Destroyed by the barons, Vale do Café revives with special beans – 09/05/2022 – Food

Whoever crosses the Presidente Dutra Highway, which connects São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, still cuts through the same bald landscape, which is basically grassland covered mountains.

But just take the secondary roads to Vale do Café on the Rio de Janeiro side of the road to realize that reality is starting to change – on some historic farms the coffee trees are slowly returning to accompany them. 19th century mansions.

Small, almost experimental coffee plantations that have been planted since 2015 and are already starting to bear fruit. Some farmers have already managed to officially launch their products. This is the case for Fazenda Florence, which has won six awards as of 2019 with Durini organic coffee producer Fazenda Alliança and coffee Vale do Café.

It all started with the Vocações Regionais da Cafeicultura Fluminense project created by Sebrae-RJ in 2014. Flávio Borem, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the Federal University of Lavras, hired by the organization, visited the region on a charity mission. landowners to save the coffee tradition.

The stage was deserted. “Their view was that these soils gave nothing, but I showed that there are techniques for restoring the soil,” Borem says.

The farmers’ frustration was justified. In the heyday of the Vale do Café, in the mid-19th century, properties spread over the municipalities of Barra do Piraí, Rio das Flores, Vassouras and Valença were responsible for 75% of world coffee production.

Some farms have accumulated more than 1 million feet. Rich and powerful, their owners earned titles of nobility and maintained a close relationship with the royal family.

But the period of wealth was short – in about half a century, most went from wealth to bankruptcy. Without mastering management techniques, they burned the native Atlantic Forest and planted coffee plantations in vertical columns on the slopes.

The strategy allowed slaves to monitor their work from afar, but favored erosion and the entrainment of nutrients. Within a few decades the land was almost barren.

The abolition of slavery in 1888 was limestone. Without the decline of production and enslaved labor, the barons left the region, leaving behind more than a century of destruction.

The new generation of coffee growers in Vale do Café is no longer concerned with volume. Focusing on the production of specialty coffees, they strictly follow the guidelines of good practice in the field and processing.

Arabica coffee trees planted in contour lines in soil covered with organic matter are grown by drip irrigation system among native trees that will guarantee shade in a few years. Harvesting is done by hand and only ripe fruits are selected.

The drying method varies by property. Fazenda da Taquara, the only place left by the same family for six generations, the grains dried in the sun in the old cement garden. In Florence, they are arranged in hanging trays, protected under greenhouses. Alliança also uses an oven, but a dryer has already been ordered.

Because it is such a new production, new coffee growers in the valley have yet to identify which variety has the greatest potential in the region. In the past, it was Mundo Novo, but currently the most common are Arara, Yellow and Red Catuaí, Bourbon and Catucaí.

Excited by the first results, producers are already investing in the expansion of their crops. Fazenda da Taquara’s heir, Marcelo Streva, plans to grow from 16,000 to almost 20,000 by the end of the year. But the comeback comes faster from tourism.

The nearly 500,000 tourists that Vale do Café received before the pandemic gained an extra incentive to visit the farms. “They visited the mansions, listened to the stories, but did not see the coffee,” recalls Leda Barreto, a Sebrae-RJ analyst who participated in the implementation of the project.

Now the estates offer a complete field-to-cup experience and sell coffees that have not yet reached retail due to their reduced production – you have to go to the producers to buy it.

At the São Luiz da Boa Sorte farm in Vassouras, a little over a thousand plants have been planted next to an old building and turned into a Coffee Museum. Visitors are lucky enough to see the harvest up close if the visit takes place between March and August.

In Fazenda Florence, a micro-roaster and coffee shop has been built right in the middle of the coffee plantation, and tourists end their visit here by tasting their home coffee. A similar building covers the old trash can in Fazenda Alliança: Tourists who see how the beans are roasted can enjoy hot and cold drinks alongside their coffee.

Vale do Café still hosts the Rota do Grão event and Cachaça tasting once a month. In the 2022 season, from April to August, the coffee and cachaça producing farms will be open, offering complete experiences from field visits to tastings to peeks from inside the mansions. The next will take place on May 21 and 22 and tickets will be sold on sympla.com.br.

It’s worth extending the program and staying in one of the former headquarters decorated with period furniture and ornaments. The full list of properties can be found on the portalvaledocafe.com.br website.

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