Tag Archives: serra negra

Coffee – from the berries to the cup down on the farm

My house is located in rural São Paulo. In fact, it is so rural that from my windows I can see a mountain range and lots of coffee growing up the side of the hills. This photo is from one of the nearby hills looking back at the town in the valley.

Serra Negra hoje #serranegra #cafe #coffee #altodaserra

Although I am surrounded by coffee and I can buy the local coffee in the shops nearby, I had never seen a coffee farm up close – until yesterday.

An agronomist, Jonas Ferraresso, working at the Boa Esperança coffee farm in Serra Negra noticed me tweeting about the area and he said hello. We have talked on and off on Twitter for a few months now and he eventually asked if I would like to have some coffee at the farm. So I went over and he gave me a tour.

This farm is very close to the town centre. There is no need to go on dirt roads to get there so it only took me 5 minutes to find him. Jonas showed me around the farm by car, because with over 350,000 coffee trees it would take a long time to walk it!

There are about 20 people always working on the farm because the coffee trees need to be looked after all year round – pruning and fighting bugs. Then there is the harvest from about July, which can take around three months and needs around another 60 people.

In many Brazilian farms like this the harvest can only be done by humans because the trees are planted on steep hills. This also means that the trees need to be limited to about 2m tall. Where a farm can use mechanised harvesting tools they can manage without the extra employees, work about a hundred times faster, and do the harvest in several waves – only ever picking the ripest berries rather than just picking everything.

I was really interested to learn about some of the different coffee varieties and the difference between a premium coffee and the cheap instant stuff you might find in a jar of Nescafé. I don’t buy instant coffee anyway, but after visiting a farm and seeing the real stuff I don’t think I ever would again.

The best thing was when he said that I could take some coffee home – straight from the farm. But the coffee he had for me was still berries covered in their skin. First Jonas put the beans in a roaster – we roasted them at 200c right there in the farm.

 

After roasting Jonas ground the beans for me. He said that it’s preferable to wait about a day after roasting before grinding, but as I don’t have a grinder at home he just did it immediately.

 

I’m grateful to Jonas for showing me around. Something many of us miss when living in cities is the connection between products in the supermarket and the farm they came from. I loved it that I saw the berries being roasted, then ground, and I went home with a bag of coffee that was ready to use and smelled fantastic!

 

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Christmas cards – joy and goodwill to all?

My wife and I moved to a new town in February. We have loved the move so far and have enjoyed meeting new people and breathing the country air – a big change compared to the streets of São Paulo!

Just before Christmas we thought it might be nice to give a Christmas card to everyone in the neighbourhood. We have met many of our neighbours, but obviously not everyone so it just seemed like a nice way to say hi. Our cards were personal, with a photo of us with our dog Joe so it seemed like a nice way to say hi to people we still haven’t met.

But the experience has been a bit strange. While walking up and down the streets delivering the cards to our neighbours one woman came and stopped and asked if we were begging for cash – in the kind of voice that meant she thought we were not welcome on ‘her’ street. My wife gave her a card and said ‘we live just around the corner from you – happy Christmas!’ I know I wouldn’t have bothered giving her a card, but being nice to someone who is being an idiot is a good strategy for confusing them.

Now it’s a few days after Christmas and only two of our neighbours bothered to reciprocate – not counting the people we actually know already. That’s from about 30 cards delivered.

It doesn’t seem like a very good strike rate, or in the spirit of goodwill and all that. One of the cards that came back was from from our local member of the federal parliament. I’ve never actually met him, but he lives in our street and goes back and forth to Brasilia all the time. Being a politician he could have just handed it to an assistant and got them to sort out a reply, but it was signed from all his family so he should at least receive the benefit of the doubt – whatever his job, he is still a neighbour.

But the funny thing about the cards that did come back is that both of them were also addressed to Joe – our dog… his photo is on the card, but it’s funny to see people write his name on the card too 🙂 I bet that not many Deputado Federals in Brasilia sent out a Christmas card addressed to a mutt who was once tipping bins over for his dinner.

It was an interesting experiment. Perhaps delivering the cards just a couple of days before Christmas itself was too late for many people to respond in time? Next year I’ll try sending them all out on December 1 and maybe arranging a block party so the locals can all get together at our place.

My book ‘Reality Check’ is at number one on Amazon!

When I got up this morning I had a quick look at Amazon to see how my Reality Check book is doing. It was only published a few weeks ago on September the 1st, but has been steadily getting more attention.

It has been in the Amazon top 20 books about Brazil since publication so I knew that people were noticing the book, but this is what I saw this morning…

Reality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner [Kindle Edition]

It is now the number one book about Brazil and number two book about South America. That was a great start to this week 🙂 Excuse me while I enjoy some Champagne…!

And all of this for a book that has only been released on the Kindle. I’m planning to also release a paper version of the book, but it will not be until the second edition – planned to come out just before the World Cup football competition in June next year. For now it is electronic-only, but doing spectacularly well.

