Daterra Farm is an innovator of the first rank. Its owner, Luis Pascoal, never sits on his laurels (and he sure has many!) but is clearly driven to improve everything in his compass, from quality of product to company morale and communication. His was the first farm in the world to package green coffee in vacuum sealed bags (2003), a critical quality innovation making the preservation of fine coffees' aromatics over oceanic shipments and subsequent storage far more controlled.

I strongly recommend reading Klaus Thomsen's great report on Daterra. Klaus is the 2006 Would Champion Barista and is co-owner of The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, Denmark. Our visits intersected and he is seen in several of my shots. Klaus was there longer than I and his writing, accompanied by some great photos, gives an excellent description of Daterra and its leader, Luis Pascoal, who does not just run Daterra - a full occupation by itself! His article can be seen here. It is in three parts.

I think my captioned photo tour is quite complementary to his outstanding blog. I see no reason to repeat in my photo stream what Klaus presents, for the most part.

This was a twenty-four hour speed course over a huge very complex great farm. There simply was not enough time to see more than basics - with great details nevertheless springing up all over the place, some of which I was lucky to capture on film. I hope you enjoy the tour and find the captions helpful. Enjoy!

My arrival in Sao Paulo was brightened by Daterra's Gabriel Agrelli Moreira's sunny greeting. Gabriel, responsible for logistics, drove me to various cafes in the city before joining up with Luis Pascoal, owner extraordinaire of Daterra Farm.

We later flew to Daterra Farm in the heart of the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais. Mads Hogsted, of Estate Coffee in Copenhagen, shoots some great views of the farm as we land.

The coffee trees are planted in long hedges for mechanical harvesting. Taller trees act as wind breakers. The browns of the uncultivated Cerrado can be seen in the background with green patches of farmland, all on flat tabletops at elevations at or above 3,000 feet.

Luis Norberto Pascoal stands next to Ismael Fernandes da Silva, machinery manager at Daterra

Luis is a visionary, insatiable in his desire to learn and innovate in the service of product, environment and workplace quality. He has worked with Illy Cafe for many years experimenting with new coffee cultivars and developed techniques and tools for more efficient, qualitative results.

This is Leopoldo A. R. Santanna, chief agronomist and manager of Daterra Farm, a daunting responsibilty. He was my guide in 1998 when I first visited Daterra. He spoke in Portuguese and I in Spanish. No problem!

Cerrado means dry savannah. It is a land of ancient acidic soils and low rainfall. The flat table top upon which Daterra sits halts here before a deep gorge with a beautiful waterfall. Luis has dedicated this viewing site to the late Ernesto Illy. Note the green vegetation below! 

Klaus Thomsen, 2006 world champion barista amd owner of The Coffee Collective and Mads Hogsted, roaster for Estate Coffee, both in Copenhagen..

Luis deeply believes in the spiritual value of ceremonies. Here he is serving us and his staff French presses at the overlook as the sun sets. Andreza Elaine Mazarão stands in the center; she is the Director of Marketing and Customer Relations.

This shot of the sunset gives a good idea of the Cerrado's natural vegetation, with lush plants in the watered creases of the land. It is late August, hopefully near the end of an unusually long dry season.... Almost 60% of Daterra remains virgin growth; mountain lions still roam here.

The next day we explored parts of the 17,300 acre farm. These coffee trees are about three years old and are the yellow Catuai cultivar, which produces a very sweet cup in this warm environment. In a couple of years they will form perfect hedges ready for mechanical harvesting. In the meanwhile they are manually harvested.

The coffee plants are severely stressed from drought. Here just the minimum amount of water is applied to the plants to keep them holding on.

A mechanical harvester used at Daterra. The trees will go through rotating rods in the back. Heavier cherries enter two collection containers on either side of two blowers which spew out leaves and twigs and machine passes over the coffee trees.

Branches and twigs are removed from the harvester before it moves to another coffee hedge.

Looking from on top of the harvester in the back. Two videos follow; I apologize for the pixilation: just learning about my little Kodak video! Leaves are spewed out the two large vents on either side while heavier coffee cherries are fall into long metal containers to the sides of the vents....

This pass is at the end of the harvest season. many cherries are already dried on the tree and will be naturally processed.

Most modern harvesters actually shoot the cherries into a truck which drives on an adjacent row. Luis prefers to treat the cherries gently....

Mostly over ripe coffee cherries.....

2010 is a very poor harvest year for the Cerrado and so for Daterra Farm. The growing year began with three different rains that were spread apart; this led to very uneven ripening, causing grave quality problems. Production of top quality pulped naturals is considerably diminished and no Reserves will be produced in 2010. The silver lining is a very limited quantity of extremely high quality naturals.

