Principal Coffee Producing Countries

( Originally Published 1900 )


THE principal coffee-growing districts in Brazil are all included in the four states of San Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Geraes, and Espiritu Santo, lying just within the tropics, as shown in the map at the end. It is recorded that in 1905 there were in the state of San Paulo no less than 16,015 coffee estates. The coffee-producing region is but a very small portion of Brazil, which is nearly as large as all Europe, and much more coffee could be grown in the country if required. The consumption of the world, however, is steadily increasing and has now reached a total of over 18,000,000 bags (of 120 lb. each) per annum. All the other coffee countries pm: together produce about 4,000,000 bags, whilst for Brazil alone the crop for 1906 amounted to the enormous total of 19,633,000 bags. The aim in Brazil now is rather to reduce the crop in order to maintain prices, and a tax has been imposed on new coffee estates. Tue present great production is largely due to the high prices which ruled from 1887 to about 1895, and encouraged planting enterprise.

Of the four states mentioned above, that of San Paulo produces by far the largest quantity and certainly the finest quality. This is due not only to its area, but partly to its magnificent soil and to the intelligence and capital which has been employed by the planters, so that the " fazendas " of San Paulo (as the different plantations are called) are amongst the best equipped and most carefully worked of any coffee estates in any country. The illustrations given of the work carried on on these fazendas will show what care and money is expended on them, and though of late years, owing to over-production, the remuneration has not been adequate to the time and money invested ; yet with a government which is far-seeing enough to foster the enterprise, there is little doubt that the planters will eventually be recompensed for all their labour. It is said that no less than 600,000,000 coffee trees were being cultivated in this state alone, when the government wisely passed a law that no further planting was to take place excepting under a very prohibitive tax. The result so far, as will be seen by the bumper crop of 1906, has not been to reduce the output, and the explanation is, that seeing the coffee tree is in its perfection from its fifth to its fifteenth year, when it begins to deteriorate, it is evident that the large planting of 1895 to 1900 is still bearing fruit, and as planters have not been permitted to break up new ground they have been able to devote more attention to the old trees on their fazendas and by replacing any that showed signs of decay, they have kept their plantations in a full state of productiveness.

The labour question has always been a difficult one, and it was said that a crop of more than ten million bags could not be picked ; of late years the fallacy of this statement has been exposed over and over again and those who prophesied that the abolition of slavery would ruin the country have been most thoroughly deceived.

The abolition was, in the first place, decreed in 1871 when a law was passed that no children born of slaves after that date should remain in slavery. The northern states decreed the final abolition in 1885, the southern states followed in 1887, complete abolition dating from January 1st, 1888.

It may be asked, why should the government interest itself in what might be considered, and probably would be in many countries, merely a question of private enterprise. The answer is that the financial stability of the country is wrapped up in the coffee industry. It is true that many other most valuable and important products enter into the list of Brazilian exports, but the gigantic extent to which coffee production has been carried, the enormous, almost fabulous, amount of capital invested in its cultivation, the multitude of people employed in its preparation and handling, including the quantity of shipping employed in its transportation, invests it with great importance. One wants to be an eye-witness of the immense bustle occasioned by the coffee trade of Rio and Santos, must have observed the feverish excitement with which it is prepared, transported, bagged, unbagged, mixed, rebagged, loaded, marketed and shipped, before he can form any conception of the coffee industry in Brazil. Behind all this that goes on at the port of shipment there is the vast expenditure of labour for the picking and preparing for market, already described, which takes place on the plantations. So that the government are, certainly from their point of view if not from the point of view of the coffee trade in other parts of the world, acting wisely in taking steps as they have done only recently, to check the continued depression of prices which must have eventually led to the ruin of many of the planters, the impoverishment of many of the fazendas, and possibly in time to the bankruptcy of the country, a result which would have brought untold misery to many, not only in Brazil but in many other countries. Seeing what an important part Brazil occupies in the coffee trade, it may not be out of place to add a word as to its original introduction into the country. As has been the case in so many places and with so many products, the missionary was the first to introduce them. To speak more correctly, in this case it was the religious order which was already established there, for we find that in the year 1774 a Belgian monk named Molke procured some plants from Surinam in Dutch Guiana and planted them in the garden of the Capuchin Monastery of Adjuda, then situated in what is now the centre of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The plants prospered so well, and he became so convinced of their importance as a valuable acquisition to the industries of the country, that he established a plantation—fazenda it would now be called—in the vicinity for its more systematic cultivation. Joachim Bruner, the then Bishop of Rio de Janeiro, perceiving also the valuable benefits that would result from its more extensive cultivation, distributed seeds and plants raised on Molke's plantation among the religious institutions and planters of the country, recommending and encouraging its cultivation among them, but it was not until 1800 that Brazilian coffee became a general article of export and to be known in some of the commercial markets of the world. In that year a planter who had been expelled by the revolution from San Domingo, settled near Rio and introduced the latest improved methods of cultivation. Who could have foreseen that in about only 150 years from so simple and unostentatious a beginning, would have grown up the enormous industry which, in these few lines, we have endeavoured to describe and the possibilities of which may be said to be illimitable ?


In Venezuela and Columbia, situated in the northern and hottest portion of South America, coffee is extensively grown, chiefly in the mountain districts. From Venezuela the annual export is worth about 1,500,000, and mostly goes to France, the United States, and Germany.

Bolivia sometimes claims the honour of producing the best coffee in the world, that from the Yungas district being considered superior even to Mocha. Bolivi an coffee is not important commercially, as the supply is not equal to the home demand. Is not this probably said of each producing country ? We have heard it stated by the Africander and by the Queenslander, while the writer well remembers being asked to taste a sample sent from Peru, in the early days of its cultivation in that country, which was so described by the sender, but the verdict in London was that it was putrid and not fit for consumption. The question comes, and may be considered later, what is the standard of quality ? It is doubtful—to say the least—4f Mocha would receive the largest number of votes. Perhaps the explanation of this claim to produce the finest coffee may be found in that sentence, " The supply is not equal to the home demand."

