Daterra: Not Just Another Coffee Farm


Daterra: Not Just Another Coffee Farm

Daterra has always impressed me. It’s true, we are not talking about a small family operation, a narrative we like to hear about the source of our coffee. But if I have to buy from a bigger farm, I wish they all were Daterra. Here you have a fairly well-off owner who is clearly passionate and involved in every aspect of the coffee production, despite the fact that this is not his main business. This man is Luis Norberto Pascoal, and he sets the stage for the mission at Daterra: a no-holds-barred approach to achieving maximum cup quality. I know, I sound like I am reading a script. But I was there, I saw what they do, I have cupped their coffees for years, and finally, we are offering their pure unblended yellow bourbon cultivar, which has undergone all of the preparation described below. Below I have also excerpted the section from by Brasil travelogue of 05 where I visited the Daterra farm in Cerrado.

The Daterra Process

This is a more precise description of their methods than I described in my travelogue. Please note that not all their coffees undergo the full Penta system including vacuum bagging and such (like the Santa Columba we had last year, and the Sweet Yellow which is a blendof coffees, not the same as our lot), but their Reserve and our Yellow Bourbon do.

Daterra has developed the state-of-the-art “Penta System”, in order to produce high quality green coffee beans. The Penta® System is a comprehensive approach to control each detail of the coffee quality process. The system developed by Maxxipel® , was based on the 6sigma and Total Quality Program. The software also allows for total traceability. The rigid inspections of the beans yield superb coffees. Penta®-sorted ripe and raisin cherries produce a smooth cup of coffee with pleasant acidity and other very special attributes.

The quality delivered is, the most important output of the system. Every stage of this unique processing system has been designed to only select the coffee beans that match the high quality window of Daterra. From picking to shipping, only the perfect beans remain in the process.

The Harvesting Methodology uses selective picking. The Penta® Log allows the ripe cherries to arrive at the Coffee Quality Preparation Unit in less than two hours. At the Preparation Mill, the cherries are sorted by size, maturity stage, and density. Each cherry batch is identified and tracked throughout the whole process.

Sun Drying is fundamental for the initial reduction in humidity. Thin layers of cherries, spread over heat-insulated concrete patios, are revolved three times an hour by means of special equipment. Drum Drying is essential to finally achieve the perfect moisture level for high quality roasting. The drying curve is monitored through a software that guarantees a stable and smooth drying process.

The Wood Silos, much like big wine barrels, age and soften the green beans for six weeks. This resting stage is mandatory for moisture homogeneity.

Density Selection uses gravity and flotation equipment to further select beans, which had been previously sorted out by size. The Penta® technology includes a triple system of clean airbeds that ensures the selection of beans with the same density. The output is a green bean that will deliver an even roast. The Advanced Sorting uses exclusively Penta® designed trichromatic technology. Here, dichromatic together with monochromatic electronic machines finally sort out the beans by reflectance and fluorescence, guaranteeing premium coffee.

A The Penta® Warehouse preserves coffee beans from heat, infrared waves, ultra-violet rays and air flow. The roaster will always receive fresh coffee as a result. Certified Organic Jute Bags are used for packing green coffee. In addition Daterra developed, a special Penta® Packing, which grants the produce a longer shelf life. Roasters can count on freshness, flavor and aroma.

Penta Boxes are an outstanding package for excellent green coffees. The PentaR boxes are a carton box with two foiled vaccum + gas inserted bags inside. Each bag weighs 12,10 kg / 26 pounds and the total box weight is 24,2 kg / 53,25 pounds. It is extremely easy to handle and it has proved to keep – and in some cases to improve – quality for over 3 years storage.

I have seen so many trees in the past 4 years, but the side trip John DiRuocco and I took to Daterra was really fascinating. Daterra is a group of 4 farms, 2 big ones and 2 little ones. A few years ago we bought their Cup of Excellence lot, Boa Vista. They are members of the Caccer family, but are really an independent farm. They are big, well-funded, but have the spirit of invention and experimentation in what they do. It’s sorta the La Minita of the region. Here we have 30 year old Catuai trees, some of the oldest in the Cerrado region. (First coffee planted in Cerrado was 1972.)

Coffee Scout: Gustavo was our guide at Daterra. Here he is digging into the ground cover a bit to show the layer of leafy mulch and weeds allowed to remain between rows of coffee shrubs. They mow the weeds when they get too high, but it offers a good layer of protection and more organic material for the deficient soil. They keep the weeds away from the trees so they don’t compete with the coffee. For that they use RoundUp, believe it or not. But they keep it very limited.

