With a relationship that dates back to the 18th century, Brazil and coffee are often talked about together. It is a pretty well-known fact that Brazil contributes about one-third of the total coffee production on the planet. But how did it all start? If not for the love of coffee, we ask this to quench our thirst for trivia
After the discovery of the coffee shrub in what is now Ethiopia, the cultivation spread around the Arabian peninsula. By the 1600s, the drink had become popular in European cities, and Europeans’ desire to profit from the trade of this highly desired beverage resulted in a series of coffee espionage. One of those coffee spies is credited with being the person who brought coffee to Brazil.
The story goes like this: The Portuguese long aspired to bring in and cultivate coffee in Brazil, which was under their command. When their attempts to obtain the shrub from neighboring French Guiana failed, they sought the help of Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta of the Brazilian Army. Colonel Palheta received the perfect opportunity to perform this task when he was called on for a diplomatic visit by French Guiana to settle a border dispute between them and Dutch Guiana. If legends are to be believed, while there, our protagonist befriended and charmed the wife of the Colonial Governor, and on the eve of his departure, the lady gifted him a bouquet that contained the seedlings. Mission accomplished!
The seedlings were first planted in the state of Pará, and from there they spread southwards towards the state of Rio de Janeiro, where the first coffee plantation was established in 1770. But it was not until the 19th century that production boomed. Until then, coffee was produced just for domestic consumption. It was in the early 19th century that the demand for coffee spiked in America and Europe. Between the 1830s and the 1850s, production increased at an exponential rate, reaching the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais.
Brazil had become the world’s largest coffee producer by the 1840s, accounting for 40% of global output.
The Coffee Economy
This huge boom in coffee production brought about a significant upgrade in infrastructure, as a large volume of workers, some of whom immigrated from as far away as Japan, flocked to the region of Minas Gerais. A railway system was built for the transportation of produce to the market and to also serve the growing population.
The city of São Paulo rapidly expanded with millions of immigrants arriving to work in the growing coffee industry, and as a result, it transformed from a small town to a growing metropolis and one of the largest industrial centers of the developed world. The Sao Paulo coffee industry soon became powerful enough to control and dominate both the national economy and the government. Together with the dairy industry of Minas Gerais, they witnessed a meteoric rise in the decades between 1880 and 1930, which is famously known as the “café com leite” (coffee with milk) period in Brazilian history.
During this period, So Paulo also surpassed Rio de Janeiro as the largest city and most important center of industry and commerce in Brazil (at the time of writing, So Paulo is the most populous and wealthiest city in Brazil, as well as the world’s fourth largest city proper by population). By the early 20th century, Brazil had become the undisputed king of the international coffee trade, producing 80% of the world’s coffee.
Crisis, and an Olympic team
Brazil’s dream run in the coffee trade came to a halt when the world economy was hit by the Great Depression in the 1930s. Not even the mighty coffee industry of Brazil was spared. A reduction in both the demand and price of coffee worldwide meant the product, which was already being overproduced at that point, was facing a surplus situation. The government did everything in its power to manage the crisis at hand. And it was during this time that the world witnessed an extraordinary yet trivial event.
The Summer Olympics were set to take place in Los Angeles, California, in 1932. The Brazilian National Sports Federation decided to send a team to the event while also announcing a very unique sponsorship scheme: it would be funded by coffee.
A merchant steamer, named S.S. Itaquicê, was chartered to carry the team of athletes to the US. Along with the athletes, the ship was to carry a large amount of coffee (reports vary, but most put it at 50,000 to 55,000 bags of coffee). It was planned that the athletes would sell the coffee at ports along the way and the rest in Los Angeles itself.
Unfortunately, not everything went as planned, and they faced difficulties selling the coffee. They were unsuccessful in selling the product at the Port of Spain and the Panama Canal, and when they reached Los Angeles, more than half the stock still remained unsold. This resulted in many of the athletes being unable to even leave the ship and participate in the games. While this chapter in history ends on a sad note, the diligent efforts and adventures of the players to finance their trip garnered them a lot of appreciation and respect.
At present, Brazil still produces about one-third of the coffee in the world, but the export volume has reduced drastically since the 1950s. The reason is attributed mainly to the increase in nations cultivating and trading the famous beans.
Perfetto Coffee delivers premium coffee made from the finest beans sourced from the best and most famous coffee producers around the world, including Brazil. You can explore our extensive range of flavored, instant, single-origin, and freeze-dried coffee here.