Farm: Ecoagricola Serra do Cabral
Varietal: Yellow Catucai
Processing: Tropical Fermentaiton
Altitude: 1,100 metres above sea level
Owner: Ecoagrícola Café Ltda. (Marcelo and Roberto Flanzer)
Town / City: Francisco Dumont
Region: Serra do Cabral, Minas Gerais
Ecoagricola Serra do Cabral Tropical Fermentaiton – Brazil
The Flanzer family began farming in the Serra do Cabral (in the Chapada de Minas at the north of Minas Gerais) in the 1970s, when Henrique Flanzer – father of Marcelo & Roberto – bought land to engage in forestry projects. For many years, Ecoagricola was almost purely run for forestry. However, in 2000, Marcelo and Roberto (who had taken over management of the farm) began planning for the next 30 years, at which point they decided to diversify. They chose coffee for the great fit with the region: altitude, climate, water & terroir were perfect for coffee production. We are glad they did! They planted their first coffee nursery in 2006 and their very first coffee harvest was in 2009. Even today, one of the most interesting facts about Ecoagricola is that there is no other company producing coffee in the Serra do Cabral. The brothers, like their father, are true pioneers.
Marcelo and Roberto, who have worked together since they were young, are the current managing partners of the company Marcelo, 46, is a Production Engineer and Roberto, 48, is a Business Administrator. When they first began producing coffee, there were two big challenges that they had to face. Firstly, coffee had never been produced in the region before, so there was little infrastructure and no ‘accepted’ practices that had been developed and adapted over time for the region. The brothers were going to have to figure it out on their own. The only issue? Challenge number two: they had no background in coffee at all!
The brothers figured out that pivot irrigation was the way forward, taking into consideration water availability and terrain. Pivot irrigation (known variously as ‘waterwheel’ or ‘circle’ irrigation) is a method of crop irrigation where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. The sprinklers will irrigate a circular area around the pivot point, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above. Center pivot irrigation typically uses less water compared to many surface irrigation and furrow irrigation techniques, which reduces the expenditure of and conserves water.
Over the course of 10 years, the brothers have succeeded in installing five pivots, all of which use LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) technology. LEPA ensures that the plant canopy remains dry and water is applied directly to the furrow — typically every other furrow. Delivering water directly to every other furrow requires some special management and tillage practices, but also is one of the most energy and resource-efficient means of irrigation. They have also installed weather stations and monitoring systems that help with inputs assessment. In 2016 they began utilising the “precision agriculture system”, which measures not only the average input needs for the whole plantation (traditional system) but also the different needs of every individual hectare. With the aid of GPS monitoring, they are able to ensure that each plant receives only the nutrients and water it needs, no more, no less. These measures have helped them to achieve their goal of marrying quality and sustainability. Although they are the new kids on the block, the quality of the coffee speaks for itself: they have even won places in 2017 in the prestigious Cup of Excellence competition.
In many ways, sustainability and ethics are intrinsic to Ecoagricola’s origins. Many decades before sustainable production came into “fashion”, the family had already preserved vast areas within their land. Hundreds of hectares remain almost untouched. In fact, these concepts of preservation are built into the company’s very name: “Eco” refers to “ecological” and “Agrícola” means “agriculture”. According to Marcelo and Roberto, the very purpose of their agricultural business is to generate funding for ecological preservation. They’ve been incredibly successful and have, as of 2017, been re-certified by Rainforest Alliance with a grade of 97.7 out of 100.
Currently, Ecoagricola only grows Yellow Catucaí and Red Catuaí 144. Red Catuaí 144 was chosen because it is the most used and tested variety at the ‘Cerrado’ biosphere in Minas Gerais. Yellow Catucaí was chosen after testing 15 different varieties at the property. It presented the best quality combined with very high productivity. Besides this, it has an earlier crop season compared to Catuaí 144, which has helped with planning labour during the harvest season. The brothers also have plans to introduce a small area of Yellow Bourbon in the near future.
Since 2015, Ecoagricola have embarked on a quality-driven project for post-harvesting with the University of Lavras (UFLA), coordinated by Professor Flavio Borém. Professor Broém is one of the world’s leading coffee quality researchers, and his advice has been crucial in informing the farm’s post-harvest practices. 100% traceability is maintained from the moment the cherry is picked at Ecoagricola. This means that during quality control and sensory analysis, any quality issues can be traced back to the individual hectare, helping identify and prevent any future issues.
