Global head of coffee development Daniel Thompson travels to Brazil to trace the story of a Soho House espresso from a farmer’s hands to a barista’s
The Soho House coffee programme’s main aim is to serve great-tasting, ethical, traceable, specialty coffee to our members on a large scale. To help me better understand our UK coffee’s journey, I travelled to Brazil with our partners from Origin Coffee Roasters and La Marzocco to see the many hands and faces who help to bring it from the farm to the House.
As soon as we touched down in São Paolo we headed out on a long drive to Guaxupé, the largest coffee-growing region in Brazil. The group — our UK coffee operations manager David Robson, Joshua Tarlo, head of coffee and retail for Origin Coffee, videographer Adam and myself — stayed pretty silent as we headed to the first farm, transfixed by the scenery as it slowly transformed from the dense, urban landscape of São Paolo to rich, green jungle terrains and dusty side roads and finally vast coffee plantations, with crops stretching to the horizon.
To a lot of people, coffee is coffee. They have no idea that it grows on trees and is the seed of a fruit. But as we saw on our trip, coffee passes through so many hands before it reaches the barista.
After being planted it will grow for five years before producing fruit of any commercial value. Depending on farm size and terroir, it is then hand picked or harvested using specialist machinery so as not to damage the plants.
The fruit is processed in a number of ways to remove the bean, each method having a profound effect on the flavour of the coffee. Once processed it’s dried on patios or raised beds, and raked and turned frequently to avoid any spoiling. The dried coffee is then graded and sorted to remove any defective beans.
Soho House coffee comes from three separate family farms in Guaxupé, and we visited them all. The difference between what we are doing with our speciality coffee and mass coffee production has never been more apparent to me than when, on arrival to the first farm we were greeted by all four generations of the Barbossa Family; their cousins, nieces, nephews and even cats and dogs. Each time we were greeted with an incredibly generous amount of food in a real communal setting. Everyone lives together, works together, eats together.
The life of a coffee farmer involves long, physical, repetitive days amid beautiful landscape, and in extremely hot conditions. You start early, then come in for a family feast before heading back out to work some more.
Everyone we met at the three farms was very proud of their product, the way they treat their workers, the artisanal practices they use, and also in their relationship with us. To overcome the language barrier we showed them a short video explaining what Soho House is all about, which was met with enthusiasm and intrigue by older and younger generations.
After being packed into hessian sacks, coffee is shipped from Guaxupé to the UK, where it is roasted at the Origin roastery in Cornwall. Specialty coffee tends to roast lighter to enhance the natural flavours individual to each crop. The process takes 12-13 minutes, and our coffee is bagged immediately. It will be used within one month to preserve its aroma and intensity.
There are more flavours in coffee than wine, but only a beautifully grown and well-prepared bean can deliver on this promise. Walking around Guaxupé, surrounded by thousands of coffee plants, I felt a long way from Soho. But we are connected to these passionate craftsmen by every single cup of coffee served in our UK properties. The rich flavour tells of the generations of hard work. And it works the same way with all our coffee around the world.
Next time you make a coffee, think about its incredible journey and how many hands it has passed through before yours. Make it the best you can, because although to some, coffee is just coffee, I hope by now you realise that for us it is so, so much more.
Soho House coffee by numbers
4,000 green beans, or roughly the yield of one average-sized tree, are needed to make just one pound of roasted coffee.
3 farms in Gouchupex produce all the coffee for Soho House & Co’s UK sites: Fazenda Mariano, Fazenda Das Almas and Sitio São João. Together they cover more than 750 hectares.
160 employees work across the three farms at harvest time (May to August). In the off-season, families maintain their farms alone.
tons of coffee will be consumed by Soho House & Co’s UK sites by the end of 2017. That’s 50,000kg, or 263,157 double epresso shots. Approximately…