Daterra, Brazil April/ May 2014 -
Before going to Daterra in southern Minas Gerais I stopped by in Sao Paulo visit some new and some old coffeebars and roasteries. I always think it is necessary to see what is happening in a city of that size with such a lot of ambitious people. Just the fact that there are more restaurants than in New York makes it obvious that there should be a huge potential for just anything- why not for coffee ?
I didn´t see half of the places I wanted to visit, but here they come in no particular order.
Sofa Cafe is 3 and soon 4 coffeeshops (that is in Brazil, they are also in the US now) with their own roastery. Suplicy is nowadays many coffeshops with their own roastery. Coffee Lab is a roastery and coffeshop and probably the most famous outside Brazil. And finally Casa Cafe is a very new bar/restuarant with lots of coffee drinks on the menu. The owner is a longtime barista specialized in drinks.
We have visited Daterra through meny different seasons, but this is the first time I visited the farm in April / May. I had agronomist Gustavo showing me around and I have to admit it was a bit intimidating since I knew how many things there are for him to keep track of right now. He had just been in Seattle for the SCAA, so he had his hands full. None the less it was very nice to catch up with things, especially since they have made some changes in the organization of the farm.
There is a lot of anticipation in the air, since the harvest is to start in ca 3 weeks. Everybody is perfecting their equipment and samples are being checked of from the fields with higher and higher frequency. It has been said before, but it deserves to be said again, Daterra is exceptional in many areas and when it comes to analyzing if the cherries are ready, they have a very unique system.
It is a simple but work intensive system. They take samples from the field and roast them and cup them. This is practice on some few other farms as well, but it is rarely done to such an extent.
We cupped some samples of Icatu and Aramosa, that both needed ca 3 weeks more on the tree. The taste was green and a bit grassy, the sweetness or aromas are not there yet. You could distinct the two different characteristics even at this early stage. And it is soo thrilling to taste before it is even meant to be tasted.
It has been very dry this year in the whole region of Cerrado. It has not been raining very much, but more importantly has the average temperature been higher.
Compensating for rain with irrigation is done by either overhead pivot irrigation (which they refer to as fixed) or drip irrigation (that is a sort of punctured hose, which they refer to as mobile). The fixed irragiton is the most practical since you can always get through and work with the trees even just before or after irrigation. The mobile is more in the way since it is hoses lying on the ground. So there are possibilities to irrigate in different ways all around the farm when there is a need for it.
A very fine looking cherry.
There were two fields that I visited more than the others this time, the free-growing field and the test field.
The free-growing field is interesting in many ways. It is a field with old trees that are left to grow by themselves with minimum interference of pruning etc.
The harvesting is done by simply letting the cherries drop from the trees when they are ripe enough. This field is not producing very much and it is also varying very much from year to year. This year the production is close to zero since it overproduced last year. On a more normal commercial field you would have taken action for the trees always give a crop every year.
So this field is not something they count on in kgs produced cherries, but it means a lot for the development of the farm. By minimizing interference they can draw a lot of conclusions that they later can use in the more productive fields.
Then we went to the test field.
The cherries that grow in the test field are never meant to be sold.
The idea is to have the different varieties represented and conduct test with pruning, fertilization or just anything you would like to find out more about.
When we were in the field we also met with Maisa who is head of research. She was doing a project that would eventually lead to an even sweater cup profile by taking away some cherries on the branch before the harvest, thus affecting the cherries left on the branch.
Another project was a about using the different parts of the cherries for marmalade or jam. Thinking of how fascinating cascara can be as a tea, I´m sure it must be possible somehow to make it tasty. But I guess there are other aspects than just the taste that are challenging.
Finally I had a very interesting conversation with Edna and Renato who are monitoring, sampleroasting and cupping all the samples from the Boa Vista farm ( we have mentioned it before, but Daterra is divided into several neighboring farms).
I wanted to have their opinion on the ideal approach to sample roasting, since they are doing it to such an extent.
I can´t say we reached a simple conclusion, but it was really interesting to hear what they thought. And it was interesting to get input on roasting from someone who has rather different goals and raw materials when roasting. Their samples are different from ours- most of their samples are not ready to harvest yet, while ours are ripe and harvested. Their goal is also different- they roast to mainly to find out if is ready for harvest, we roast to find out how we can use this harvest and brew it in an interesting way.
Thank you everybody at Daterra for a wonderful stay and hope to see you soon again.