If you are looking to expand your knowledge on coffee flavor profiles and the nuances of coffees from Brazil and Colombia, this guide is for you. For each, we’ll look at the growing conditions and industry, the flavor profiles, and brewing methods. Finally we’ll show you how to brew coffee the Brazilian way.
You have probably already tasted both Brazilian and Colombian coffee. Their coffees are famous and widely available the world over.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer at 1/3 of the world’s coffee supply, and is famous for its dark coffees with rich flavors. For that reason, a lot of Brazilian beans are used for espresso.
Colombian coffee growers have long focused on the U.S. as their major market. Colombia is the third largest grower of coffee beans and is famous for bright, fruity, and floral flavors in its coffee.
In This Guide:
|Brazilian Coffee||Colombian Coffee|
|Type of bean||Mostly Arabica, some Robusta||Arabica|
|Acidity||Low acidity||High, bright acidity|
|Flavors||Sweet, nutty, heavier||Fruity, light|
|Type of coffee||Best suited to espressos and blends||Great as a single-origin|
Brazil is an extremely large country, larger than the contiguous US. Brazilian coffee grows in several different highland regions, often far apart from each other. Every region has its own taste profile, which you can explore if you choose to sample single varietals. Single varietals are coffees that are grown on a single farm, embracing the flavors that one part of the soil can produce.
Brazil has over 220,000 coffee farms growing both Arabica and Robusta beans, this includes most of the espresso beans sold around the world. However, 70-80% of the beans grown are Arabica. Coffee employs 8 million people in Brazil.
Coffee brewed the Brazilian way is extra strong and served in a tiny cup called a cafézinho. It is typically roasted dark, although the trend of brewing beans lighter to catch fruitier acid flavors is beginning to happen in Brazil as well.
Colombia is a smaller country than Brazil. But it’s still 1.7 times bigger than Texas. Its hosts 500,000 farms, most ranging from small to tiny. Most of the beans they grow are Arabica and headed toward the higher-end coffee market.
The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation stamps Colombian coffee with its logo and its Juan Valdez spokesperson. (Although note that if Colombian coffee is blended with other coffees, it can keep its identifying seal.) This marketing campaign makes Colombian coffee very easy to find, and one of the first coffees marked as “premium”.
Much of the coffee grown in Columbia comes from the central volcanic highlands. This area has the perfect soil acidity and terroir to create the most traditional of coffee flavors.
Coffee resists being grown on large farms, whatever country it is in. Coffee’s needs are better served when it has some shade and exactly the right soil. It is grown up in the mountains where the high altitudes create the temperature ranges to best ripen the coffee berries.
Colombian growing conditions
Colombian small farmers hand-harvest the beans. These small farms take pride in their terroir and focus on specialty coffees over mass production. The varietals they produce most are Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, and Castillo, but you can also find other types of beans.
Small farms make up the most of Columbian coffee market. When large coffee plantations failed in the 1900’s, the land was redistributed to small farmers, and mostly stays that way.
Brazilian growing conditions
In Brazil, some farms that grew large in the 19th Century, using enslaved people as labor. Today, they highly mechanize their production, but create a lesser quality bean. These large farms earn the name “coffee plantations”
Most farms in Brazil are small and family run. The farm’s owners and family pick and process the beans. Even hired workers become family because of coffee’s long production season of around 8 months.
A warning about modern wage slavery. Some medium-sized operations in Brazil sometimes use enslaved people today. This may be indirectly by holding on to a debt that can never be paid off. Do your due diligence when buying Brazilian coffee from a medium-sized firm.
In terms of the conditions for growing coffee, Brazil’s isn’t as optimal as Columbia. Coffee in Brazil is grown at lower altitudes with no shade. Their picking process utilizes tractors and is therefore less discerning. None of this means the coffee is bad, but that it generally makes for a better espresso, or a component in a blend rather than a single origin.
Brazilian coffee shouldn’t be generalized either – there is variety in the industry and you’ll find some growers doing things differently and producing wonderfully different results.
Latin American coffee generally has simpler and purer flavors than the coffees grown in Africa and Asia. Caramel, honey, and chocolate tend to be the dominant tastes produced across the continent. Both countries grow Bourbon Arabica beans, a long-time favorite of coffee drinkers world-over.
Brazilian coffees have a darker and heavier taste than Colombian. These coffees feature flavors of chocolate, honey, and spice and are roasted dark.
Most Brazilian coffee is a blend of several bean varieties, including Bourbon, Catuai, Mundo Novo, Obata, and Icatu. Catuai is a high-yield Arabica. Novo Mundo has low acid and tastes like bourbon. Obata is a hybrid with a mellow taste. Icatu is a Robusta cross with maple and chocolate flavors.
Colombian coffee is a favorite for people around the world and Colombian beans make up the middle (reference) point when talking about coffee. Its dominant flavors are chocolate, caramel, and nuts, and flavors are weak and sweet compared to many coffees grown elsewhere. Weak is not a bad thing in this case, because it helps bring out many sub-flavors, such as cherries and flowers.
Roasting and processing
As Brazil grows a larger amount of Robusta beans, don’t necessarily think of these beans as lesser. Most of them are blended with Arabica, roasted dark and sold as espresso. Many espresso drinkers like the harsher bite of Robusta when blended with Arabica.
Brazilian coffees are more likely to be blends of different varietals and terroirs, which creates the signature dark and refreshing tastes. Colombian coffees are much more likely to be sold as single-origin coffees, that may be a blend of neighboring farms.
The current trend in Colombia (and elsewhere) is to take as many steps in the coffee process on the farm. This allows the farmers to capture more of the value in the coffee supply chain. They are, thus, able to live better and afford more.
Today, most coffees you get from either country will be roasted dark. For darker and heavier Colombian coffees, use a French press or an AeroPress to make a chocolately, balanced coffee. For a dark Brazilian coffee, see the instructions below.
Coffee connoisseurs prefer light and medium roasts. These roasts are higher in acid and bring out a wide range of fruity and delicate flavors. To test out the lighter roasted beans, make the coffee with a V60 or other percolation brewers to highlight the delicate fruity flavors.
Coffees from both countries have the bright freshness and acidity that is the hallmark of Latin American coffees. While single-origin choices vary greatly in flavor, both countries generally offer the traditional coffee taste that most Americans expect.
How to brew coffee the Brazilian way
Italians do espresso and the French people cherish French Roast. Brazilians also have a signature way of brewing their coffee. These methods are designed to bring out the best in a dark and blended roast.
Making Brazilian coffee with a “sock” filter
Brazilians like their coffee dark and sweet. They add sugar early in the process to make sure it blends in and avoids graininess.
- Place water on heat.
- Put 2 Tbs of sugar in the water.
- When the water is close to boiling add 2 tsp of coffee to the sock filter.
- Bring water to a boil and have a dance break or otherwise pass the time.
- Pour the water through the sock filter.
- Take another dance break of 2-4 minutes
- Drink when fully filtered.
How to brew coffee the old-school Brazilian way
The old-school way of brewing Brazilian coffee gets you a straight-up coffee taste. Nothing comes between you and the coffee.
- If you lack a sock filter, you can make the coffee directly in the cup.
- Place 11 grams medium-ground coffee in the bottom of the cup.
- Add 200 ml of water and let sit for 2-3 minutes.
- You will need to lift the skim off the top with two spoons.
- Then drink the coffee carefully not to agitate the grounds of the coffee.