About 10% of the crop has fallen to the ground and must be removed for proper sanitation - to avoid the development of pests. Enter the recoleitora....

 This is a recoleitora - a "recollector." Most such machines vacuum in the cherries on the ground along with leaves, twigs and a lot of dust. Such machines have literally enveloped small towns in thick clouds of dust. To avoid this Luis has designed these to scoop the ground debris.

The debris goes to the back where the heavy cherries fall through screened holes, get moved by an augur to the left and then are blown up into the container above.

Harvested coffee cherries are brought to the processing mill which will separate as best as possible ripes from under and over ripes, stripping fruit from those in the ripe stage and preparing over-ripes for different treatments depending on what stage of dryness they have reached. The moister softer more raisin-like cherries can be specially treated to produce very sweet naturals. The dryer cherries will be lower grade naturals.

A "bean," coated in sticky mucilage, from a perfectly ripe cherry.....

Ripes and under-ripes are put through a separator. Cherries are spun out against a grid. The softer, riper fruits split open, releasing mucilage-covered beans; green fruit continues laterally, unscathed, to be dried in cherry. They will be low grade natural processed coffees. The emerging ripe beans will be dried and then milled for export. These are called pulped naturals.

Next the depulped beans are put in tanks of water where floaters are separated out. These are defective low density beans.

Floaters: the yellowish bean in the middle is hollow (soft tissue only) while the one on the left has had its protective skin partially removed: moisture is trapped between the skin and the seed. As the bean dries this trapped water will react chemically and cause an onion flavor taint.

Spent cherries are piled up and aerated to prevent mold from forming. The piles are sprayed with the treated water from time to time. Other natural agricultural nutrients are added. The following video shows this machine in action. In the foreground is a pile of parchment from pulped natural coffees that will also be added to the final mulch that will spread around the bases of coffee plants.

In the meanwhile, parchment coffee - coffee that has been depulped and is still protected by its bleach-colored skin - is laid out on patios for twelve to twenty four hours; the beans will then be mechanically dried the rest of the way. To the right is natural coffee - beans still in cherries. They can take about three weeks to dry. Both are raked continuously to assure even drying.

Rows are continuously turned over and reformed with this machine.....

Pulped natural coffees are machine dried in the final stage, with the temperature never exceeding 38 C = 100.4 F. All too often such dryers apply too much heat in an effort to speed the process; this produces flat tasting generic coffee.

A coffee bean has been cut in the middle exposing the embryo as a white dot. An embryo is fully laid out to the right. This tiny sliver contains the amino acids so important for the proper formation of coffee's fine acids and aromas...... This is why coffee beans have to be treated so gently, particularly during the drying process.

We walk through tunnels below wooden bins containing dried coffees which are "resting" over a period of 30 to 60 days.....

When the beans are ready for transport to roasters they are dry milled, that is: hulled and then sorted one final time - by size and shape, done by this old but superb sorter, then density and finally defect.

Multiple samples of every lot produced in the year and stacked neatly for future reference.

This is the main of several laboratories at Daterra where quality control is everything.

The cupping lab is run by Master Cupper Carlos Borges, endearingly called Carlinhos (Car-lin-yos) by everyone. He cups every lot during every stage of development, deciding when each should be harvested and later blending certain lots to produce unique profiles. Luis is in synch with the latest quality trends, with a modern La Marzocco and single drippers in back.....

Before we departed Daterra Farm Luis had another ceremony ready for us. We planted an indigenous tree dedicated to the three of us in a garden of trees dedicated to many past visitors. It was an honor!

After Klaus did all the hard work, I got to water the tree.

We flew back to Campinas and immediately visited the Agronomic Institute of Campinas, which contains one of the great collections of coffee species and varieties in the world. Pioneering investigative work has been done here over the decades.

I am standing next to a Canephora tree of the variety Robusta. The Canephora species accounts for about 35% of the world's production, Arabica making up the rest. Their beans go into the lower priced blends, having more caffeine but far less sweetness.

This is the tiny ripe cherry of the Euginoides coffee species. Deep in the past, It combined with Robusta to produce the most genetically complex of all coffee species, Arabica.

And finally the Liberica species towering over Leopoldo.

On our final day, Klaus Thomsen and I gave presentations at Daterra's roastery, Ateliê do Café, near Campinas. The lady on the right is Isabela Raposeiras, owner of an up and coming third wave style cafe in Sao Paulo called O Coffee Lab.

My talk started off with this drawing of me by my grandson showing just how much I love my coffee.

The local press was very interested.....

A parting photo.... Thank you, Luis, for such a great time! And now I pass you over to Klaus: the video!