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Brazil’s rich history and impressive record of coffee production make them a must-try in the world of coffee. Whether you like budget coffees or you are on the hunt for the best coffee beans in the world, Brazilian coffee will likely make its way into your mug at some point.
Brazil’s huge number of growing regions makes it hard to find the best Brazilian coffee beans and best Brazilian coffee brands overall, but I had to try anyway. Don’t feel too bad for me though, it’s the most delicious part of my job.
But enough about me, let’s talk about the history of Brazil, their unique coffee production, some of the most popular coffee brands in Brazil, and which of their coffee beans stand out amongst the many options.
Would you rather just find out where you can buy the best Brazilian coffee beans? Here’s the shortlist.
- Best overall: Volcanica Santana Estate Brazilian Peaberry
- Best regular coffee beans: Volcanica Brazil Yellow Bourbon
- Best ground coffee: Café Melitta Tradicional
History of Brazilian Coffee
Brazilian coffee has become such a staple that we often forget that coffee isn’t native to the country — or even the continent. Let’s take a quick look at the pivotal moments in the history of Brazilian coffee production.
The legend of Francisco de Melo Palheta
The year was 1727, and the Portuguese were anxious to bring the coffee industry to their Brazilian colony. All that stood in their way was a single man: the governor of French Guiana. Since the governor refused to trade the seeds that the French needed for their new venture, all seemed to be lost.
Enter our hero: Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta of Portugal.
Legend has it that Palheta was sent on a diplomatic mission, but instead, he ended up befriending (some claim seducing) Marie-Claude de Vicq de Pontgibaud, the governor’s wife. She presented him with a gift that would earn Palheta a place in the history books: a bouquet with cuttings from the precious coffee plant.
In case you were wondering why I call this a legend, there is an alternative version of the story in which Palheta helped the governor resolve a border dispute. In that version, the governor himself gave Palheta the seeds as thanks for a job well done. Either way, Palheta was pivotal to the origin story of Brazil’s coffee industry.
Rise of Brazil’s coffee empire
Through the 18th century, Haitian coffee beans dominated the market, supplying roughly half of the world’s coffee. This left little room for a newcomer like Brazil to build a coffee empire. The Haitian revolution and subsequent razing of Haitian coffee farms changed everything, and Brazil was in a prime position to step in and fill the vacuum.
With the fall of Haitian coffee coming right as demand was rising throughout the Americas and Europe, Brazil’s first coffee boom was all but inevitable. In just a few decades, coffee was Brazil’s #1 export, and they were supplying 40% of the world’s coffee production by the 1840s, making them the leading supplier of coffee.
Once apparently wasn’t enough for Brazil. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they went through their second coffee boom, a period that the country came to call café com leite (“coffee with milk”) because of the political and economic importance of Brazil’s two most prosperous industries. By the end of this period, Brazil was supplying a historic 80% of the world’s coffee production!
Brazilian Coffee Production
For over 150 years, Brazil has been the world’s biggest producer of coffee, and they still hold that title today.
How much coffee does Brazil produce?
They currently produce over 2.5 million metric tons of coffee per year, roughly 1/3 of the world’s total production of the staple. This is a far cry from the prime of their coffee empire, but they still produce 60% more coffee than the next-largest producer, Vietnam.
How much coffee does Brazil export?
In 2019, Brazil exported 4.6 billion USD worth of coffee. That’s 15% of the total worldwide coffee exports, and almost 80% more than the second-largest exporter, Colombia.
About 1/4 of Brazil’s coffee exports are purchased by the United States. The next-largest purchasers of Brazil’s coffee are Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Where does coffee grow in Brazil?
Roughly 10,000 square miles of their country are devoted to coffee plantations — that’s the size of the entire state of Massachusetts!
Brazil has fourteen major coffee-producing regions spread over seven states. A few of the more prominent locations are Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Bahia, Espirito Santo, Parana, and Rondonia.
If you only remember one state in Brazil for coffee, this should be the one. Minas Gerais is home to almost 50% of Brazil’s total coffee production including much of their specialty coffee.
