Sao Paulo coffee harvested amid towers and traffic

By Peter Murphy

For coffee yuppies who like to name drop, Java may jive and Cuban may be cool, but the last word in exotic might be the beans that grow amid the traffic and skyscrapers of one of the world's biggest metropolises.

For coffee yuppies who like to name drop, Java may jive and Cuban may be cool, but the last word in exotic might be the beans that grow amid the traffic and skyscrapers of one of the world’s biggest metropolises.

A Brazilian research center, the Instituto Biologico, grows about half a tonne of coffee a year smack in the center of Sao Paulo, one of the three biggest cities in the world, and harvesting here on Wednesday marked a symbolic start to the crop now being reaped across the world’s biggest coffee belt.

“Few people know about this coffee but we’re only five minutes from Paulista Avenue (a main city avenue),” said Antonio Filho, director of the institute set up 80 years ago to find a cure for a pest that was spoiling the state’s coffee.

“A lot of people only know what coffee is like from what they see in the supermarket,” he said, pointing out that the trees now serve to educate school children and visitors as well as continuing to provide samples for now scaled-down research.

Suited government officials, researchers and coffee entrepreneurs went from tree to tree with baskets in the plot of 1,500 plants gathering the red cherries encasing the beans amid a distant roar of city traffic.

“It looks just like coffee grown upcountry,” said farmer Sebastiao Carlos do Nascimento attending the event, who was impressed at the vivid color of the leaves and cherries grown in the city’s drier, cooler – and polluted – atmosphere.

Coffee was once the main economic activity in Sao Paulo and droves of Japanese and Italian immigrants came here more than 100 years ago to help develop it. Brazil is now the biggest producer and exporter of coffee in the world.

But coffee production throughout Brazil has fallen on hard times in recent years after the price of the commodity plunged in the 1990s and more recently as costs continue to climb, particularly wages for laborers and fertilizers.

Brazil has traditionally been a bulk supplier of lower to medium quality coffees but higher prices for specialty beans and annual competitions to find Brazil’s best brews have piqued the imagination of some growers as a way to boost income.

“Growers are becoming more professional and efficient. They are trying more and more to become producers of high quality coffee,” said Joao Sampaio, agriculture secretary at the state government in Sao Paulo, whose emblem is the coffee leaf.

Reuters

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