Cafezinho, Anyone?

coffee-small.jpgFiled by Erika Engelhaupt

The caipirinha may qualify as Brazil’s national drink, but the super-strong coffee known as cafezinho (ca-fay-zheen-yo) is the most popular. Morning, noon, and night (as a sleep aid!), Brazilians sip cafezinho, often just called café,  from tiny white cups with saucers.

Here at the biofuels symposium, cups of Brazilian coffee act as another type of biofuel, fueling the scientists as they discuss their latest research challenges.

And it’s no wonder the drink’s so popular; Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, growing about a quarter of the world’s supply. Much of the coffee here is grown in low-lying regions, unlike in many other coffee-growing areas, and it currently grows in the warmer climate of northern Brazil. But Brazil’s production of coffee and other crops could face challenges in a warming world.

A recent study by scientists at University of Campinas and EMBRAPA, Brazil’s agricultural research agency, projected that climate change could lead to a significant decline in Brazil’s coffee output, from 32 million 60-kg bags this year to 2.4 million in 2100 with a 5.8 oC increase in global average temperature. Although warmer temperatures would allow crops to move southward, the researchers say dry conditions would limit production. Research on coffee varieties that are more tolerant to heat and drought are ongoing at EMBRAPA, which is a partner in the collaboration project that led to this biofuels symposium.

Many researchers here have noted that climate change is also a consideration for biofuels production. They are quick to point out that biofuels could aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewable resources. But some of them have also pointed out that there could be challenges for production of feedstocks for biofuel production that need to be accounted for in planning for the future. As climate patterns shift, some of the crops currently used for biofuels may grow better or worse in certain regions.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the world will be able to maintain its coffee and sugar supplies. For now, my attention is drawn to learning how to enjoy the black jewel, which comes in two forms: “com açúcar” (with sugar) and “sem açúcar” (without).

The best way to drink your brew is to pour a small cup, the size of an espresso, and add some of that other major export, pure Brazilian sugar, to taste. To do it like a local, drink your coffee very sweet—each sugar packet here contains 5 g of sugar, as much as 5 times more than U.S. packets. Then, stir swiftly with a tiny paddle to get all that sweetness to dissolve, and enjoy. You won’t find milk or cream on the table.

The best way to look like a befuddled American: do what I did at the University of Campinas, and pour yourself a big cup of joe in a glass meant for water. I was surprised by how strong the coffee was, and as I wondered whether I could finish the whole thing, I looked around the room and noticed all the Brazilian professors and students sipping gingerly from what looked like tiny plastic medicine cups. That wasn’t my most graceful moment, but now I’m drinking my cafezinhos like a pro.

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