The story of the Daterra coffee farm and Laurina coffee...
We sat down with the lovely Gabriel from Daterra to find out a little bit more about the Daterra coffee farms and especially the Laurina coffee.
Could you give us a brief introduction to Daterra?
Daterra was born from the dream to reinvent coffee farming, with the quality and processes of a new sustainable agriculture. That is how we challenge ourselves and our lands to produce coffees that go beyond the norm.
Daterra was conceived in the 80’s, when the term “sustainability” was not even popular as it is today. However, the Daterra Coffee project was planned to produce specialty coffee, grounded on environmental preservation and social development. Daterra should be able to ensure consistency and trust to our clients building alliances and partnerships.
And a little something about yourself, what’s your role within the company?
As Daterra’s Market Development and Quality Manager, I supports Daterra’s agronomic and production teams to link the needs of buyer with the potential of the farm. Having travelled over 30 coffee consuming countries, I have a comprehensive understanding of farm operations and global market needs. As co-head of the farm’s experimental quality lab, I work closely with the agronomy team on innovations to improve Daterra’s experimental processes to produce differentiated coffees.
What sets Daterra apart from other coffee producers?
I guess one of the main factors is that we were not born to be a farm. We were born to be a case of a successful agribusiness that is truly able to regenerate the environment, develop communities while conducting a profitable and viable operation.
That was the briefing in our minds when we started our agronomical endeavors. We tried different types of fruits, like avocados, lime, persimmon, we also did pine trees for a while, then we tried cattle and milk… All those trials thought us a lot and led us to find coffee eventually: when we bought a farm that was dedicated to milk production, it happened to have a plot of coffee planted there. That was when we started studying and researching coffee and realized this was it – coffee was the best agronomical product to balance out the equation people + planet + profit.
We felt in love with coffee and stopped producing everything else.
Coming from other businesses, we imprinted a very different and professional approach to coffee. Universities, specialists, and scientists were brought to the farm all the time, and that’s how we learned how to do coffee (not from our great-great-great-grandfather). That kind of mindset has brought innovation and research drive to Daterra from the very beginning.
In terms of environmental projects, it took us 10 years to recover the environment around the farm. We invested a lot in replanting areas with native trees, tracing animals, planting fruit trees so they would be able to reproduce and live in the area.
Daterra spent its first 10 years of existence just financially investing in the business – to increase quality and recover ecosystems. That meant that no profit was shared with shareholders for all that time. I don’t think that many businesses would be able to do that if there isn’t a very strong vision and purpose.
I believe that having this as our foundation is what sets us apart and everything else – quality awards, winning championships, being the first to receive so many environmental certifications etc. is just a result of that.
Could you explain to us the difference between the Daterra Masterpieces, Collection and Classics?
In 2003, Daterra was one of the first farms to create a green coffee menu. It differentiated our coffee qualities and introduced the concept of blending at origin to provide consistent cup profile year after year. Our goal of consistency has not changed. No matter what environmental circumstances the trees experience our clients and consumers will always enjoy the same cup profile.
As the Specialty Coffee Industry has evolved the demands for unique and limited edition lots of coffee have grown. The evolving market has created new excitement and challenge for Producers. Daterra is committed to utilizing our technology, research, sustainable practices, and nature’s gifts to produce exotic and unique nano and micro lots. Finding and creating our Masterpieces, small lots of coffee, from the vastness of Daterra has been a welcomed challenge for our Cuppers and the entire farm staff.
In 2014, our dedication to meeting Roaster’s needs whilst providing quality, made us launch the “Three Farms” concept. This new branding structure allowed us to better focus our product offerings whilst enhancing our ability to communicate the story of Daterra to customers and better meet their needs.
MASTERPIECES by Daterra
Each year our masterful Cuppers search the vast potential of Daterra for unique small lots of coffee, Our Masterpieces.
They have unique cup profile and score 88+, fully traceable, and are planted and grown with history and can never be replicated.
This small farm is a lab, where we test new ways of producing coffee. The lab is rich with new and unusual varietals, processing methods, drying techniques and limitless experiments.
Our Collections are the top-quality coffees from our current menu. They are the best coffee from our plantations and are completed processed using the patented Daterra Penta Process. These are coffees that score 86-89, full traceability and generally used as single origin.
This is our “small to mid-size farm”. The coffees are produced in very specific areas of Daterra and will be offered in smaller lots and with a specific lot number. For example, Sweet Collection will be divided into specific traceable lots and will be branded as such.
Our classics begin with Monte Cristo through Sweet Blue on our current menu. They are used as a single origin or as an outstanding blending base.
Scoring 80 to 85, this is our “large volume farm” with beans that are representative of Cerrado coffee, with the benefit s of Daterra quality.
