How Brazil came to be called ‘the coffee pot of the world’

When you hear a mention of the South American country of Brazil, what comes to mind? Some people think of Carnival, with its celebratory atmosphere, rowdy fun and bright colors. Others think about the Amazon rainforest, which is 60 per cent within Brazil’s borders. Still others think about coffee.

Coffee production is one of the country’s most important industries, which is why Brazil is called the coffee pot of the world. But there’s more to it than that. Let’s take a closer look.

History of coffee in Brazil

Coffee has been essential to Brazil’s development and growth. The plant is not native to South America, though. Europeans introduced coffee to Brazil during the colonial period, because the weather and soil conditions seemed favorable for growing. Brazil’s first known coffee bush was planted in the mid-1700s. The crop grew well and was profitable, but it did not become a major export in the 18th century.

Globally, coffee consumption greatly increased in the 19th century, which is when the history of coffee in Brazil became much more important. By the 1840s, Brazil accounted for an astounding 40 per cent of the world’s coffee production and exports. Coffee had far surpassed sugar, cotton, and all other exports combined to compose the majority of Brazilian exports.

Closeup of a plantation worker's cupped hands full of coffee cherries
Coffee comes from the pit of this fruit known by most people as coffee cherries.

Sadly, the rising demand for coffee also led to an increase in slaves being used for coffee harvesting and to work in the coffee industry. Eventually, as the slave trade waned and was finally outlawed in 1888, Brazil relied more heavily on European and Asian immigrants to grow and process coffee to meet global demand. The jobs created by the coffee industry, at least in part, help account for Brazil’s diverse population today.

Coffee production spurred other developments in Brazil besides immigration. The country built a massive railroad system to transport the beans, but this system also helped unite the large country and created jobs for skilled workers. Production of coffee played a role in politics and the way Brazil was governed for many years as well.

By the 1920s, Brazil supplied approximately 80 per cent of the world’s coffee. Demand was still growing. However, overproduction in Brazil and around the world eventually caused falling prices. The Brazilian government attempted to control the falling price of coffee and even reduced exports to diversify the Brazilian economy. It worked, but only to an extent, as Brazil still supplied 60 per cent of the world’s coffee in 1960.

The history of coffee in Brazil is extremely important to understanding the history of Brazil as a whole. This inextricable relationship is one of the reasons why Brazil is called the coffee pot of the world.

Facts about coffee in Brazil today

The other reasons have to do with the importance of coffee in Brazil today. Let’s get a more complete picture by looking at some numbers, statistics, and other Brazilian coffee facts:

  • Brazil is still the world’s largest exporter of coffee and has been for 150 years.
  • Brazil accounts for one-third of all coffee production in the world. If you drink coffee, there’s a very good chance it was grown in Brazil.
  • Brazil produces more than twice the amount of coffee of Vietnam, the world’s second largest producer.
  • About 3.5 million people in Brazil work in the coffee industry, which is 1.7 per cent of the total population and nearly four per cent of the entire workforce.
  • Brazil has 220,000 coffee farms.
Raw coffee beans lying in the sun to dry on a Brazilian coffee farm
Raw coffee beans dry in the sun on a Brazilian coffee farm. (© baristahoon | Creative Commons)

In which part of Brazil is coffee mainly produced?

Coffee is produced mainly in the southeastern part of Brazil, particularly in the states of Minas Gerais, Paraná, and São Paulo. The city of São Paulo became Brazil’s largest and most industrialized city largely because of the coffee trade, but Minas Gerais accounts for about half the country’s coffee exports.

Is Brazilian coffee the best?

Coffee in Brazil is actually quite diverse and you’ll find a wide range of quality. Both inexpensive bulk coffee as well as prize-winning coffee is grown in Brazil—sometimes on the same plantations.

Brazilian coffee tends to have low acidity because it is grown at lower elevations, so if you prefer that flavor, then Brazilian coffee may be your favorite. This low acidity sometimes allows more subtle or sweet flavors in coffee to shine, which is one of the reasons why people love low-acid coffees so much.

The most expensive coffee in the world is from Jamaica (Jamaican Blue Mountain), and Colombian coffee is also widely lauded for its flavors and quality. But coffees grown in Brazil consistently place well in taste tests among average consumers and professional coffee graders

So, is Brazilian coffee the best? That really depends on whom you ask, but if it wasn’t among the most popular and best tasting, we seriously doubt that Brazil could remain the world’s top producer for as long as it has. You can decide for yourself—just go pick up some Brazilian coffee beans and pour yourself a cup from the coffee pot of the world!

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