Cafezinho to Flat White: A Brazilian's coffee journey around the world

For someone who was born in a hospital that not a century before was a big coffee farm in the biggest coffee production region of the world's biggest coffee producing country, it is not too far-fetched to say my life would be swimming and rolling in coffee from the get go.

Growing up in the heart of Sao Paulo city, Brasil, among its 22 million citizens, coffee is an intrinsic part of life: a pour over with a cloth filter with the family before you leave the house, an espresso at a local coffee shop between errands - or a cold brew if the temperatures are boiling higher than 40C on the 'a tad too hot' days -, meeting friends at a trendy specialty coffee shop, going home and enjoying a cheeky 4pm brew with mum. Coffee is part of the busy week days out and about, coffee is part of the laid back weekends at home.

I remember being a very young child and waking up with my dad early in the morning to see him prepare a very black coffee which he would take out with him on his way to work. I remember trying a sip of it as a curious child obviously would do, and feeling my soul squeal with its denseness and intensity. Robusta!

I remember going to my mum's coffee shop after school when I was in my early teens, sitting behind the till and watching her steam the milk for the delicious half-shot cappuccinos she made me, and a cloud of the finest chocolate settling on its fluffy cover in slow motion before my eyes. I guess it is fair to say that was when I started enjoying my daily cup of coffee.

As the independent coffee scene grew in Sao Paulo, I started visiting specialty coffees and found myself experiencing for the first time the bold oils only possible to taste when pressing your coffee through an Aeropress and having my mind blown. The whole ritual hypnotised me even further when I got to do that with several beautifully different coffees from farms not 2 hours away and see how they range in taste, mouthfeel and aftertaste. 

When I first arrived in England, my husband took me by the hand and sat me down for yet another milestone in my coffee life: flat white! For whatever reason, the third wave hadn't yet been that strong in Brasil - perhaps because we do prefer our coffee black as a nation, so when you had the option of milk in your coffee it would either be a cappuccino or a ''pingado'' (similar to a flat white in proportions, but still different). Since that day, flat whites have been my go to drink.

And when I felt homesick, coffee was the ritual that connected me to my roots. The grinding of the beans, the setting up the v60 and its paper filter while I wait for the water to boil. All of this done as I have been doing for all of my life. As a child, I remember brewing my mum and dad a cup of coffee to treat them in the afternoon. Coffee in my house is a kind display of affection. 

One day a few years ago, I was feeling deeply homesick and my husband drove me to Hitchin, promising me a big surprise. We parked the car and walked around this gorgeous church yard, around a couple small streets into a gorgeous little coffee shop to point me to a bag of Brazilian coffee. I remember laying my eyes on that Bionic Bull bag of Brazilian beans, and it had me tearing up. I did sit down, I drank my coffee black - and ate what might have been half a million cannolis - and my heart was engulfed in warm feelings only Brazilian coffee can offer it.

Coffee Lab has since been my refuge when I was too homesick or wanted to treat myself a proper nice cup of coffee.In a twist of fate I now find myself luckily working at Hertford Coffee Lab, watching the bags of green coffee coming into the shop with its words in my mother language, seeing those green beans turn into their roasted best and drink them. While I brew the coffee - for myself, a colleague or a customer - I just feel like I am home. And let's face it: it smells fantastic!

Bianca Sobek de Toledo

Written by Bionic Bull

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