Because of its size, Minas Gerais is actually home to four distinct cover-growing regions.
- Sul de Minas – Responsible for 30% of the country’s coffee, Sul de Minas owes much of its success to the high average altitude and mild temperatures. The coffee from this region is typically grown on small farms and tends to be full-bodied, with fruity notes and slight notes of citrus.
- Cerrado de Minas — This was the first coffee-producing region in Brazil to obtain a Designation of Origin status, elevating it to the level of the country’s wine-producing regions. Cerrado de Minas’s farms — popular for their specialty coffees — tend to be at least medium-sized, and many are quite large estates. The coffee grown in the high altitudes and well-defined seasons of this region are usually medium-bodied, higher in acidity, and pleasantly sweet.
- Chapada de Minas — Chapada de Minas is covered with interspersed valleys and highland regions, making it an ideal location for more modern, mechanized coffee production methods.
- Matas de Minas — Another specialty coffee region, the vast majority of Matas de Minas’s coffee is grown on very small farms. The area is warm and humid, and the undulating landscape flows through the Atlantic Forest. Coffee from this region tends to have sweet notes of chocolate or caramel.
Brazil’s primary coffee exporting port, The Port of Santos, is in São Paulo — one of the country’s oldest coffee-growing states. There are only two main coffee-growing regions in this state.
- Centro-Oeste de São Paulo — The uneven terrain of this hilly region is filled with small and medium coffee farms.
- Mogiana — Yet another region with high altitudes and moderate temperatures, Mogiana is known for its high-quality coffee that has a balanced sweetness.
Bahia is probably best known for its high-tech coffee production. Until the 1970s, this state had no real coffee production capabilities, but their tech-forward methods have allowed them to quickly catch up with many of the significantly more established growing states. As with São Paulo, Bahia has two primary coffee-growing regions.
- Cerrado / Planalto da Bahia — This region’s high altitudes, dry summers, rainy winters, and overall warm climate result in full-bodied, low-acidity, sweet coffee products. It’s not uncommon for the entire process, from planting to harvesting, to be entirely automated, made possible by advanced irrigation methods. Cerrado and Planalto da Bahia have the highest productivity rate of any coffee-growing region in Brazil.
- Atlantico Baiano — Unlike the other regions I’ve mentioned so far, Atlantico Baiano’s small farms are set in low-altitude growing areas. Also atypical is the nature of the crop — primarily Robusta beans instead of the Arabica beans that are grown throughout much of the country.
Speaking of Robusta beans, Espirito Santo is the largest producer of Robusta anywhere in Brazil and the second-largest overall producer of coffee beans. There are once again two primary coffee-growing regions in this state.
- Conilon Capixaba — This region is the epicenter of Robusta production in Brazil. Its low altitudes are covered in small farms that grow Conilon, a popular Brazilian Robusta variety.
- Montanhas do Espírito Santo — I know I said this state was known for Robusta, but this region actually grows mostly specialty Arabica beans due to its higher altitudes. These beans are known for their high acidity and fruity flavor profiles.
The high temperatures and low altitudes of Rondonia make it an ideal state for growing Robusta beans, second only to Espirito Santo in that endeavor.
Parana’s primary growing region is densely-packed with highly-productive Arabica-growing plantations, and it used to be the largest producing state for Brazilian coffee. Unfortunately, a brutal frost in 1975 wiped out most of the state’s coffee plants, dropping their production by 90%.
Brazilian Coffee Classification System
It’s not uncommon for countries or regions to have a classification system for their coffee. One of the most famous is the grading system for Kona coffee beans. Brazil’s classification system is, however, one of the most complicated grading systems in the world of coffee.
Brazil’s coffee classification system uses three distinct factors: screen sorting for bean size, bean color, and cupping (a process similar to wine tasting).
The beans receive one of the following grades, from best to worst:
- Strictly soft
- Rio Zona
What Is Brazilian Coffee Like?
Brazil has earned its reputation as a producer of high-quality, distinctive coffees. In general, their coffees are known for their intense sweetness, heavy bodies, relatively low acidity, and the distinct flavor notes of caramel and chocolate.