My Excursion to Daterra
These are the 30 year old Catuai trees that were cut to a stump 1 year before. This is standard practice everywhere in coffee cultivation. The cut ranges from every 7 years to as much as 10, but a coffee tree simply won’t produce when most of its growth is woody. Coffee cherry comes from blooms on the herbacious part of the branch, the new growth. There are less dramatic trimmings done each year, including a “skeleton” cut that trims the tree to it’s bones, but does not reduce the height like the 7 year cut. This plot is not irrigated.
Cerrado is fairly unique for the flat Savanna terrain, the need for soil ammendments, mechanical harvesting, and this, irrigation. 20% of Dattera is irrigated, and the range at most farms is in that range. I don’t know of a farm that is 100% irrigated but it might exist. Circular overhead (pivot) irrgiation like this is common, but drip/emitter irrigation is being introduced, the problem being that the cost of hosing is very high. Even Daterra is daunted by the costs of drip irrigation. Also, coffee has a very deep and wide root pattern so hose irrigation needs to account for this.
Acaia: This cultivar has a rust-colored new leaf, which turns green as it matures, as you can see. Catuai has a green new leaf. Daterra also cultivates Bourbon and Mundo Novo varietals. Mundo Novo is a Bourbon hybrid with a very circular seed form.
Worth a Try: Dattera has a lot of experimental plots – they seem willing to give anything a try. This is a sight you won’t see in Cerrado often, untrimmed 30 year old Mundo Novo trees, 18 feet tall. The plot is completely unmaintained. Gustavo was surprised because 3 years ago the plot had a very strong flowering and produced more coffee cherry per hecatre than any other part of the farm. But most years it produces far too little. A small farm would tank with that little production. Pictured here, Gustavo and John.
On the leafy ground cover of the huge Mundo Novo trees, coffee replants itself with ease. Here are 2 coffee seedlings among other plants. This plot is found on the Boa Vista farm. We did not have a chance to visit Daterra’s other farms. The large one is Tabuoes, the smaller Fazendas are San Ignacio and Buruti. In all Daterra has 300 full time employees!
A problem in the area is a small worm that creates leaf spots. It is not the well know fungi Ojo de Gallo (Eye of the Rooster) found other places.
In Cupping Lab No.1 at Daterra, a display of foregn matter and defects found in coffee.
It’s been known for a long time that you could find fermented beans in coffee by looking at it under black light. This idea has been taken farther at Daterra, but for now, here are some images from their test lab, of what I am talking about. Here is a good sample that has 2-3 defect fermented seeds in the center. They appear as white.
And here is a very bad sample with about 50% fermented seeds, viewed under blacklight.
Now, take that lab setting and build a huge green coffee sorting system around it. That is the Penta system that Luis initiated at Daterra. Housed in a big mysterious wood box, we were not able to view it directly, nor photograph it.
Daterra, like other farms, uses exact land plots and GPS to help track the use of chemical and fertilizer on the farm. All these colored areas signify their stage in treatment.
And this board shows areas that might have been treated with fertilizer and should not be entered – red means Prohibited. All this is part of BSCA coffee association cetification. Only a small number of the best Brasilian farms are BSCA certified, a complete program with environmental protections, worker protections, and safe work place rules.
A little crack in the coffee drying patio, and a new Fazenda emerges.
The Cigarra or Cicada as we call it. They all emerge at the same time forming a fine … ahem… mist that rains down from the trees. The weirdest thing is that the mist is quite inviting, and the fact that you are being soaked by insect piss doesn’t seem to matter at that moment.
Coffee skin (Casca), Parchemnt (pergamino) and muscilage are used with other organic materials to creat a rich mulch that is returned to the plants.
Gustave shows us the “Wooden Gauntlet” and unique allway underneath the huge parchment coffee storage bins. All the storgae bins are wood-lined.
And here is the view from above, tainted by a gringo who had to jump in and play around in the coffee.
A Mecamau 3 barrel sample roaster at the Daterra Cupping Room No.1. This is more of a production machine for them.
The fancy cupping room is in a separate building, and is overseen by their head cupper Carlos Borges. This has all Probat roasting equipment including this single barrel traditional sample roaster …
… and this beautiful Probatino machine. There is probably no more elegant sample roaster out there, but of course, the price tag matches the beauty and functionality of this machine. Last I hear it was 8 grand.
Contols for the Probatino- not fully automated but quite extensive. It includes PID bean temperature control. As you can see, the lab at Daterra is more decked out with sample roasters than most any coffee broker, importer, exporter or roasting operation I have seen. There are not a lot of places that have their own 15,000 dollar Probatino.

Research at Daterra

Research has always been one of Daterra’s top priorities in order to deliver the best coffees. Scientific investigation includes research into botany, management systems for sustainable farming and new technologies Daterra’s internationally renowned research partnersare:

  • EPAMIG -Minas Gerais State Agricultural Research Center.
  • IAC – Agronomic Institute of Campinas – a century-old public research center with expertise in agriculture, mainly in the field of coffee.
  • ILLYCAFÉ – The Italian leader in the espresso business.
  • ITAL – Food Technology Institute.
  • USP – São Paulo University – through its “Luiz de Queiroz” Agriculture School.
  • UNESP – University of São Paulo State, through its agriculture department.
  • UNICAMP – State University of Campinas.
  • UFV – Federal University of Viçosa.

Cutlivars Produced at Daterra

Arabica variety has always been the “king of coffees”. Its richness and balance are due to more than 120 aromatic oils and more than 300 chemical elements, delivering an exotic and complex cup of coffee.

In partnership with IAC (Agronomic Institute of Campinas) and Illycafé, Daterra has carried out deep research to elect the varieties yielding the best cup. That is why Daterra:
– Typica – original natural coffee from Ethiopia.
– Bourbon – mutant of typica from the Island of Bourbon.
– Caturrra – natural mutant of Bourbon originated in Brazil.
– Mundo Novo – natural cross pollination of Sumatra and Bourbon in Brazil.
– Red and Yellow Icatu – Back cross of Bourbon and Canephora Tetraploid.
– Red and Yellow Catuaí – Back cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra.

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