Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.
Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.
Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.
Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”
Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!
Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!
As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.