These coffees offer outstanding cost-benefit for those clients who desire good and consistent quality.
What can you tell us about Laurina coffee, and how come you started growing Laurina at the Daterra farm?
The history of Laurina is a study in its own right: the cultivar, which for many years remained practically forgotten, has a long and difficult history to trace.
The variety originates from Reunion Island, a very important place for the world's coffee production. Located east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean, the island has been an overseas territory of France since 1638. Formerly known as “Island Bourbon”, it was there that the famous homonymous cultivar appeared in the 18th century.
Very little coffee was produced on the island, and the highest quality was sent to the French court. The beverage is said to have delighted connoisseurs, notably Louis XV.
Also known as Bourbon Pointu, Laurina is a genetic mutation of Bourbon.
Due to its refined cup profile, it received the nickname “Cafe du Roy” (royal coffee) and was cultivated from 1770 to 1880, when it was almost made extinct by an unknown epidemic.
Laurina is a very difficult genetic to cultivate - the plants are very fragile and of low productivity. For this reason, there was little interest in its rescue.
With the increased interest and demand for quality coffees, Bourbon Pointu regained market attention in the 1980s: companies such as Illy coffee and the Japanese Ueshima started projects aimed at rescuing genetics. The Instituto Agronômico de Campinas participated in studies of varieties with low caffeine content, thus bringing Laurina and other exotic varietals to Brazil.
The IAC has been involved in cultivar conservation projects for many years. In the 1950s it received its first genetic bank from other origins, and in the 80s it received a bank of hybrids from Ethiopia, including Laurina. Even with this rescue, it is worth noting that Laurina is a mutation of Bourbon, and not a separate species.
The “full name” of Laurina cultivated at Daterra is Laurina IAC 870 (Registration in MAPA 02898 on 11/04/1999 by the IAC). The plants are small in size and have a conical crown, with several stems and dense branching. The branches grow laterally and with short internodes. The leaves are small and elliptical with young green leaves. The trees have low productivity and are very susceptible to rust, although they have good resistance to drought.
Laurina has early maturation with red and small fruits. The cherries are elongated, on average 15 per nodule, pointed at both ends, with an average of 5% single grains (moka) and 7% triple grains. The seeds are long, narrow and tapered. The caffeine content in the seeds is around 0.4% to 0.75%, almost half of the 1.2% to 1.6% common in other Arabica cultivars.
Due to the density of the leaves, the cherries grow more slowly and develop a greater volume of sugar. This feature can be quite problematic as it accelerates the development of fungus if the cherries are not processed immediately after harvesting or if they are left unpicked.
If harvested and processed quickly after the cherries ripen, this sugar allows for a unique energy-releasing process that takes place without the participation of oxygen: enzymatically controlled reactions, through which an organic molecule is degraded into simpler compounds, releasing energy. Glucose is one of the substances most used by microorganisms as a starting point, releasing hydrogen and energy through various chemical reactions.
The low caffeine content makes the plants very delicate, making cultivation difficult and complex, requiring a lot of agility and care in processing and processing. Many coffee trees with this genetic structure were planted, only few gave positive results after 5 or 6 years. Many died abruptly, while others, in order to survive, naturally increased their caffeine content over time.
The combination of delicacy, rarity, fragility, and cup quality makes Bourbon Pointu one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
The Laurina of Daterra
For many years, Bourbon Pointu did not arouse great commercial interest from Brazilian coffee growers due to low production rate. For comparative purposes: in 2015, a Laurina crop on the experimental farm of Fundação Procafé, in Varginha (MG), already in its third harvest, had an estimated production of three liters of fruit per plant - meanwhile, crops from Mundo Novo and Acaiá produced eight to ten liters. The cultivar ended up becoming just an object for research.
Laurina was not just forgotten in Brazil: throughout the 20th century, its cultivation decreased on Réunion Island, and other countries were not interested in the material either.
In the early 2000s, Laurina caught the attention of some companies, who began to experiment with the plant. With the strength of the third wave coffee culture, its rarity and exoticism made Bourbon Pointu an interesting option for specialty coffees. Cultivation in Réunion was resumed with the support of the French government and, before long, coffee growers from other nations began to test the cultivar.
Laurina arrived at Daterra in two ways: in the 1990s, Illy Café organized in-depth research on coffee genetics that would be the future of quality-focused agronomy - for this research, Illy acquired cultivars from an American company. In addition, the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas also participated in a worldwide project for the preservation of species, including Laurina. Daterra was invited to be part of these two projects in Franca (SP) and Patrocínio (MG), in a great effort to research quality, resistance, adaptation to the soil, altitude and climate. In these projects, more than 50 promising genetics were analyzed and researched for more than 20 years.
