By Christopher Schooley 11/8/13
The classic natural and pulped-natural Brazil profile is Full City to Full City+, tending to be layered with cocoa, tobacco, leather, nutty and rustic sweetness, and have a particular fattiness in the mouthfeel. Because of these characteristics Brazils are frequently components in espresso blends, but also make for excellent drip and press pot coffee brews for folks looking for something with a little more presence and fairly low acidity.
Currently, Brazil coffees are generally out of vogue because of their low acidity, which has recently become the most important and sometimes only important thing in a coffee for a lot of roasters. Through the forced demucilage process though, you can produce near fully washed, sometimes called semi-washed or mechanically washed, coffee profiles with brighter acids. There's also a trend towards hyper-sorted and cleaned dry-processed coffees in Brazil winning the late harvest COE competition. These coffees are somewhat similar to the overtly fruited dry-processed Ethiopian coffees with some teetering on the edge of becoming yogurty, but completely devoid of the layered cocoa sweetness.
The Natural and Pulped Natural coffees from Brazil can be some of the trickiest coffees to roast. Thorough mechanical sorting means that they don’t have as much of a mix of bean densities as dry processed Ethiopian coffees, but are fairly consistently soft coffees compared to the same varieties grown at higher elevations throughout Central America. Even though modern sorting technology is impressive, and there is a little more consistency density-wise, defects are not uncommon in these coffees due to the harvesting methods.
Green defects and defects more noticeable after roasting are sometimes found in these coffees and have an impact on the cup. Some of the more common defects are immature beans, foxy (reddish-brown) beans, or beans damaged either by the harvesting and processing equipment or by broca beetle. Also, like other dry processed and pulped-natural coffees, quakers are a pesky presence in the roasted batches.
Resistance is the first word that comes to mind when roasting coffees from Brazil. Even though they're softer than most other coffees, they seemingly resist heat in the roaster during the drying stage, and when looking at the rate of rise, appear to be dragging. Here's where the most common roasting mistake is made; steadily increasing the energy in an attempt to get them to 'catch up'. Be patient, because once the moisture dries up out of these soft coffees, they're gonna fly. And if you continue adding heat, 1st Crack will really take off and you'll lose the ability to slow them down.
So dragging the roast is key during the drying phase and early browning stages. You will make up the time once 1st Crack begins to roll. Also, the stretched drying phase allows you to develop a syrupy and layered mouthfeel. Rustic flavors can wind up being harsh and sharp if you push the roast too much, but the right development will promote sweetness throughout the coffee.
Knowing when to react to 1st Crack and pull back on the energy is the true finesse move with Brazilian coffees. Slow and steady wins the race here. Don’t pull back at the very first 'pop' you hear, but also don’t wait as long as you would with a dry processed Ethiopian coffee. Again, bean density is fairly uniform, so almost all the beans hit first Crack at about the same time (this is why it has a tendency to take off). Wait for some consistent popping, but not rapid popping. This slightly longer 1st Crack will also help express the best mouthfeel.
Don’t try to add development after the 1st Crack is finished, this is already a low acid coffee. If you stretch it out at this stage it becomes flat and fatty without the sweetness and occasional date and raisin notes laced into the cocoa. After 1st Crack finishes you want to get into 2nd Crack before 2 minutes, and honestly even under 1:30. This roast might be a little longer than your SHG coffees, but that's OK. I’d drop the batch either right before the beginning of 2nd Crack - maybe 45 seconds to a minute after the end of 1st Crack - or with 1 or 2 snaps of 2nd Crack in the drum but with very few to no snaps in the cooling tray. You can take these deeper and deeper, but they tend to take on an awful lot of roast character, getting ashy real quick.