This coffee comes from the Serra do Cabral plateau, a stunning region in the Chapada de Minas in the central north of the Minas Gerais State in Brazil.
With a high altitude of 1,100m above sea level, a mild climate (with sunny days, cool nights and well defined rainy and dry seasons), flat terrain and plentiful water, the region has ideal conditions for growing fine coffee. Despite this, coffee was only introduced to the region recently, after brothers Marcelo and Roberto Flanzer recognised its potential for high-quality coffee production.
Marcelo and Roberto have worked together on their family estate, Fazenda EcoAgricola, since they were very young. The farm was initially established in 1975 by their father, Henrique, who has since retired. Since the early 2000s, the farm has been managed by his two sons. Now, Marcelo oversees all of the production and quality control and Roberto manages the operations on the farm.
The decision to plant coffee was driven by a need to diversify, a focus on quality and a desire to operate the estate with environmentally sustainable practices.
“Among many possibilities, we chose coffee for the great fit with the region: altitude, climate, water, terroir. It also met our goal to build the business in a environmentally sustainable way using technology, and our desire to be able to produce quality driven products” – Marcelo Flanzer
The family planted their first coffee nursery in 2006 and began harvesting coffee in 2009. Today just over 340 hectares of the 1,700-hectare estate are dedicated to coffee. Two-thirds is planted out with Red Catuaí 144 and one third with Yellow Catucaí variety trees. The brothers also have plans to introduce a small area of Yellow Bourbon in the near future.
To this day, the Flanzer family are still the only coffee producers in the Serra do Cabral region. Their efforts have been recognised in a myriad of awards, including three Cup of Excellence awards, and placing 1st in the Minas Gerais Quality Award in Chapada de Minas four times over. In this sense, the brothers are true pioneers – establishing and developing a new coffee growing region that is now internationally recognised and celebrated.
Marcelo and Roberto have focused on producing the highest quality coffee possible and balanced this objective carefully with working to preserve and protect the local water sources and preserve the natural forest areas. Over 50% (860 hectares) of the estate is dedicated to a natural reserve, that has crystal clear streams, native Cerrado Bioma vegetation, and abundant wildlife. Ecological corridors run throughout the estate, allowing the free movement of animals and help maintain the area’s ecosystem and biodiversity. The natural reserve also plays a role in acting to inhibit the development of coffee pests, and therefore the need for pest control and chemicals.
Environmental sustainability has always been intrinsic to the Flanzer’s family’s mission, and large portions of the estate have always been dedicated to a natural reserve.
“Sustainability and ethics are very important to us. Today sustainability is very fashionable, but when we began to produce here in the 1970s it was something just a few people cared about… To us sustainability means creating something that is environmentally responsible, socially fair and economically viable.” – Marcelo Flanzer
The concept of preservation is built into the Flanzer family company’s name, Ecoagricola. “Eco” refers to “ecological” and “Agrícola” means “agriculture”. According to Marcelo and Roberto, the very purpose of the agricultural side of their business is to generate funding for ecological preservation.
Whilst MCM does market the coffee in this way, EcoAgricola is Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified and is also a member of the BSCA.“These certifications help us make sure our work is done well”, Marcelo explained when we asked why he had gotten certified.“They make annual audits and check everything, and even do surprise audits as well”.
When Marcelo and Roberto started to produce coffee, there were two big challenges that they faced. Firstly, coffee had never been produced in the region before, so there was little infrastructure and no ‘accepted’ practices that had been developed and adapted over time in the region. In addition, the brothers had no experience in coffee production, and so they surrounded themselves with experts who were able to guide them to make decisions that would maximize quality and yield, and advise them how to do things in the most environmentally responsible way.
One of the first decisions the brothers had to make was how to irrigate the coffee plantation. After much consideration of factors such as water availability and terrain, they chose to use pivot irrigation. This method of crop irrigation (also known as ‘waterwheel’ or ‘circle’ irrigation) involves equipment that rotates around a central pivot and waters the crops with sprinklers. The sprinklers will irrigate a circular area around the pivot point, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above. Center pivot irrigation typically uses less water compared to many surface irrigation and furrow irrigation techniques, helping to conserve water.