In 1995 and 2007, dozens of genetic materials were planted at Daterra for IAC studies. Between 1997 and 2001, 51 artificial crosses were carried out in the Field of Observation and Selection of Varieties, involving experimental and commercial varieties whose most advanced generations are currently in F4. In addition to Bourbon Pointu, the varieties involved are Aramosa, Icatu, Acaiá, Maragogipe, Tupi, Pacas, Agaro, Irga Chef, Mundo Novo and Typica. Crossings were carried out backwards and forwards, that is, sometimes the variety works as a father, sometimes as a mother, depending on the desired result.
In these experiments, dozens of studies and improvements were carried out on Laurina's genetic material. For this reason, the now famous Laurina has little to do with the coffee produced by Daterra, as in several years of study we have developed plants adapted to our terroir. These plants are permanently monitored and a new research bank is being prepared on our farm in Franca (SP) with the aim of experimenting with new genetics that adapt to our soil and the climate variations that are occurring with greater speed.
Is there anything else we should know about Daterra, perhaps your environmental policy/status, I spotted something about Daterra being climate positive (carbon neutral)?!
As I explained, Daterra takes sustainability very, very seriously.
When we arrived at the farms where we produce our coffee today, the estates were in very poor condition, both from a agronomical and environmental perspective.
We had to reconceive the Cerrado ecosystem fauna, flora, soil and water springs, within the farm and surroundings. To do that, we partnered with ESALQ (Sao Paulo State University – Luiz de Queiroz) and we created the first Daterra’s Environmental standards, called PEA – Program for Environmental Adequacy.
It took Daterra 10 years to recover the area well enough to produce good quality coffee and start exporting. The learning experience along these years made it possible for us to be the first Rainforest Alliance certified and ISO 14001 certified coffee farm in Brazil. And later we also added UTZ Kapeh and for a small organic portion of our farm, IBD Organic. And to reinforce the principles of sustainability, we determined we could only sell coffee to sustainably certified importers, in order to stimulate the entire production chain. We also share knowledge among smaller producers to promote social progress and coffee security. Also, to develop expertise on how to keep producing high quality coffee in harmony with nature.
That is why “Growing Relationship Coffee” is our slogan and philosophy. Because our relationship with the soil, the water, workers, community and everything that surrounds us, is just as important as our relationship with quality and with our clients around the world.
The journey was not easy or fast, but strong enough to really sustain our dream. The Triple Bottom Line concept “People, Planet and Profit”, required 20 years of investment and resilience to be completed. Today, Daterra is proud of its achievements, that were shared and implemented by our passionate team.
Still, we believe we have very serious challenges to face. Only mitigating the damages caused by farming practices is not enough. We aim to research and continuously innovate, relying on science, technology and lots of passion to protect and improve the second most important hot spot in the world, the Cerrado Biome.
Talking about CO2 emission and climate change: World Coffee Research institute studies affirm lands suitable for coffee production will be halted by 2050. This is a huge challenge for humanity (coffee growing activities included) who will have to face the effects of the climatic crisis. We can see what is happening, with long droughts, higher temperatures, uncommon frosts, etc. It is already challenging and could get worse if we don’t start doing something about it.
We have re-done our assessment for CO2 emissions and sequestrations, with Imaflora Institute (www.imaflora.com.br), and the good news is Daterra is a climate positive farm.
That means that even though our coffee production has greenhouse gas emissions (like any other human or economic activity), the fact we are implementing lots of sustainable practices, allied to the huge amount of coffee trees we grow at the farm, make us able to sequestrate more carbon from the atmosphere than we release.
Trees take in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. This is where plants use energy from the sun, carbon dioxide, and water to make food. Some of this absorbed carbon is released back into the atmosphere through respiration, but the rest is stored in the tree’s leaves, trunk, roots and so on.
The amount of sequestered carbon that surpasses our emission are our potential carbon credits.
In order to extend value to all our coffee chain and partners, Daterra will be giving those potential credits to Toby’s Estate as a bonus, when you buy coffee from us, at no cost.
Pretty much if a company buy X amount of coffee, we send you a declaration transferring our potential credits to them, according to the quantity they bought. This is part of Daterra’s Carbon Neutral Coffee Supply Chain Project: Roaster can use these potential credits to offset their own carbon emissions as a company.
We could be selling those credits and making money from them. But we are not in the carbon business. Our business is producing amazing coffee, with high levels of sustainability. If we are doing things right and creating carbon credits by growing coffee in a sustainable way, great! We want to extend that benefit to our network, so we have a more sustainable coffee supply chain.
On top of that, we want to further increase our carbon sequestrations and help mitigating climate change.
The World Economic Forum states that humanity must plant 1 trillion trees by 2030 to mitigate the climate crisis. We want to do more to help reach that goal. Daterra will be planting 20 million trees in Brazil until 2030, through our project called “The Treellion Project”.