Sao Paulo's micro-roastery embraces the evolution of coffee culture in South America
While the U.S. is going through an artisanal coffee movement, Brazil—already the world's largest producer of coffee—is seeing a revolution of its own, with shops like Sao Paulo's new Coffee Lab at its center. Working with one roasting machine and a crew outfitted in jumpsuits inspired by mechanics' uniforms, Coffee Lab turns out almost 2,000 pounds of roasted beans per month in a former residence that's been renovated into a bright, charming cafe. The beans are then incorporated into various flavorful blends served by the cup or available to bring home.
The winner of Brazil's first National Barista Championship, owner Isabela Raposeiras says that one of the keys to making excellent coffee lies in how she keeps the beans. She stores them separately from the bags in which they're sold, which is actually a rare practice in the business.
Raposeira also maintains a strict and rigorous process in the roasting and selection of the beans. For the latter, she works to form relationships with Brazilian coffee farmers all over the country. "I look for sustainability, social responsibility and traceability," she says. "When it was harvested, how long it took to dry, how long it rested and in which silos—everything has to be traceable. The flavor profile has to be very high-scale, and I look for nice people. Because even if they have it all but they're not nice to talk with and aren't generous, I won't work with them."
Besides the standard espresso drinks, the Lab's real draw is coffee prepared in an AeroPress, a system that exploits the full potential of the beans. This process involves steeping the coffee for around 10 seconds before forcing it through a paper microfilter, resulting in a smooth brew that's velvety in taste and texture. Coffee Lab has plans to add the pour-over method sometime next year.
Raposeiras takes her quest to show the depths of Brazilian beans far beyond her shop, traveling around the world to enter her coffee in international competitions. "These great roasters outside of Brazil, they're always cupping my coffee and giving me amazing feedback," she says. "They tell me, 'I never saw Brazilian coffee tasting like this.'"