Coffee Planting in Brazil-- an article about a coffee plantation in Brazil from the April 16, 1899 LA Times  

The Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1899, p.16:



From Our Own Correspondent.

SAO PAULO (Brazil,) March 10, 1899.--
    The biggest coffee plantation in the world lies more than three hundred miles inland by train from Sao Paulo. It is the Dumont coffee estate, owned by a big English syndicate with capital of several million dollars. The plantation has about five million trees, and it produces enough coffee annually to give every man, woman and child in the United States a daily cup for a week.
    Before I describe my visit to this big estate let me give you a few coffee facts. Brazil is the chief coffee country of the universe. It produces two-thirds of all the coffee consumed by man, and most of its product is used in the United States. We are the chief coffee drinkers of the world. We drank 800,000,000 pounds last year, which was more than was consumed by the people of Europe. The great pot from which our supply comes is Brazil, and the center of the pot is this State of Sao Paulo.
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    I went to the Dumont fazenda on the railroad through some of the richest coffee lands in the world. I passed hundreds of thousands of acres of coffee trees, going by plantation after plantation, where there were thousands of men at work picking coffee, and by vast cement floors, upon which the coffee beans were drying in the sun.

    The color of the best coffee lands here is of a bright red. It is just like brickdust, and in this ride over the hills of Brazil I found everything covered with a brickdust hue. The weather has been dry for some time. The sun has turned the earth to powder. It has filled the air with red clouds. The bushes and trees are tinged with it, and in places the freshly-plowed coffee trees are red instead of green...
    Unpleasant as the soil is in the shape of dust, it is said to be just the thing for coffee. It lies here in beds from three to four feet deep upon a layer of gravel, and in it the coffee plant grows and waxes fat.

    The best plantations are on the sides of the hills, at an elevation of from 1000 to 3000 feet above the sea. These are the altitudes of the rolling plains through which I have been traveling. They are all covered with coffee...
    At last, after 300 miles of such traveling, I came to the station of Robeirao Preto, and here was met by an engine which Phillip Hammond, the manager of the Dumont fazenda, had sent down to take me to the estate. I had letters to him from the Secretary of Agriculture of Sao Paulo and was therefore entertained right royally during the few days of my stay...

    The estate itself has tens of thousands of acres. It contains over thirteen thousand acres of coffee fields and 2500 acres of pastures. It is planting more trees every year, and it is kept like a garden. To go around it you would have to travel forty miles, and there are some more than forty miles of railroad track on it, built solely to carry the coffee.
    The estate supports 5000 people, who live upon it. It has twenty-three colonies, ranging in size from seventy families down. It has great stores to supply its people with food. It has a bakery, a drug store, a saw mill and planing mill and at one time it had a brewery. It has vast factories for cleaning the coffee and preparing it for the market, and it also has offices in which there are book-keepers taking account of every item of expense, so that they can tell you almost to a tree how much coffee each of the 5,000,000 trees is producing and every item connected with the picking of it and sending it to the seaports.

    The laborers on the estate are thoroughly organized. Each man has his own work, the employees being managed by administrators who have charge of blocks of trees ranging from 1,000,000 down...
    At picking time all the employees are set to work gathering the coffee berries and bringing them to the cars. One man can pick enough berries in a day to make about fifty pounds of coffee. At picking time there are trainloads of coffee berries moving to and fro from the fields to the factories, and within a few weeks 70,000 bags of coffee beans are shelled out, dried and shipped.

    Before taking you on a trip over the estate let me tell you how coffee is grown... In the first place, the trees must be sprouted in seed beds, the beans being sown much like we sew peas. Only the best coffee beans are chosen for this purpose. When the coffee plants are about eighteen months old they have grown a foot high. Then they are taken up and planted deep in the ground, being shielded with leaves or sticks. The grow very fast, being plowed and hoed and kept clean.
    At three or four years of age the coffee tree begins to have fruit. Little red berries the size and color of a cherry come out close to the branches, hanging to them much like a plum. they continue to have fruit from this time for twenty or thirty years, and some trees will keep on producing for forty or fifty years. A good tree should produce four pounds annually, and a well-cared-for coffee plantation should be good for at least thirty years.

    The coffee begins to blossom in September and in April or May the berries are ripe and the picking begins. The berries are picked into baskets which the pickers carry on their packs. Each is paid so much for the amount picked, and hundreds of men, women and children are employed...
    The berries as they come from the trees are of the size and color of dark red cherries. The grains, or beans, which we use to make coffee are the seeds inside the cherries. Each large cherry has two seeds, the flat sides resting one against the other with a soft pulp about them. Others have only one little round seed, just like the Mocha coffee of commerce.

    The pulp must first be taken off. To do this, the berries are thrown into a hopper, and run through cylinders which squash the pulp without injuring the grains. They are reduced to a mush of pulp and coffee seeds.

    This mixture is carried over a long copper cylinder which is about two feet in diameter. The cylinder is filled with holes each big enough so that a coffee bean can pass through it. As the mush falls on to the cylinder the beans go through the holes into it and are carried into a canal of flowing water below the cylinder. Upon this they float off into receiving tanks or vats.

