Enjoy two entries from Sam, our Green Coffee Buyer, as he travels through Brazil planning our 2023/2024 coffee menu.
I've spent the first leg of my trip in Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná. Most of Paraná lies south of the Tropic of Capricorn—as recently as 1970, Paraná grew more coffee than anywhere else in the world, but colder and wetter weather has forced production to warmer, dryer regions. Curitiba itself is too far south for coffee—I'm here to catch up with suppliers and to taste coffees ready for export.
Between flights I've been rereading By the Smoke and the Smell by Thad Vogler, owner of the James Beard Award winner Bar Agricole in San Francisco. Vogler writes beautifully about the importance of meticulous, intentional sourcing for grower-producer spirits like cognac, rum, mezcal, and scotch. I've brought my spare copy to share with a supplier who I think will enjoy it.
Without travel, Vogler writes, "You taste in a vacuum, with no understanding of broader context, relying on [a third party] rather than on an experience of where it was made, who made it, what they made it from... with each bottle I choose, I am building community, connecting myself to people for whom I advocate everytime I open one of their bottles to pour for a guest, like bringing a friend to a party at another friend's home."
I'm reminded of why I found so much inspiration in this book, and why origin travel is so important at a certain scale. It's through this mentality that cognac or coffee could be a better medium for telling stories about our world—a communion between the suppliers and places we've come to admire and our own communities back home.
When traveling to source coffee, timing is important. Most origin trips involve cupping—tasting coffees while they're still in the final stages of preparation. Usually this means more options to choose from, more control over the logistics, and the opportunity to learn more about the supply chain at a granular level.
Arrive early in the harvest, and there will likely be fewer options to taste, limited to the lower elevations that ripen earlier. Arrive after the harvest, and the samples might be more plentiful, and taste closer to how they will when they arrive in New York, but some options may already be spoken for, and you'll have missed your opportunity to observe harvesting or processing.
October is late for Brazil travel—good for cupping, but the harvest is over. Rains have moved in and most regions already saw flowering—walking the farms, you can already see evidence of the harvest that will arrive in New York in January 2024!