Four generations cultivating history and coffee

 Ditian (grandfather in Japanese) Goro and children, Noboru, Yoko and Niculau (1950)

Ditian (grandfather in Japanese) Goro and children, Noboru, Yoko and Niculau (1950)

 The ship that brought Minami family to Brazil (1927)

The ship that brought Minami family to Brazil (1927)

In June 16th 1927, my great-grandfather Tsunekichi Minami, my great-grandmother Kachi Minami and children arrived in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil after leaving Japan and travelling during 2 months on Kanagawa-Maru ship. My grandfather Goro Minami at that time was 11 years old. The emigration turned into an option for more than 157.000 Japanese people that arrived in Brazilian lands in the period from 1924 to 1941, as a result from a chronic and exponential demography that was causing an intense social, political, cultural and economic change in Japan.

Pursuing the dream of a better life condition my ancestors from the families Minami and Okuyama (paternal grandparents), Kumata and Iida (maternal grandparents) came to Brazil looking for the Brazilian golden – coffee – that was the country’s main export product. In the end, the promise of making money by working in coffee plantations and going back to Japan was different from the reality. Staying in Brazil was no longer an option but the one and only alternative.

After several years of hard work in coffee farms in Sao Paulo state, they raised some money and bought a small piece of land in the north of Parana state where they cultivated coffee. In 1944 my grandfather married my grandmother Mitsuyo and in 1947 my father Niculau Minami was born. Since young age he used to work in the farm following his father’s steps. A curious fact is that my grandfather wanted his son studying Medicine School, but he attended school until he was 9 years old. He quit studying to help in the farm and to follow his dream of becoming a farmer.

 Goro Minami (on the right) holding a prize in recognition for the coffee quality production

Goro Minami (on the right) holding a prize in recognition for the coffee quality production

In the 1960’s the north of Parana concentrated 50% of the national coffee production. However, many severe frosts were gradually damaging coffee plantations and in 1974 Goro and Niculau visited the Alto Paranaíba in Cerrado Mineiro to get to know the region for developing farming activities in an area safe from frosts. Since 1973 the region was undergoing an agricultural expansion program, the PADAP – Alto Paranaiba Guided Settlement Agricultural Program. An area of 60.000 hectares was expropriated and divided in many smaller lots and approximately a hundred families of Japanese origin settled the region and started agricultural activities.  

In April 25th, 1975 Niculau Minami arrived to PADAP region under the supervision and support of his father and elder brother. They acquired an area of 442 hectares, the lot number 71, called Fazenda Olhos d’Água, which means Farm of Spring Waters due to its several springs, in Rio Paranaíba municipality, 30 km from São Gotardo.

Since then, coffee and other crops (potato, carrot, garlic, soybean, corn, oat and wheat) has been planted. This is a privileged location, thanks to its soil, higher altitude, around 1.140 and 1.160 meters and its climate turns, that is, hot days and cool nights, which is good for coffee.

An area of 180 hectares are dedicated to coffee in Fazenda Olhos d’Água (Lot 71) and Fazenda Santo Antonio (Lot 42) and more than 20% in both farms consist of Cerrado natural biome.

Coffee plantation characteristics:

  • Varieties: Yellow Catuaí, Red Catuaí, Mundo Novo, Icatu and Red Catucaí
  • Harvest: June to August
  • Method: Natural
  • Average altitude: 1.150 m
  • City: Rio Paranaíba, Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • Region: designation of origin Cerrado Mineiro

A new chapter in coffee quality production at COOPADAP

On May 29th, our co-op, COOPADAP (Agricultural Cooperative of PADAP), started writing a new chapter in coffee quality production. Since May last year, we’ve been talking to PhD. professor Flavio Borém, about a consulting project to our producers. Since 1997, he has been teaching at Federal Lavras University and he’s a nationally and internationally well-respected researcher for coffee scientific articles and for the book “Handbook in Coffee Post-Harvest Technology”.

After negotiating the investment for the consulting services, defining the project goals and schedule, we finally had the kick off that happened on May 29th for a group of twelve producers focused in improving coffee quality.

According to Professor Borém, there are 10 concepts related to specialty coffee production:

1)    The specialty coffee is formed at the coffee plantation area. The producer must know the coffee plots (in Brazil we call it “talhão”) and each one potential. Then different sensorial profiles must be separated.

2)    Only healthy and well-nourished plantations will result specialty coffee. The soil must be well covered by organic material and vegetal cover to protect it from sun heat. The earth must be chill.

3)    The harvest planning must be aligned with the capacity of post-harvesting infra-structure. It doesn’t make sense saving money making use of mechanical harvesting but then losing coffee quality on drying patios.

4)    When considering coffee matureness and harvesting it mechanically, specialty natural coffee must be harvested with a maximum of 20% of immature fruits (frutos verdes) and for specialty pulped natural a maximum of 30%. It’s preferable having a tolerance for immature fruits to explore the maximum potential of ripe (cereja) and a little bit over-ripe and dry cherries (passa, seco or bóia).

HINT: coffee with pendulum is not totally mature and coffee without pendulum is mature.

5)    The quality can improve during post-harvesting process. If adequate techniques are applied during coffee post-harvesting the quality might improve and you reduce the risk of losing quality potential that already comes from the cherries. For instance, one coffee processed as Natural may result in better final score than processed as Pulped Natural or vice-versa.

Coffee producers and their team cupping coffees from several countries of origin 

6)    It’s possible producing specialty coffee using any kind of coffee process! That is Natural, Pulped natural (in Brazil we it’s possible producing 3 types of pulped natural in the same wet milling structure that are CD1, CD2 and CD3, which mean depulped ripe cherry, depulped unripe cherries and depulped over-ripe cherries, respectively), and Washed processes. It depends on infra-structure, logistics, coffee potential and most importantly the Coffee buyer!