    Take up a handful of the grains and look at them. Each is covered with a soft, gummy substance. It is as sticky as though it had been painted with mucilage. It must be washed again before it is ready for drying. This is done in a tank in which a great screw moves round and round over the beans, scouring off the gum as it were, and leaving them as white as parchment or snow...
    They have two shells upon them which must be removed before they can be shipped to the market. Before the shells can be taken off the coffee must be as dry as a bone, and the drying is quite a job on its own.

    There are on every plantation great terraces made of floors of cement rising one above the other. Some of the floors are more than an acre in size. They are made for drying the coffee. There is no roof over them, and the hot sun of Brazil beats down upon them all day long. It is upon such floors that the coffee beans are spread, thousands of bushels of beans upon one floor. Among them are men who stir the beans about with wooden rakes so that all parts are touched by the sun. The men are in bare feet, and they perspire as they work.
    It is important that the coffee be evenly dried, and it takes a long time to cure it. The grains often lie for two months on the platforms, being gathered into piles at night and covered up to keep off the dew. The men watch also for showers, and at such times cover the coffee.

    After the beans are dried thy are by no means ready for sale. Each little bean has to be skinned. It has upon it a thick white hide known as the parchment skin, and under this another shell almost as thin as a cobweb, which is called the sliver skin. These have to be taken off before you come to the olive green bean sold in our stores.
    The skinning is done by expensive machines, some of which cost as much as $25,000. In the first place, the coffee is run through a ventilator, which fans off the rubbish and dust. It is next thrown into a great corrugated wheel of cast iron, which has grooves so graduated that they break the skin of the coffee without hurting or scratching it.
    After the skin is broken the beans are carried to a second ventilator, in which the shells are taken off like the chaff in a threshing machine. A fan blows the chaff off and the grains flow down through the trough to the separator.

    The grains are now of a light olive green color. They must be separated and graded before they can be shipped. The little round seeds which came from the small berries on the ends of the stalks will go into one grade and will be sold in our American markets as Mocha straight from Arabia; another size will be classed as Java, and the well-known Mocha and Java which you mix will possibly have come from the same stalk. This is no fiction. The Brazilian coffee is among the best in the world, and vast quantities of it are consumed every year as genuine Mocha and Java. Other kinds of grains will be classed according to their grades, and from every lot five different grades are made.

    One of the most interesting sights on the plantation to me was the factory in which the women are sorting the different grades in order to pick out the bad seeds. Come with me and look at it. We are in a vast room filled with Italian girls of all ages, from 10 to 20 and upward. They sit at long tables at the backs of which are boxes of green coffee seeds.
    Just opposite each girl is a little opening in the box, out of which she pulls handfuls of the olive-hued grains and spreads them out on the table before her. She looks them carefully over, picks out such as are bad and throws them into a box at the right, sweeping at the same time the good grains through a hole in the table so that they fall into a bag, which is fastened beneath and which hangs there between her knees.
    Some of the girls are quite pretty. They have the large eyes and the bronze rosy faces of Neopolitan peasants. They have gay handkerchief tied about their heads, and as you enter their great dark eyes look at you. Nearly all are in their bare feet, and I noticed that some of them dig their pink toes into the bags as they work. As soon as a bag is full it is carried away, by men to the sewers, who fasten it up ready for shipment.

    At the back of the room are the great fanning and cleaning machines, through which coffee of the various grades is running in a steady stream. A noise like that of a grist mill fills the room, and burning coffee titillates your nostrils with an appetizing odor. It comes from the rear of the building. Let us go there and learn what they are roasting.
    Outside we see a great stack of the parchment hull chaff. This is being used as fuel for the engine. It is the burning of the coffee chaff which causes the smell.

    But Mr. Hammond is ready with the special engine to take us on a trip over the plantation. It is an American locomotive, made in Delaware. We jump on and are carried for miles through this great coffee garden...
    How green everything is! The coffee leaves seem to have been varnished. There is no green in nature so beautiful as that of the coffee tree, and the contrast of the background of red soil throws the green out, making it seem more beautiful still...
    Notice the little green buds on that plant. They surround the joints of the branches like a necklace just over the leaves. Later on they will be red berries and later still will be turned into the coffee of commerce, and will be traveling all over the world. They will furnish a liquor that will be drunk on the boulevards of and sipped by the scandalmongers in the drawing-rooms of Washington...

    Within the past ten years great changes have taken place in coffee growing in Brazil. Formerly everything was done by slaves, who worked under overseers and who put in something like fifteen hours a day. Each planter had his own gang of negroes. The overseer called them at 4 o'clock and marched them to the coffee fields. Their meals were brought to them there, and they were kept in the fields until about 7 o'clock in the evening.
    Now that the slaves are emancipated the most of them have left the coffee regions, and Italians have been imported to take their places. The laborers on the Dumont fazenda are almost all Italians...
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