Lots are defined by variety and method; mainly natural & pulped natural, but now also including new experimental lots of fully washed and ‘tropical fermentation’, such as this lot. Marcelo & Roberto began to test this process in 2017 (along with other methods) in very small quantities and at various times of the year. Through extensive testing, they have managed to narrow their search for new processing methods; placing 12th at the 2019 Cup of Excellence with a similar process. After their success, Marcelo & Roberto are now working to produce this process on a larger scale; increasing the size of their micro lot.
All coffees from nano and micro-lots (such as this lot) are selectively hand-harvested. During the harvest season, the farm’s workforce of 50 doubles to 100 people, all of whom are trained in best practices. For this special lot, only the ripest cherries are handpicked, before immediately being placed into bags below the coffee tree. Here, in the shade where the heat is not so strong, they are left for 24 hours. This allows the beans to undergo a process of dry fermentation, or in other words, ‘tropical fermentation’. During harvest, the climate at the Serra do Cabral becomes very dry; providing the unique conditions needed to achieve this extraordinary profile. After a day or so has passed, the cherry bags are collected and taken to the farm’s mill to be processed. Cherries are first washed to remove any residue from the bag, as well as any floaters, before being placed on raised beds to dry. Here, beans are slowly dried; carefully being moved many times a day. Typically, on the first day, coffee cherries will be left in a thin layer. After they begin to dry, over the following days, they will be turned regularly, making increasingly thicker layers until the drying cherries reach around 15 -18% humidity. Once finally dried to an exceptional standard, the beans are moved from the beds and left to rest for at least 30 days in the absence of light and heat.
Ecoagricola is surrounded by areas of permanent preservation. The Reserva da Borralha, which adjoins Ecaogrícola’s area, boasts 2,000 hectares of land completely untouched by man and rich with biodiversity. Birds that migrate southwards from North America, stop there to rest and feed and the Concolor Puma roams through the undergrowth. The presence of this rare cat (whose face graces the Ecoagricola Serra do Cabral bags) is a definitive sign that all the food chain is present and preserved.
Intent on maintaining this special environment, Ecoagricola are members of the board of the Serra do Cabral State Park and contribute actively to their plans and actions. The farm’s sustainable education program was merged with the Park’s program, meaning that their message of conservation not only reaches their own employees but also the wider community. They also have a native-species nursery where they cultivate seeds collected around the farm, raise them to seedlings, and then donate them to the Park, neighbours, associations, city councils etc.
In addition to their conservation activities, Ecoagricola engages socially with the small farmer communities that surround them. They have helped many of these small farmers with “fiscal education” so that they will be able to sell the company produce for their canteen and also to other companies and markets. Marcelo and Roberto participate in their community meetings and try to find ways to think together as a community so as to help with challenges facing their neighbours. They also help directly by investing in specific community needs, such as school repairs, uniforms for students etc.
With so much being accomplished, the brothers now face the new challenges of continuing to increase the quality of their production and increasing access to appropriate markets for their coffees. At Mercanta, we are proud to pay a fair price for their work as pioneers in a new coffee region, and we look forward to helping them continue their social and environmental programs.
1- 2017 Cup of Excellence – Naturals
2- 2017 Cup of Excellence – Pulped Naturals
3- 2017 Rainforest Alliance / Imaflora Award 1st place
4- 2017 BSCA Aroma – Naturals 6th place
5- 2017 Minas Gerais Quality Contest 1st place Naturals, for Chapadas de Minas
6- 2017 Minas Gerais Quality Contest 1st place Pulped Naturals, for Chapadas de Minas
7- illycaffè’s Sustainable Supplier of the Year 2014/2015
8- 2015-2017 Ernesto Illy Prize for Espresso finalist for three consecutive years
9- 2017-2018 Coffee of the Year finalist
10- 2018 High Achievement on Sustainability award by Rainforest Alliance
11 – 2019 Cup of Excellence 11th place – Natural
These many prizes are a testament to the fact that Ecoagricola, virtually single-handedly, “created” with success a respectable, new specialty coffee origin in Brazil.
Recently the farm has teamed with Soul Films to create a Brazilian TV series about coffee, “Tá Na Hora do Café” (“It´s Time for Coffee”) to present to the Brazilian greater audience what´s going on with the specialty coffee scene. The show, already in its second season, airs on Mais Globosat, a Globo TV cable channel (major media company in Brazil), with weekly episodes, each one covering themes related to coffee like Lifestyle, Arts, Economy, Sustainability, Design, Technology and showing other producing and consumer countries around the globe.
Below is a link of Episode 6, about Sustainability, where you can see the team’s work at Ecoagrícola.