Fazenda Daterra is a coffee farm located in the Cerrado Mineiro region of Minas Gerais, Brazil. This year it forms the backbone of our Penny Rock seasonal espresso. Over the last few years Penny Rock has garnered a very loyal following, and it is now consumed by so many people that I felt it was right to explore its components in more depth.
In early 2014, with Red Bank still in its preliminary planning phase, I attended London Coffee Festival for the first time. I remember being overwhelmed by the number of roasters, machine manufacturers, green coffee importers, ancillary product vendors, all competing for my attention, and me duly visiting as many of them as I possibly could. Amidst all of this I spent some time listening to a charismatic man from Brazil talking about the farm he worked for, Fazenda Daterra. Amid the barrage of information I forget the precise detail of the talk, but words such as sustainability, welfare, quality and experimental were frequently used, and in the weeks that followed Daterra was one of a handful of names that stuck with me. It would take a few more years before the real significance of this became apparent.
In the intervening years I cracked on with the business of setting up Red Bank, born out of the idea of bringing the wonderful coffee I had experienced during my time working in London to the folk of my beloved Lake District. I set up relationships with well-regarded coffee importers whose job it was to source outstanding coffee from the main producing regions - predominantly South & Central America and East Africa. I would cup a dizzying number of coffees from various origins and make a small selection of what I thought tasted the best. I would then roast these as sympathetically as I could and try to convince cafes to buy coffee from a guy with hitherto no experience in roasting coffee. Somehow it worked, and now four years later Red Bank has a very strong, loyal customer base both here in the Lakes and beyond and a quality-driven product that I am proud of.
Over the course of the last four years, a lot of experience has been gained, lessons have been learned, and, I hope you would agree, our product has improved year-on-year. One of the main things that has changed has been a better understanding of, and a more targeted approach to sourcing. Like I said earlier, when Red Bank started I would cup whatever coffee was currently available and choose what I thought was tasting the best. Not a bad place to start, but there’s a lot more to good sourcing than that. When was the coffee harvested for example? It might taste good now, but will it in a month’s time? Who exactly grew the coffee and are they being paid a fair price for all their hard work? When was the coffee shipped, and when did it land in port? Has it been sat in a shipping container awaiting customs clearance in sweltering temperatures for weeks? Also, a lot of the really good stuff gets snapped up long before it arrives on these shores, so you have to cup pre-shipment samples, take an educated guess as to how much you will need, reserve your allocation, then wait impatiently for months for the coffee you’re so excited about to finally arrive.
Also, we have started to work with more origin-specific importers alongside the bigger importers who deal with numerous origins. A good example is Guatemala’s Primavera, setup by Nadine Rasch with the aim of improving the plight of her fellow countrymen, and bringing some of the best coffee Guatemala has to offer to the world market. I think that you are more likely to know an origin in more depth and to unearth the hidden gems if you live in and focus on that origin alone. The coffees that we have bought from Primavera have certainly been testament to this, and we plan to roll out a similar approach with other origins in the months and years ahead.
But back to Daterra. Penny Rock is our most consumed coffee, and this year we really wanted to set it up with a solid foundation. We have always used Brazil as the backbone of Penny Rock with its hallmarks of good body, sweetness and satisfying flavours of chocolate and nut. For the harvest year ahead our intention is to keep this backbone the same, but to change the other components of the blend throughout the year to reflect coffee’s seasonality, and to keep it evolving and interesting - all within the parameters of Penny Rock’s over-arching flavour profile. With the base Brazil staying the same, it was important that we got it right.
Whilst considering which samples to request I remembered that experience at London Coffee Festival back in 2014 and decided to do a bit more research about Fazenda Daterra. The more I read, the more I was impressed. In 2015, for example, the farm won the award for Prêmio Fazenda Sustentável (Most Sustainable Farm) from Globo Rural, Brazil’s foremost agricultural publication - the most sustainable farm in the country, not just of coffee farms, but of all farms! The report on the awards ceremony noted the following:
“The farm, which produces specialty coffees in the Cerrado Mineiro, was the one with the highest sustainability rates among all 124 participants. Daterra presented all the attributes that a sustainable farm must have: extreme concern for the conservation of natural resources, valorization and human development and high profitability… It has five socio-environmental certifications - Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Esalq Ambiental, IBD and ISO 14001 - applies good agricultural practices in 100% of the cultivated area and stimulates and supports its employees with well-defined social programs.”
Daterra followed this by becoming the first farm in the world to receive “Level A” certification from Rainforest Alliance.
Daterra's commitment to sustainability (which you can read more about here) is matched by their commitment to quality. The Daterra estate is split up into 216 mini-farms each of between 5 and 15 hectares. Each mini-farm is managed separately to ensure optimum maturation specific to its particular terroir. Once harvested the beans undergo a complex sorting process that took over ten years to design, develop and implement, to ensure a quality and consistency that is second to none. The processed coffee is then packed in ‘Penta Bags’, designed and patented by Daterra, that protect the beans from UV, infra-red, pests, fungi and external odours, to ensure that the coffee reaches its destination (us!) in optimal condition. Daterra also has a small ‘laboratory’ farm where new varietals, processing methods, drying techniques and other experiments are conducted all in the pursuit of learning more about and improving the coffee they produce.
I’ve always been impressed and inspired by businesses that set out with the goal of doing good, improving the world in the small way that they can, focusing on quality, and staying true to that course. With those foundations I don’t think it is a coincidence that financial success often follows. When I was setting up Red Bank I read Yvon Chouinard’s seminal book ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ which charted the journey of Patagonia from selling climbing equipment to his friends to the global, highly-successful and socially-conscious clothing brand that it is today. When I get caught up in the day-to-day of running a business I often revisit this wonderful book to remind myself of the bigger picture and what we are trying to achieve as a company. Fazenda Daterra is very much in the same mould, and I am incredibly proud to be able to support their project and offer their wonderful coffee to you all.