Brazil is famous for its coffee. The country is by far the world’s largest coffee producer and has been for the past 150 years. Brazil is responsible for producing a third of all the coffee in the world.
However, many young Curitiba coffee lovers don’t realize that at one time, in the early 1960s, the state of Paraná was the biggest coffee producing state in Brazil. Unfortunately, that summit toppled in 1975, when the coffee farmers suffered a devastating “black frost” in the winter, which destroyed the coffee crop. Since then, the coffee plantations have decreased significantly in Paraná.
Today, there is a married couple from Curitiba who would like to reverse the story of coffee growing and return Paraná coffee beans to their former glory. The couple are Léo Moço and Estela Cotes. Together, Léo and Estela are in training for the 2016 World Barista Championship and World Brewers Cup in Dublin. These two world events, known to coffee connoisseurs as the WBC and WbrC competitions, will this year be serving coffees grown in Paraná, thanks to Léo and Estela.
Léo and Estela own the Barista Coffee Bar in Curitiba, but they are not just any husband and wife team who decided to open a coffee shop – they are coffee professionals. She’s the brewer, and he’s the barista.
In addition to preparing for the world championship, the couple is also opening a second coffee shop for their Barista brand, while also raising their one-year-old son, Bento. When their second coffee bar opens in a much larger location, it will be the center for their roasting operation. They’ll also hold barista classes there.
Estela has a secret weapon planned for the upcoming world competition, which she calls the “Red Foot Project.” It is a new coffee production protocol she is developing that aims to reach quality through processing. She believes that high-quality coffee can be produced virtually everywhere, regardless of terroir. (Terroir is the complete natural environment for growing coffee, or any fragile commodity like wine, where the topography, soil, and climate are all crucial factors in the product’s final quality.)
Léo and Estela came to Curitiba to establish their business and raise their son. So it only made sense to devote themselves to the region that was once the world’s largest coffee producer. It is the first time that Paraná is going to be at a world championship, and with good results the couple could help small producers from Paraná to switch from commodity mass production to specialty.
Léo is more involved in coffee sourcing, roasting, and the coffee shop’s daily operation. Estela, being a journalist, handles the marketing, commercial, and administrative operations.
She says, “We will use the space of our second coffee shop, which will open its doors in July, to train. In Brazil, the harvest is starting just now, and I depend on the coffee from that harvest in order to set everything else: roasting profile, description, recipe, etc. Luckily, in our region the first harvest happened in April. So I’m doing some tests here already. I already have pre-chosen methods and description materials, which will be fine-tuned once we get the coffee I am going to use. This was my first year as a producer, so I had the chance to get creative with new fermentation processes. But it’s all starting now. I imagine it will take around 10 years until I can describe better what I’m getting myself into.”
Léo continues: “I’m from Rio originally and also lived in New York City, and that changed the way I see things. Knowing the story of the state of Paraná, which in the 1960s produced a third of the world’s coffee, and taking into account how this city has welcomed me and my family, I decided that I should give something back by working with local small producers. In Brazil, everybody praises Minas Gerais and Bahia’s coffee, and now we are starting to look at Espiríto Santo, but I’m confident that in about five years we will look at significant coffee production in Paraná. I see these small producers’ eyes shining with hope.”
Estela also points out that there are more women involved in coffee production than in the barista side in Brazil. “I am part of some discussion groups on Facebook and WhatsApp where we showcase examples of women who took over their families’ land and now produce high-quality coffee. We also had a quality contest that was held here in Paraná, and the three best-ranked coffees were produced by women. I believe that little by little this is going to happen in the barista side of the process as well, especially because of women’s involvement as entrepreneurs, coffee shop owners, and so forth, such as in my case.”
Estela and Léo have high hopes for the future in Brazil, despite the current economic malaise. Estela notes: “It’s impossible not to feel the political and economic difficulties in our day-to-day lives here. What we are trying to do is lighten this crisis’s effects by continuing to offer high-quality products in our shop and to our wholesale customers at a fair price. I believe somehow everybody can do something to change our reality. The project we are working on with the Paraná producers can really help small landholders to increase their incomes, offer more job opportunities, and thus heat up our regional economy as a result.”
The first Barista Coffee Bar is open and located on Rua Moysés Marcondes in Juvevê and has a Facebook page.
[The quotes for this article come from a Sprudge website article written by Juliana Ganan. Photos of Estela and Léo by Diego Rilove.]