A Brazilian barista winning the WBC has been a long time coming

  • Boram Um is the first Brazilian competitor to win the World Barista Championship
  • Boram says that “a strong internal market brings a lot of opportunity for specialty coffee to grow”
  • Brazil is a leading producing country that drives domestic consumption at a policy level

THIS YEAR, a Brazilian competitor won the World Barista Championship for the first time ever.

Boram Um took home the historic victory with a theme based around the expression, “Teamwork makes the dream work”. He emphasised the role that all supply chain actors play in elevating coffee quality.

Boram used an anaerobically fermented Gesha from Janson Family Estates, Panama for his espresso course. This coffee was also used in his milk course, as a part of a blend which also included a natural Pink Bourbon from his family’s farm in Brazil.

His WBC victory marks a significant milestone for Brazil. Not only are they the largest coffee-producing country by a considerable margin, but this achievement also highlights their growing domestic consumption.

While other producing countries have struggled to drive internal consumption, Brazil has developed a robust domestic market over the past two decades – and those efforts are now bearing fruit on the competition stage.

Boram Um competing in the WBC

Coffee consumption programmes

Boosting domestic consumption is generally considered to be a positive shift for coffee-producing countries. It bolsters support for local producers, establishes a stable and reliable market, and theoretically allows producers to choose between multiple different buyers.

As such, many producing countries have attempted to implement programmes aimed at boosting internal consumption. However, nowhere have they been as effective as in Brazil.

ABIC (Associação Brasileira da Indústria de Café) introduced a grading system in the early 2000s to educate consumers on the different qualities found in coffee. The three tiers were:

  • Traditional – lower quality coffee that is a mix of arabica and robusta
  • Superior –  better quality coffee that is typically a mix of arabica and robusta
  • Gourmet – high quality and 100% arabica with no black, green, or burnt defects

“ABIC was essential in categorising and classifying different quality levels of roasted coffee for the market,” says Boram Um. “It was good to acknowledge that coffees can be put into groups of Traditional, Superior and Gourmet.”

As a result of this, Brazilian consumers could engage with coffee in a new light, and understand it in a more nuanced way.

“Consumers now have more information regarding the coffee they are buying,” says Nicholas Yamada, Director (Latam) at ProfilePrint. “When you stimulate consumers based on quality, they get to know the product they are consuming much better.

“This adds to the growth of coffee consumption internally – as the more educated consumers get about coffee, the more they want to try new sensorial profiles.”

Additionally, Brazil’s early participation in the SCA contributed to a focus on internal consumption. “You have to remember that in early 2000, the SCA was getting in shape and Brazil was an active member, which contributed to projects to boost internal consumption,” says Nicholas.

Laying the foundations

Brazil implemented substantial economic reforms around 20 years ago that aimed to liberalise trade. This included reducing trade barriers, simplifying customs procedures, and encouraging foreign investment.

These changes played a pivotal role in providing consumers with a wider range of choices and set the stage for a thriving consumer market.

“Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Brazil was getting a lot of investment from abroad and our market became open to accessible importing goods,” says Nicholas. “This served as a good background for investment in coffee quality.”

Boram’s WBC win this year serves as a testament to this development of coffee quality. Traditionally, Brazil has been known for delivering quantity and volume, rather than being associated with exceptionally high quality.

But while Brazil has never had the same reputation for producing competition-winning coffees, Boram’s use of a Brazilian coffee to secure the WBC win shows that this perception may be changing.

Boram Um speaking to the judges in the WBC

Production and consumption

The world’s largest coffee-producing country now has a thriving domestic market for consumption – so what’s the relationship between the two?

It could be argued that strong internal demand for coffee not only supports the growth of the domestic industry but also fosters a reciprocal relationship that fuels the production of high-quality coffee.

There is evidence to indicate that they have mutually reinforced each other in the past. “The international and national marketing campaigns (such as the Brazilian football national team sponsorship from 1982 to 1986) helped to make us proud of what we grow, which in turn promoted internal consumption,” Nicholas says.

“Perhaps we couldn’t have such large projects to stimulate internal consumption back in the day if we didn’t have the resources coming from coffee exports to finance part of it.”

“I believe consumption and production are highly related in Brazil,” says Boram. “We are not allowed to import different origins for safety and regulatory purposes. So when production is low, prices increase almost immediately on the consumer side.

“There are positives as well. Having a strong internal market brings a lot of opportunity for specialty coffee to grow and to keep our producers safe.”

Additionally, a robust domestic market empowers producers to actively participate at the consumer end. This has brought significant value to coffee consumption in Brazil. Boram Um is the epitome of this trend. Looking at both his family farm, Fazenda Um, and his coffee shops around São Paulo, there are clear signs that producers are becoming more involved in the consumption end, too.

“We are seeing a lot of producers getting into roasting their own coffee,” says Nicholas. “This is amazing as they don’t rely only on selling the green beans, but they diversify by getting into roasting.”

Increasing internal consumption also gives producers more selling options and improves the country’s awareness of coffee production.

Ultimately, as a result of the push to drive more internal consumption in Brazil, we have now seen a competitor from the country win the WBC. This has cast a new light on Brazil’s coffee industry and could mean there is potential for the country to become more recognised for ultra-high-quality coffees in the future.