Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world, which is exporting a third of the globe’s coffee. It all started with a scandal.

A "Seeduction"

As the legend goes, in 1727 a Brazilian lieutenant by the name of Francisco de Mello Palheta was sent by the emperor to French Guiana to settle a border dispute, as well as find coffee seedlings. The Portuguese wanted a cut of this coffee market, but the governor of bordering French Guiana was unwilling to send over any seeds. On top of this, the ever-present border dispute was straining the two countries' relationship. 

The solution? Seducing the Guiana governor’s wife. It’s told that Palheta spent his trip flirtatiously charming the wife, and after dinner one night, she gave him a bouquet of flowers with the coffee seeds hidden in them. The rest is history!

At first, coffee production was only consumed locally, however, in the mid-1800s, coffee demand increased in Europe and the Americas. This resulted in a coffee boom in the 19th century that saw coffee steadily rise to become the country’s greatest export by 1850. 

Success Through Tragedy

The two things that made this possible were slavery and a devastating disease on Asian coffee plants. In the mid-1800s, it is estimated that over 1.5 million slaves were imported to work on Brazilian coffee plantations until slavery was finally abolished in 1888. Secondly, a decimating disease known as coffee rust completely destroyed the thriving Asian coffee industry, which allowed Brazil to rise up to meet the demand. 

By the 1920s, Brazil already had a near-monopoly on coffee production, growing around 80% of the world’s coffee.

Staying Humble

This major coffee boom did eventually recede as other nations recovered from the coffee rust epidemic (largely due to the widespread use of the Robusta plant!). The Brazilian government was also investing in other agricultural sectors in order to decrease the country’s single crop dependency. Despite this, in the mid-1960s, coffee still took up 60% of Brazil’s total exports. 

The Present

Brazil continues to be the largest producer of coffee in the world, a title it has held for over 150 years. There are currently over 220,000 coffee farms, covering around 27,000 sq. km across the country, with approximately 3.5 million people involved in the coffee industry. Despite all the different coffee farms, the Brazilian bean tends to be distinctly sweet and chocolatey, with low acidity and nutty undertones. 

A distinguished and celebrated cup that all started with a seduction!

April 06, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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