Caitlin Freeman, the pastry chef at San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee, recently traveled to South America. She and her husband James, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, visited Uruguay and Sao Paulo. But of course coffee was a big part of her trip, too. Here, her caffeine-fueled meanderings.

After the shock of our introduction to Sao Paulo, we set out to explore the city the way we usually travel: in search of coffee.

Historically not a great consumer of coffee, Brazil is seeing its internal consumption rise as the economy gains strength. In Sao Paulo, with the rise of coffee consumption has come a small group of coffee fanatics, looking to bring the best out of their treasured national crop. It’s illegal to import non-Brazilian coffee into Brazil, so visiting a coffee shop is a meditation on the typically soft, muted and sweet characteristics of Brazilian beans. 

Coffee Lab
1340 Rua Fradique Coutinho, 55/(11)3375-7400, coffeelab.com.br
The most heralded of Sao Paulo coffee shops is the Coffee Lab, a small coffee shop and roaster in the Jardins neighborhood, run by Isabela Raposeiras.

Isabela is fanatical about coffee, and in her shop you can see the influence the Scandinavian coffee scene has had on her aesthetic. In the unusual fashion of the Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, the café has no front counter; it’s set up like you’re in a friend’s well-equipped kitchen (shown above). And Isabela owes the roast profiles she uses to her good friend Tim Wendelboe (Norwegian barista champion who has become one of the true coffee celebrities). So it was as if we had transported ourselves from the summery Southern hemisphere all the way to the great cold North.

Isabela is charming, and a very fast talker, and her shop is the embodiment of her: coffee-obsessed, information-rich, and beautiful. The coffee is exactly how she likes it: acidic, light, and very Scandinavian. While totally different than the style we make at Blue Bottle, it was really wonderful to see someone execute a vision so completely and so purposefully.”

Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza
997 Rua Coronel José Pereira Lima, 55/(19) 3695-4500, fafbrazil.com
“Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza or “FAF” is a farm located near the town of Mococa, about 300 km north of Sao Paulo. We took a small charter plane through inclement weather to the airstrip in a neighboring town. A bit of confusion ensued, but the adorable proprietor of the airstrip made us coffee from their farm and we waited for Marcos Croce and his son Daniel to pick us up and drive us to their farm.

Once a commodity farm run by their family, Marcos and his wife, Sylvia, recently took over and have begun to turn the land into a sustainably farmed utopia where vegetables, milk, cheese, honey and, most importantly, coffee is grown in the most delicate and environmentally friendly way possible. Their sons Daniel (the finance guy) and Felipe (the coffee guy) have joined them on the farm to round out a powerhouse family team. Felipe has added a level of geekery and end-user knowhow to push the farm’s coffee production into the uppermost level of quality.

Caitlin Freeman coffee

All of the farm hands are WWOOFERs (volunteer farmers through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program). They join together at a huge communal dining table for three meals per day. Vegetables plucked straight from the earth, cheese made each morning, and fruit from the trees outside are turned into meals. Their neighbor, Joao Neti, supplied chorizo made from the wild pigs on his farm. Everything we ate was pure and delicious.”