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Roaster Roundup: Nossa Familia

I recently spent a morning visiting with Augusto Carvalho Dias and Rob Hoos, the owner and roaster (respectively) of Nossa Familia Coffee (“Our Family” in Portuguese). Nossa is a somewhat unusual company in that the coffee they roast comes directly from farms in Brazil owned by various members of Augusto’s family—they call it Family Traded.
Though they have been roasting for more than five years in Portland, the company has kept a mostly low profile, selling primarily to offices and restaurants. But recently, they’ve expanded to a new space in the Pearl District, upped the ante on roasting with a new, energy efficient Loring Smart Roaster (the only one in Portland), and are considering plans for a cafe.
In many ways Nossa Familia is a roasting company that is doing something qualitatively different than other roasters in Portland—with the family traded model, with the Loring, and otherwise. But without a showcase cafe, they’ve lacked the “street cred” of other roasting companies. (It’s a funny thing about coffee—it’s hard to be a well regarded coffee company without a cafe.) Their choices and business model differ from the norm—which is a good thing. (My mantra: Variety, especially in coffee, is almost never bad.) Because they operate a bit differently, people don’t always know what to make of Nossa. For example, the family trade model has both some significant upsides—deep, direct connections to the stories behind each coffee, open lines of communication for feedback and improvement, the ability to focus on one origin, among others. It also had a few possible downsides—sourcing from a small number of farms in a single country limits variety, and poses potential difficulties with keeping coffee fresh.
To that end, I posed a few questions to Augusto and the Nossa team. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you guys handle “seasonality”?

We handle seasonality by making sure that we are only purchasing the freshest available crop from our farms in Brazil at the time. My family knows the quality that we like and expect here at Nossa Familia Coffee. We cup the coffees before each shipment to approve the samples. The harvest cycle in Brazil is long starting in May and ending in September. After the harvest the coffees have to rest for at least 60 days, then they are sorted for screen size, density, and all defects removed. Once this is done they wait for shipment in a climate (humidity) controlled environment. My family is working with a university in Brazil to test the difference between burlap, grainpro and a new material. So this coming year all coffees that are further out from harvest will likely be in grain-pro or the new material they are developing.

Side note: Augusto led a side-by-side cupping of the same microlot of coffee, one stored in GrainPro, and one stored in burlap then transferred to GrainPro for shipping. The different in taste was remarkable. I actually quite liked both (they were only three months out from harvest, so still both quite fresh in the scheme of things), but it was amazing how toned up or down certain flavors were.

Coming from a single origin, does that present a problem?

I see it as an opportunity. All coffees change throughout the year, and instead of ignoring that we work with the coffee to adjust our roast profiles. The humidity controlled environment in Brazil is great, and we have never had any customer issues or drop in quality as the year progresses. Grainpro bags are also a huge help.

It is our goal to have the most optimum Brazilian green that we can get our hands on. It is important to us that acidity and organic volatiles are present at peak levels for us to achieve the best roasted results. With each container, we are purchasing more and more coffee in grainpro packaging to increase green quality in order to move more in this direction.

You hear a lot about strip picking in Brazil—often with a sneering tone. I don’t know coffee harvesting from Adam, but I wonder if you could provide any info on the harvesting practices at Nossa family farms.

This is a subject that we could talk about for 2 hours over coffee, or beer. I used to be a total detractor of strip-picking. It just sounds bad and “unromantic” compared to hand-picking.  That was until I visited Brazil during a recent November and saw a farm where a portion of coffee cherries had not been picked at all and were rotting on the plants. A combination of higher costs and a shortage in labor meant that good cherry went unpicked. I started learning more about the economics of coffee farming and the amount that most farms in Brazil have invested in post-harvest selection.  The mills at the farms do an amazing job of separating ripe, green, dried, and over-ripe cherries. The result is that a farm will have some excellent lots and some sub-par lots. That’s okay—there are roasters buying the sub-par lots. We happen to buy the excellent lots. The total percentage of excellent coffee in a farm is reduced compared with cherry picking, but the high end lots are just as high end and it allows the farm to stay in business.

What are the farms that Nossa imports for/buys from/roasts?
Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama – Owner, Gabriel Dias Carvahlo
Fazenda Recerio – Owner, Maria and Diogo de Carvalho dias
Fazenda Santa Alina – Owner, Joaquim and Lucia (Tuca) Dias
Fazenda Rainha  – Owner, Luis Fernando de Carvalho Dias (this farm was sold a few years ago and is now managed by one of my cousins and her husband, but it is no longer in the family)

Do you have a sense of how large or small your purchases are compared with total sales for this farm (are you a relatively small buyer, or a big one for them)?

A majority of our beans come from Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama. Cachoeira produces up to 5,000 bags annually of which, we purchase approximately 1,200. We also purchase organic farms through my cousin’s export company, they help us source organic beans from a few local certified farms.

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