Water for the property is sourced from the natural springs as well as dams that are used in drier periods. The dams have been built at higher elevations which means they are able to water the farm by gravity, therefore, saving energy.
Over the last decade, the brothers have succeeded in installing five pivots, all of which use LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) technology. LEPA ensures that the plant canopy remains dry and water is applied directly to every second furrow. This requires some special management and tillage practices but is also one of the most resource-efficient means of irrigation. They have also installed weather stations and monitoring systems that measure things like soil moisture, rainfall and evaporation rates, to help with inputs assessment. In 2016 they began using the “precision agriculture system”, which measures not only the average input requirements for the whole plantation but also the different needs of every individual hectare, and then with aid of GPS monitoring, they are able to ensure that each plant receives only the nutrients and water it needs.
HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED
Since 2015, the Flanzer family has embarked on a quality-driven project for post-harvesting with the University of Lavras, coordinated by Professor Flavio Borém. Professor Borém is one of the world’s leading coffee quality researchers, and his advice has been crucial in informing the farm’s post-harvest practices.
Lots are defined by plot, variety, and method (natural, pulped natural), and 100% traceability is maintained from the moment the cherry is picked. During quality control and sensory analysis, every lot is assessed by the QC team (which is headed up by full-time Q-Grader, Danilo), and any quality issues can be traced back to the individual hectare, helping identify and prevent any future issues.
After the ripe cherries are picked, they are taken to the farm’s mill where they are processed using either the natural, pulped natural or washed method.
Special care is taken with pulped natural lots, such as this 100% Red Catuaí lot. After being picked, the coffee is sorted to remove any additional underripe or damaged cherries. It is pulped and then delivered to the farm’s extensive patios, where it is dried carefully over 7 or more days. During this period it is turned regularly to ensure it dries evenly. After 45 – 60 days rest the coffee is then dry milled at the farm’s own dry mill.
OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES
In addition to the natural reserve on their property, the Flanzer family also maintains the Reserva da Borralha, which adjoins their farm, and boasts 2,000 hectares of land completely untouched by humans and rich with biodiversity. Birds that migrate southwards from North America stop at this reserve to rest and feed, and the Concolor Puma (“Onça Parda”) roams through the undergrowth. The presence of this rare cat is a definitive sign that all in the food chain is present and preserved.
Intent on maintaining this incredibly unique and special environment, the Flanzer family are board members of the Serra do Cabral State Park (“Pescabral” or Parque Estadual da Serra do Cabral), located 20km away in Buenópolis. The estate’s sustainable education program was merged with the Park’s program, meaning that their message of conservation not only reaches their own employees but also the wider community. They regularly give sustainability talks at the local community, schools, as well as with local neighbours and small businesses. These talks are often centred around driving home the importance of protecting the natural spring and reducing waste.
The Flanzer family has also collaborated with Pescabral to create an extensive native-species nursery where they cultivate seeds collected around the estate, raise them to seedlings, and then donate them to the national park, neighbours, and the city councils, etc.
“It is important for us to have a business that is economically viable, but we also want to ensure that we leave a legacy for future generations. It is a great privilege for us to be here.”– Marcelo Flanzer
In addition to their conservation activities, Ecoagricola engages socially with the small farmer communities that surround them. They have helped many of these small farmers with fiscal education and helped them sell their produce at the estate’s canteen and also to other companies and markets. Marcelo and Roberto also regularly participate in their community meetings and try to find ways to collectively help and support their local community. They also help directly by investing in specific community needs, such as school repairs, uniforms for students, etc.
Judite, the cook at Serra do Cabral, summed up the Flanzer approach to business, their staff, and their community beautifully: “Here we don’t have boss and employee, we have family”. We are excited to be part of this family, and looking forward to establishing a very meaningful, positive and fruitful relationship with Marcelo and Roberto. Their professionalism, enthusiasm, openness, and motivation to continue to improve and do things better is exciting and inspiring. The results of their hard work are already in the cup, and we can’t wait to see how they continue to evolve and be part of this journey with them.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Coffee at the Flanzer farm grows alongside beautiful crystal clear streams and is surrounded by perfectly preserved land. Many native animals roam here, including the Concolor Puma (known as the “Onça Parda” in Portuguese) – after which this coffee is named.
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