Of course, as I mentioned before each region has its own variations on this theme, so there is always something to explore in Brazil’s catalog of coffees.
Popular Brazilian Coffee Brands
Before we get to the top Brazilian coffee beans, I want to highlight some of the most popular and best Brazilian coffee brands. Some of these will resurface later in the discussion, but others are hard to find outside of Brazil.
One of my biggest problems with many of these brands is that they tend to focus on ground coffee instead of whole beans. As I’ve noted in the past, the only way to keep your coffee fresh is to buy whole beans and grind the coffee beans yourself.
Brazil Santos coffee comes from the state of São Paulo, and it uses the respected mid-to-high quality, washed Bourbon Santos beans. Bourbon Santos comes from a strain of Arabica plants that was brought to Brazil in the 18th century from the island of Bourbon. These coffees generally have pronounced acidity and fruitiness.
Café Pilao is the most popular coffee brand in Brazil. They utilize a blend of beans from some of the best growing regions in Brazil, resulting in fermented fruit notes and an ambiguous overall flavor profile. It’s a full-bodied coffee made using a slow-roasting process until the beans are dark-roasted. Most of their varieties are offered as finely pre-ground coffee.
Café Bom Dia
Café Bom Dia’s biggest claim to fame is that they are the largest sustainable coffee producer in all of Brazil. They provide single-origin, fresh-roasted coffee that is prized for its full, luxurious flavor. Their coffee has a smooth, sweet complexity, heavy body, silky mouthfeel, and bright citrusy notes.
Café do Ponto
Café do Ponto harvests their coffee from several traditional estates in São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Their medium-roasted, finely ground coffee blend has a vibrant flavor and a smooth, refined finish.
If you like your coffee to have a strong flavor and an intense aroma, Café Melitta might be your new best friend. They dark-roast their coffee to create a strong taste that is distinctively their own and often lauded as one of the best Brazilian coffee brands.
Cooxupé is the world’s largest private coffee cooperative. Cool, right? They have farms in some of the best growing areas of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, and the Arabica beans that they produce are considered some of the finest in all of Brazil.
What Are the Best Brazilian Coffee Beans?
Yea, I know what you came here for. Here are the best coffees from Brazil, in a wide range of categories.
Best overall: Volcanica Santana Estate Brazilian Peaberry
Two things are mainstays on my best-of lists: Volcanica and peaberries. Volcanica is one of the most consistently high-quality coffee brands in the world. Peaberries are an anomaly, the result of coffee cherries that produce a single coffee bean instead of two, leading to the single bean sopping up the extra nutrition and growing denser and sweeter than normal.
But back to this specific variety.
The Santana Estate is famous for producing some of the finest coffees from the state of Minas Gerais. The beans that go into this medium roast produce a hazelnut flavor with notes of raspberry. It is smooth and complex, with a rich body and a brilliantly intense aroma.
Best regular coffee beans: Volcanica Brazil Yellow Bourbon
Don’t want peaberries? I get it, and so does Volcanica. This single-origin, medium-roasted coffee comes from the same Bourbon beans that make Brazil Santos famous. It’s full-bodied, very aromatic, moderately acidic, and has notes of lemon and almond behind a smooth and mellow finish.
It’s one of the world’s best coffee brands working with one of Brazil’s best line of coffee beans, so this one is just a clear winner by any standard.
Best ground coffee: Café Melitta Tradicional
I talked about Café Melitta in the above section on popular brands, so I won’t go into much detail here. This is their most well-known roast, and its strong flavor and intense aroma are only for the true lovers of dark-roasted coffee. The only downside: You’ll have to buy it pre-ground.
Best Cerrado: Buffalo Buck’s Brazil Santos
Want to taste the flavors of Brazil’s high-tech Cerrado region? Here’s your chance. And the Brazil Santos label is a sure bet that you’ll be getting only the highest-quality coffee.