Ecuador and Peru both export coffee, and steps have recently been taken to develop an industry in Paraguay.



This is the most important coffee-growing country in this region, exporting coffee to the value of from £1,000,000 to 1,500,000 per annum. About one-half the crop goes to Germany. Coffee is the principal industry, and is estimated to afford employment to about half the population at crop time. In the centre of the country is a mountainous region where some of the finest coffee of the world is produced. It is known to commerce as Vera Paz, the district in which it is grown. Unfortunately, the quantity produced on the best estates has become smaller year by year, and that in spite of the fact that the prices obtained are generally amongst the highest of the year. There is always a ready market in London for this growth and nearly all is consumed in the United Kingdom, being taken by dealers, who have a specially high-class trade.

Costa Rica

Here again coffee is the most important industry, and of comparatively recent years it has shown a considerable increase. Now it is said that the whole of the country that is suitable for cultivation has been taken up, and the tendency is more likely to be to reduced crops rather than any further increases. Seeing that railways have so opened up the whole country, the cost of transportation, which was tedious and ruinous, is now much more reasonable, and considering the prices obtained, coffee cultivation must be a very lucrative industry. Rather more than half the crop generally comes to this country, where it is by far the most popular description. With the exception of a small quantity to Germany the remainder is shipped to the United States. Generally speaking, it is not a favourite kind on the continent of Europe. The total value of the crop exported during 1906 was returned at £683,975, and for the year 1907 it fell to £420,965 ; 1908 and 1909 should show an improvement again.

Nicaragua, San Salvador, Honduras

These states also produce a certain amount of coffee of varying qualities. The latter only in small quantities, as cocoa has received more attention. Considerable improvement has been made of recent years in the first of these countries. Plantations have been opened up in the Matagalpa district and a high grade has been produced realising most satisfactory prices to the planter. It has not, however, found favour in this country, and seems hardly likely to. As a whole the produce is of a quite inferior grade, but is much sought after in Northern Europe. The production in Salvador has probably reached its highest point, all the suitable land which is sufficiently accessible having been taken up. The produce is mostly taken by the United States or Germany, only a small portion being consumed in this country. The value of the total export from Honduras for the year 1906 is returned at £3,995, and for the year 1907 £16,055, which may be taken as about the average.


Given a more stable government, it is almost certain that coffee cultivation would extend to a very consider-able amount. Climate and soil are admirably suited, in fact, the conditions are so advantageous that it is said that three crops can be gathered annually. Certain it is that coffee arrives at almost all times of the year, though this is partly due to its having been kept up country for a lengthy period owing to the difficulties of transit. Though the rivers give access to large centres of cultivation it is often impossible to obtain vessels or it is unsafe to utilize them. The quality of the coffee grown has become increasingly popular in almost all parts of the world. It has a large demand in New York, and also in Holland, as it is found to mix well with Javas, and these are the countries most favouring that description. Canada also takes, in proportion to its total import, a large percentage of this growth, while it is much appreciated also in the United Kingdom. Recent years have, however, shown a most decided sign of deterioration in quality from some of the provinces, and there is a considerable difference in the out-turn from the different districts. Apparently less care has been taken in the preparation, but as this soon shows itself in the prices obtained, it should lead to more care being again given and a consequent return to the old satisfactory quality.. One great drawback to this growth is due to the fact that there are greater complaints of loss of weight than with any other kind. There are probably two explanations, and both of them might be remedied if the importing merchants would take more care. The bags it is packed in are often insecure, and allow of much leakage, and what perhaps is still more the cause is that the coffee is not sufficiently dried, but arrives here in a soft, tender condition, which leads to evaporation and consequent loss of weight.

West Indies

The production in Jamaica is described on p. 56. In many of the islands coffee can be easily cultivated and is grown to some extent, if only for home consumption. Porto Rico formerly had a flourishing coffee industry,-but its value has considerably diminished. Under the Government of the United States, experiments are being made to cultivate the type most in favour in the United States market, and to improve cultural methods. First-class Java coffees are being taken as the standard, and every effort is being made to obtain a product which can hold its own in competition with them.

For some years the production has fallen off, at one time a small or a large crop made a considerable difference in the world's total, but now very little attention is paid to it. The total value of the crop during the year 1907 was returned at 897,798 pounds.


Coffee cultivation has for a long period been an important item in the exports from this island, but little care has been taken in its cultivation, and consequently is of inferior quality. The amount exported during the year 1906 was 26,707 tons and in 1907, 28,503 tons.


From the West Indies it is certain that coffee was carried to Mexico and as early as 1818 it is recorded that there were plantations in the higher districts of the interior, and the venture proving very profitable other estates were rapidly opened, and great hopes were entertained that every available spot would be utilized for its cultivation and by its means capital and labour would be attracted to the country. To do this, however, a stable form of government is most important, and the civil disorders which began just about this period and continued for so long a time after, paralysed the industry and for many decades sufficient only was grown to supply the home demand. Now, however, a brighter era for this country has dawned, the area adapted for its culti=vation is vast, the climatic conditions are all that could be desired, and the fact that excellent quality could be produced has attracted capital, so that it is not surprising to find that the number of plantations has increased of late years with rapid strides. Its nearness to the great consuming markets of the United States, and the simplicity of transportation by the many new lines of railroads, which of late years have been laid down, places the country in a most favourable position, and it is impossible to forecast how important a place it may eventually take in the world's production.

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