Farm: Fazenda California
Varietal: 100% Yellow Catuaí
Processing: Cold Soul' Natural
Altitude: 800+ metres above sea level
Owner: Luiz Rodrigues
Town / City: Jacarezinho
Region: Norte Pioneiro do Paraná
Overall: Chocolate, honey, strawberry & some florals
Fzd. California Cold Soul 100% Catuai - Brazil
Located in the city of Jacarezinho, State of Paraná, Fazenda California is a 100 year old farm central to the history of coffee farming in one of Brazil’s foremost coffee producing states. Today, the farm is taking the heritage that is its birthright and blending it with a more modern and experimental approach to production aimed at sustainability, quality and relationships.
Norte Pioneiro do Paraná is located on world’s southern borderline for specialty coffee production. Located right at the base of the ‘coffee belt’ on the Tropic of Capricorn, the region has distinct characteristics not shared by its northern neighbour of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, which are characterized by a warmer, more tropical climate.
Northern Paraná, rather, has a sub-tropical and very wet climate (as do many areas along the Tropic of Capricorn). With four distinct seasons and regular rainfall throughout the year, the temperature in Paraná is much lower, with cool days and nights that are only found at higher altitudes in Brazil’s more tropical regions. This cooler climate presents challenges for coffee farmers in the region, including heightened risk of frost even at lower altitudes and potential hazards with drying during the harvest season. However, these potential drawbacks are countered by the possibility of being able to farm very high quality coffee at lower-than-traditional altitudes due to cool climatic conditions which allow slow plant growth and cherry maturation.
Paraná used to the biggest coffee producer in the world. Coffee arrived in the state in 1892, and at the height of its production, in the 1950s, the state produced equal to what Minas Gerais now produces today.
Famous for the richness of its history, Fazenda California was one of the state’s earliest estates and was settled at the beginning of the 19th century by the New Orleans-based coffee importer, Leon & Israel. Among its most glorious moments are its appearance in the 1963 film ‘Instant Love’ and Mr. Nelson Rockefeller’s visit in 1947. Despite the farm’s privileged location and rich, volcanic soil, however, Leon & Israel were fixated on producing as much coffee as possible with little effort. The sum total of the farm’s 900 hectares – previously all forest – was converted into coffee plantation with a focus of productivity over quality.
By 1984, the original Leon & Israel owners had both passed away, leaving Fazenda California to be sold in 1986. The new owners, however, continued with a focus on quantity and used a great deal of chemical fertilisers and herbicides to ensure high productivity. They harvested all the way right through January using these methods (the normal harvest would have ended in December), but the payoff was coffee of low quality.
The farm was acquired in 2004 by the Brazilian Saldanha Rodrigues family, who were intent on transforming the farm and maximising its potential as a producer of quality coffee. Initially, Luis Rodrigues (who had no background in coffee but brought to his new career a passion and commitment to knowledge and innovation) rented sections of the farm to sugarcane farmers. The income all went towards complete renovation of the coffee farm. Luis began planting coffee in 2006, deciding that what the farm needed was a total re-boot. By 2008, his hard work had resulted in 200 hectares of exceptionally managed plantations of Mondo Novo, Yellow Catuai and Obatã and a new era focused on professional management and sustainability in speciality coffee production. Social and environmental sustainability are a significant part of the farm’s aims, with California achieving UTZ certification in 2007 and Rainforest Alliance in 2012.
The farm, for the past since around 2014, has been 100% mechanically harvested, though Luis’s innovations have enabled them to do a special ‘selective’ process that ensures only the ripest cherries are picked per pass. The farm currently performs five processes: fully washed (somewhat unusual in Brazil), pulped natural, black and yellow honey, and natural. The process that is picked for each lot (usually about 30 bags in size) is often determined by the climatic conditions at the time – particularly drying conditions. The majority of coffee on the farm is wet processed, which lends itself better to the cool wet conditions of the region. Honey processing is reserved solely for long periods of sunny, warmer weather.
This particular ‘Cold Soul’ Natural lot is a result of Luiz’s innovative approach to post-harvest processes. The process was developed as an effort to achieve a specific Natural profile, full of typical ‘Natural’ fruit flavours but with a more clean and sweet cup than a conventional Natural. The idea for the process came after a discussion with a Nicaraguan farmer who had harvested a very special lot intended for the Cup of Excellence Competition. When the farmer arrived in the mill with his carefully picked, ripe coffee, ready to be processed, he found that the mill had a power failure. With no electricity to power his pulper, what to do? He decided to soak the lot in the fermentation tanks with fresh water and pulp in the morning, after the power was reconnected. Far from ruining his hard work, the lot ended up winning second place in the competition!
Learning this, Luiz was inspired. He began experimenting with his own processing. He first began ‘double fermenting’ his washed coffees, which were met with acclaim internationally. After some trials and many successes, Luiz decided – why not apply the same principle to some of the more select Natural lots?
After being harvested, the ripe cherries are delivered to the farm’s tanks and are soaked in cold water. California’s wet mill is supplied with very cold spring water – 8-10 degrees Celcius at most. This (and his daughter’s passion for the Disney film ‘Frozen’) gives the process its name. The theory is that the cold water gives a condition of "controlled fermentation", giving the coffee the opportunity to begin a slow, even ferment whilst avoiding over-blown vinegar flavours. The coffee is then finished off with slow drying in the mill’s African beds for 25-30 days, which completes the complexity of the process.
As the process requires a long sunny period for the final drying period, the chosen varietal for this process is usually Obatã, as its harvest occurs on August and September - more often a dry period with sunny days. For 2017/18 Luiz also conducted trials with Yellow Catuaí, as the big drought period of 2017 (June to August) corresponded with the Catuaí harvest.
As with all California coffees, this lot has been cupped at least twice: once for defects (after the first drying period) and later after it has rested at 11% humidity for quality scoring.
In addition to coffee and quality, Fazenda California is fully committed to social sustainability and has invested in school programs and church renovation for the workers on the farm.