This medium roast is made from 100% Arabica beans, with a smooth mouthfeel, medium body, and fruity and chocolatey flavors. They micro-roast their beans and ship them within 24-hours as whole beans, so this is a great way to get the freshest Brazilian coffee possible.
Best light roast: Coffee Bean Direct Brazilian Santos
This is another Brazilian Santos, so there’s no surprise that it made the list. Coffee Bean Direct’s blend is light-roasted to create a smooth, cinnamon-flavored coffee with a low body and relatively low acidity.
Confused by the price? Coffee bean direct really likes their 5-pound bags, which are much larger than the norm.
Best dark roast: Cooper’s Cask Espresso Cremoso
what do you get when you dark-roast single-origin Brazilian coffee beans? A coffee that has the characteristic chocolate flavor of Brazil with notes of cherry, orange, and brown sugar.
Best budget Brazilian coffee: Pilao Coffee Tradicional
As I mentioned in the previous section on Brazilian coffee brands, Café Pilao is the most popular coffee in all of Brazil. It is full-bodied and the flavor carries notes of fermented fruit. If you want a low-cost introduction to very traditional Brazilian coffee, this is a great way to go. The biggest downside is that you’ll have to buy it pre-ground.
Best k-cups: Peet’s Coffee Brazil Minas Naturais K-Cup
Courtesy of Peet’s, Keurig lovers don’t have to miss out on the best Brazilian coffees. This single-origin medium-roast originates from the state of Minas Gerais, so don’t let the name fool you — Minas naturais refers to the natural process method used for the beans.
This roast is sweet and mild, with a smooth, full-body and notes of fruit, caramel, and hazelnut.
Peet’s Coffee Single Origin Brazil
This is the whole bean version of the Peet’s coffee Brazil Minas Naturais k-cup that I talked about above. There’s not much additional to say about this one other than what I said there, but I didn’t want those of you without a Keurig machine to miss out on this excellent roast.
Café Caboclo Torrado e Moído Tradicional
Café Caboclo is another popular local coffee brand in Brazil and a bitter rival to Café Pilao. You can think of these two as the Folgers and Maxwell House of Brazil, and they inspire a similar level of loyalty in their customers. They medium-roast and fine-grind their beans, as is popular in the area.
Delta Ground Roasted Coffee
Portugal brought coffee to Brazil, but Brazil brought Delta to Portugal, where it has become a market-leading brand in coffee sales.
Delta is a blend of beans from several of Brazil’s top coffee-growing regions, and it is one of the most acidic coffees from Brazil. This one is a medium-roast with a medium body and an overall sweet taste and fruity aroma.
Fresh Roasted Coffee Dark Brazil Cerrado
These beans share a lot in common with the Buffalo Buck option we discussed earlier. To start with, they come from the same high-tech region of Cerrado, and you haven’t really sampled the full breadth of Brazilian coffee until you’ve tried a Cerrado.
You’ll find notes of walnut and chocolate as well as a caramel sweetness in this creamy and rich beverage. If you like low acid coffees, this is one of the best options in Brazil.
Três Pontas Brazilian Gourmet Coffee
For this option, we return to Minas Gerais. As you might have guessed by now, much of the coffee exported from Brazil originates in that state. Três Pontas sources their beans from the Garcia Reis farm where they are organically grown, GMO-free, and implement fair trade practices.
Três Pontas ships their beans fresh, so yours will be out the door within a day of roasting, giving you plenty of time to enjoy them at their peak. Their rich coffee has notes of walnut, chocolate, and vanilla, a smooth, clean finish, and a low overall acidity
Brazil’s rich history of coffee production earns them a special place in the hearts of many coffee lovers. It also doesn’t hurt that being the largest coffee producer for 150 years has put them in kitchen pantries all around the world.
Whether you enjoy budget coffees or the highest quality, sustainably sourced, single-origin, micro roasts, you’ll find something for you in the best Brazilian coffee brands. From small family farms to the high-tech farmers of Cerrado, they have a little bit of everything.
What’s your favorite Brazilian coffee? Did it make the list? Let me know in the comments!
One last time, here is the shortlist of the best Brazilian coffee beans.