in the area. I fell in love with the pizza and sushi restaurants, the amazing culture, and the never once used monorail track that snakes down a main avenue. Our drive times out to the farms were significantly reduced in this coffee-dense region as most of the growing areas are located just outside the crater of the extinct volcano in which the city resides. Minas Gerais lived up to its reputation as we tasted some wonderful natural and pulped natural coffee on Bourbon Specialty’s cupping table during our last day. Thanks to this trip, I can tell you that natural process is when the whole cherry is dried, while in pulped natural processing, the skin and much of the mucilage is removed before drying commences. There is a noticeable difference in taste as well. Ask me about it sometime!
Although this trip passed in a blur, I can still remember the coffees, good and bad, from our cupping tables, as well as the sweet, peppery taste of a freshly picked coffee cherry, the rhythmic clacking of processing equipment playing against friends’ laughter, the farmers’ weathered faces and calloused hands, and the golden silence on one of our last bus rides together.
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