If you are interested in the book, or my next book project, or any of my old books, then please do come and join my Facebook here:

www.facebook.com/markhillarybooks

Champagne na praia #praia #beach #camburi #cambury #saopaulo #newyearseve #reveillon #champagne

OFAH fans – please help me with cockney bingo!

Only Fools and Horses fans, I need your help!

I’m a member of the Serra Negra English club here in São Paulo, Brazil. It’s a group of people who meet every two weeks to practice their English and all the membership fees for the club go into helping local charities.

In two weeks I am hosting the club at my house. I wanted to try something linked to the use of some more unusual English words, but to make it fun. So I thought I would try a bingo game with Only Fools and Horses. I’d issue some bingo cards featuring Cockney slang words, we all watch an episode of OFAH and people check off the words as they hear them – hopefully with a winner found before the end of the show.

It will be entirely Brazilian people playing this game, trying to improve their English and learning about some of the unusual Cockney slang used by Del Boy and Rodders. Hopefully it works as a fun way to show them that not everyone speaks English like the Prince of Wales…

What I need from you is a pointer to a particular episode that might work for this game. I need the following:

  • It must be one of the early half-hour shows so the game is not too long, so I expect it will feature Grandad.
  • It must be a fairly simple story setup – I need to brief everyone on what OFAH is all about as they will have never seen the show, so a more complex relationship-based story is probably out (though most of that came later in the show anyway).
  • It must feature a lot of slang I can use for the game.

So, OFAH fans, can you help me to set this up and help a whole group of people in Brazil better understand how to speak if they are ever in Peckham? Leave a comment here on the blog or tweet me on @markhillary – thanks!

The Reliant Regal Supervan used by Delboy and Rodney Trotter

Photo by David licensed under Creative Commons

Gringoes: why would you live in Brazil?

I’m a regular reader of the Gringoes.com website. It’s a magazine for foreigners living and working in Brazil and the downsides of being in Brazil are a regular theme of articles and discussion, particularly in the associated Facebook group where readers can vent their opinion openly without the need for an editor to approve what they submit to the magazine.

In the past day there has been an enormous argument raging on the Facebook group because one foreigner wrote a list of dozens and dozens of reasons why he hates living in Brazil.

Every foreign person living far from home has some reason to miss home, but for someone to sit and write a list of 66 – yes 66 – reasons he hates being in Brazil leaves me feeling rather incredulous. This is surely a hatred bordering on obsession?

It is easy to leave. Even if his wife has a good job. Or she wants to be close to her family. He could just leave, return to the USA and swallow the cost of visiting regularly as being better than having to endure a life in Brazil.

But comparing things to home is normal. I knew a British guy who has now left Brazil and he would lament about the quality of shops like Boots. I actually think that the drug stores in São Paulo are pretty good – even if the generic drugs are too expensive.

I spent some time living in the USA teaching kids when I was younger. I had a health-plan provided by my employer and I never needed to use it, but now I am self-employed, I think that finding over $1,000 a month to ensure I can see a doctor when I need one would seriously put me off ever living in the USA – but it’s a place I love visiting.

I spent a lot of time in India and Singapore when I was working for a bank and I had all kinds of comments and thoughts about those places. Singapore is clean and safe and well ordered, but nobody has any real ability to criticise the government – then you end up wondering how much that right is worth if the streets are clean and you have no fear of getting mugged?

In India the poverty is oppressive, even in cities like Mumbai where billionaires and film stars frequent the beaches and luxury hotels. All my foreign friends living there had to be in gated communities, sealed off from the ‘normal’ people – is that really what life in India is about?

And so what about Brazil? It’s true that the country is saddled with an inefficient bureaucracy and it appears there is no desire to streamline any of it – just dealing with the cartorios (notary offices) alone by using biometric identity would sweep away an enormous amount of time checking and stamping forms – often for no other reason than confirming a signature is genuine. But there are probably millions of people working in these offices so the government would give efficiency with one hand and wipe out jobs with the other.

Brazilian drivers are very aggressive. I don’t mind most of the time, but when someone pulls a stunt like overtaking me on a sweeping corner (it happens a lot more often than you might think) and their stupidity is endangering me and my family then I get angry – and there should be no need to.

It is tough to negotiate life in Brazil sometimes. I’m grateful that I’ve got a fantastic wife who can steer me through a lot of the things that would give a foreigner an entirely negative view of the place. I know a British guy who was robbed at gunpoint in São Paulo in his own home, but his Brazilian wife chose a crappy neighbourhood for them to live in where he would obviously stand out – so who is to blame?

I’ve also been lucky to get great professional advice. The accountant for my business had never handled a company like ours before – lots of foreign clients, money coming from all over the world, only really dealing in intellectual property  rather than tangible assets. She studied all the relevant rules to handle our company and has been doing a great job – and it’s needed because even a small company here has to file a tax or regulatory report AT LEAST ONCE A DAY… I did mention there is a lot of bureaucracy here.

Foreigners on the Gringoes website complain of being ripped off – try catching a taxi in India then and asking the driver to use the meter. It won’t happen. They complain of the ‘culture’ in Brazil not being like back home. They complain about how they can’t complain without being ignored.