7)    The hygiene is a critical success factor because without it excellent coffee may be contaminated. So, every post-harvesting structure must be cleaned and “shining” every day!

8)    More uniformity and less risk are synonyms for quality. In the end, producing coffee quality is about reducing risks. For every new attempt in coffee process make both questions: (1) Is it going to result in more uniformity? (2) Is it going to reduce risks?

Example: does using a wet milling washer-separator results in more uniformity? YES, because it separates the ripe cherries from the over-ripe and dry ones. Does it reduce risk? YES, because there are less unripe fruits.

Professor Flavio Meira Borem at Coopadap

9)    The coffee drying process can reduce the coffee quality. If coffee cherries dry at a high loss of moisture rate it can damages the quality. There are expected drying times for each process, also according to each local climate context.

10) The coffee quality reduces along storage period. To minimize the loss of quality Natural dry cherry coffee can be stored in tulhas (wooden cells) for a minimum period of 30 days to equilibrate the moisture and once hulled sounds just like fresh coffee.

If you want to learn more about Professor Borem research, projects, articles, presentations, etc. in coffee post-harvest technology I highly recommend accessing his website where he shares lots of content he has produced along his career.

How Aequitas is addressing gender equity

Meeting with women coffee producers

Besides looking for promoting producers from the region of Sao Gotardo, Aequitas is focused in addressing gender equity with women producers from IWCA Brazil chapter, especially from the Cerrado Mineiro sub-chapter. I participate in many coffee events and most of them have notable majority of men producers, but gradually there's been created a room for women, as now we have some meetings exclusively for women producers where we talk about many subjects.

At first women are shy, as they're not used to have a space for sharing their experiences and opinions. We see several kinds of women producers, the ones who are active involved in farming activities, others who dedicate more time in household activities but are starting to have a voice in production that normally it's the husbands' territory, daughters of producers who are undergoing to family business succession (which is also my case). In the end, inhibition disappears and everyone shares what they have been doing for improvements in coffee quality, situations within their families by the increase in their participation in decisions related to coffee, and many other stories. It's rewarding to witness how those women growers feel more empowered and confident after each event.

coffee women producers

On March 30th 2017, with the help of PhD. professor Raquel Santos Soares Menezes from Federal University of Viçosa, a researcher of the topic women in business and an active member of IWCA Cerrado Mineiro, I met a group of 5 women producers who are engaged in producing high-quality coffee. We presented Aequitas mission that is fostering connections with the specialty coffee market in a transparent and equitable relationship. We talked about each one’s story in coffee production, how they felt about the way their coffee is traded, the importance of cupping their own coffee, post-harvesting techniques, etc. We explained about the traditional coffee journey through supply chain, the Aequitas market access model, how C-market influences coffee prices, differentials, costs for exporting, etc.

Finally, as part of our commitment in building a company focused in understanding the producers’ needs we asked them to tell what Aequitas could offer them, as we’re interested in building together a bilateral relationship that it’s more than just buying and selling coffee. All producers asked for transparency. An aspect that many roasters values is also a request for these women. They shared their curiosity in learning where their coffee go to and transparency in the traded price. At the end of the meeting, the producers committed to looking for a coffee tasting course, as they realized the importance of checking if the whole processes they’ve been applying throughout the coffee plantation are resulting satisfactory cupquality.

What excites me the most in every meeting is the possibility of mobilizing women and exchanging experiences. Our next step is already defined: gathering again after harvesting season to roast and cup our samples and debating each other processes and experiments.

The region of Sao Gotardo or my hometown

Coffee plantation

São Gotardo's official flag with coffee tree

São Gotardo is a small town located in the Midwest of Minas Gerais. Rio Paranaíba, Ibia and Campos Altos are other cities that integrate the region of São Gotardo. We are a microregion inside the Cerrado Mineiro, the only coffee producing region in Brazil that holds a denomination of origin.

In 1973 an ambitious rural settlement project called PADAP - Programa de Assentamento Dirigido do Alto Paranaíba, in English (Alto Paranaiba Guided Settlement Agricultural Program) that involved the Brazilian government, Minas Gerais state and the city of São Gotardo governments in partnership with the Agricultural Cooperative of Cotia set the kick off for farming activities in this unexplored area of Cerrado. This cooperative used to be the largest one in Brazil, formed by Japanese immigrants and Japanese descendants. The entity was responsible for selecting a group of young producers, the pioneers, whose mission was developing agriculture in the region.

A united and strong Nippo-Brazilian community was established in the city of São Gotardo. Until the end of 1990's the pioneers' children attended the Japanese school. We had many cultural and sports activities and meetings in our association. Today we have fewer activities, although we try to keep some Japanese traditions.

After more than 40 years, the region of São Gotardo is nationally well known for the quality of its agricultural production. The main products like carrots, potatoes, and garlic supply many urban centers all over the country. There are also avocado, sugar beet, soybean, corn, wheat and other crops. We say that we are in blessed region that allow us growing many things.
What about Coffee? Coffee is also one of our main products. The region is recognized for producing an excellent coffee due to its climate, soil and altitude conditions that are particularly different if compared to other Cerrado Mineiro areas. The region presents hot days and cool nights, an average cooler temperature throughout the year and altitude that varies from 1.000 to 1.300 meters above sea level. A combination of these factors allow us to do such a farming rotation.

Today the region wants to be a protagonist in specialty coffee production. Proof of that are the consistent results from our producers in several Illy's awards and last year at Cup of Excellence Naturals we had excellent results, considering that it was the first attempt of some producers. Our region had two awarded coffees from Edson Tamekuni and, my father, Niculau Minami