I have even seen foreigners on the forums talking about how Brazilian music is just not as good as it is back at home. Are they kidding? Have you been out in São Paulo recently? It is packed with live gigs going on every night of the week. I admit, seeing the big international rock acts is expensive, but there is a thriving art, music, and culture scene in Brazil.

And then, when Brazilians respond with a list of all the great things about Brazil it just so often seems to be full of clichés… is feijoada really one of the reasons why people choose to live in Brazil?

The reality is that you can’t define a place with a single broad stroke. There is no Brazil this or that in the same way that living in Louisiana is very different to California or New York. Living far from home is affected firstly by the place you have chosen to be and the people you are with.

For example, if you are used to life in central New York or London then life on a beach up in the rural north east of Brazil might seem idyllic when you first arrive. The sun, the beach, the endless opportunity to live next to the barbecue. After a while though you might start wondering when you are going to next visit the cinema, a theatre, see a rock concert, or meet a friend who has read the books of Anthony Burgess. Living an idyllic life by the beach can have downsides too.

And the people are important. Moving anywhere can be improved by having a partner from that country, but people are people. I’ve met many Brazilian people from São Paulo who don’t even know how to get around their own city. In my short time here I’ve learned more about the public transport infrastructure and different neighbourhoods than they have in a lifetime. And I’ve also seen locals setting up home with their foreign partners in completely inappropriate locations – as I already mentioned.

I’m not suggesting that a foreigner moving to São Paulo has to live in a ghetto of foreigners. It actually annoys me when I meet ex-pats living in the city and they all gravitate to Jardins, Moema, or Brooklin. They are not really the most interesting parts of the city at all, but are considered ‘safe’ so foreigner-ghettos are created and then the cycle is reinforced – these are good places for foreigners to live because others are already there.

So the type of place, the location, the people you are with – these are all factors in creating your personal experience. The cultural complaints I read on Gringoes are all influenced by this – we are all in different places with different people so we cannot just assume the same about Brazil. The Brazil one person experiences can be entirely different to that experienced by another.

When I see the complaints about foreigners being treated differently, getting ripped off, I remember when I was living in São Paulo and every shop owner in my street would wave and say hello as I walked my dog down the street. I had a set of spare house keys in my local bar, in case I ever lost my keys. The taxi drivers at my local cab rank all said hello and were happy to do short or long runs at short notice. I never found any of the negativity I can see expressed on the discussion forums.

I was never burgled or mugged or witnessed any crime during my time in São Paulo, despite the statistics painting an image of the city as one step away from Gomorrah.

Now I live in a smaller town this has only become more accentuated. The paranoid may fear that standing out as the only English person in town might lead to being targeted by burglars or worse, but what have I found? Just a sincere welcome everywhere I go from the barber to the bakery to the bar to the local government – who are all excited about having a real English person help them with some music and culture related to the UK.

In fact, what have I found out about Brazil in short?

  • Business; running a business is bureaucratic. I cannot even personally deal with the number of regulatory and tax reports I need to file – it is more than one report a day. But my accountant does it all efficiently at a reasonable price and the corporation tax on my company is lower than in the UK. It takes a bit of effort to run the firm, but in short, the tax bill is lower than it would be in the US or UK so that can only be a good thing. I am better off that I would be back in the UK and I’m staying on the right law of the law and paying my taxes.
  • World focus; talking of business, I am busier than ever. Brazil is a great place to be as it has survived the global economic downturn and with the next World Cup and Olympic games coming here everyone is looking to do business in Brazil in this decade.
  • Home; I now live in a lovely spa town of about 30,000 people packed full of mineral water springs. I open the window in the morning and see mountains in front of me as the sun rises. I’ve got a pool and sauna at home and space to entertain friends when they come over. I can’t imagine having all this back in London – my last home in the UK was a small flat.
  • Nature; I’m surrounded by the most incredible countryside and real live toucans and parrots fly past – they are not just things you see on postcards from Brazil.
  • People; I’ve met so many fantastic people since I moved to Brazil – some locals and some foreigners living here. There is something about living away from your home country that encourages you to get out to meet more people than if you were back on familiar territory and this can be a wonderfully positive experience. I have even ended up working with the British embassy to promote the UK for business and tourism.
  • Weather; Brazil is an enormous country with searing heat in the north to snow in the south. Where I am living now will be dry until about September and I work outside in the sun almost every day. I’m pretty happy about that – would you prefer a balcony with a mountain view or a dull basement office?

In short, I have personally had a fantastic time since moving to Brazil and I have found opportunities and experiences that would just have never happened had I stayed in London.

There are things I would like to improve in Brazil. Maybe my voice and opinion can help to influence a few changes, but I see so many more positives than negatives. I think that the foreigners who endlessly whine about the problems of Brazil are living in the wrong place.

The foreigners may even be right. They might have a valid point, but if you want to while away your days complaining and dreaming of when you can move someplace else then why not just remember the words of John Lennon:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Airport bus