We as consumers have in recent years put a premium on all things organic and pesticide-free; we’ve even developed opinions on monoculture systems (we don’t like them). And while all these sustainability-focused practices are decidedly good things, it’s often easy to say what folks worlds away should be doing when we have no real stake in the game. Many producers are just trying to eke out a living, so switching entire farming practices to follow a trend—for better or worse—is untenable. Ants, crickets, and beetles still exist; they are the “pest” the sprayed chemicals are trying to “icide” away. One Brazilian coffee farmer decided to make the switch to organic farming, and right on cue, the ants showed up and began carrying off his coffee cherries.
But then, an interesting thing happened: the farmer started to notice discarded coffee seeds cleaned of the pulp, so he began to pick them up. Turns out, they tasted pretty good.
As reported in Atlas Obscura by frequent Sprudge contributor Rafael Tonon, João Neto of Fazenda Santo Antônio in the interior state of São Paulo opted to move away from monoculture coffee production and chemical pesticides, practices the farm has used for decades. Neto did so for ecological reasons, to allow for the “natural rebalancing that the monoculture of coffees had extinguished” at his farm. “Nature is in charge. If these plants have to stay here, they will resist,” Neto told Atlas Obscura.
And nature was hungry. The re-emergent ants began climbing up the coffee trees to knock off coffee cherries to take back to their mounds. After feasting on the pulp, the ants would leave the seeds outside the mounds, which Neto began to collect. After collecting enough seeds to “fill a large coffee grinder,” Neto reached out to friend and owner of Tokyo’s Café Paulista, Katsuhiko Hasegawa, who wanted to see how they tasted.
When Hasegawa next visited Fazenda Santo Antônio, he roasted the coffee and found that it had, as Neto described, “a different and pleasant acidity.” Others who tasted the coffee said “the flavor resembled other floral coffees with jasmine notes” and that the ant processing gave the coffee “sweeter notes.”
But even after a successful trial run, don’t expect to find Neto’s unique coffee popping up in your local shop anytime soon. The best harvest of the ant-processed coffee didn’t eclipse the 60-pound mark, and with the switch away from monoculture farming, Neto’s land use for coffee production has decreased from 230 hectares to just 40. Neto is currently only making samples of the coffee, but according to Atlas Obscura, he hopes to someday sell “tiny amounts” of it to interested parties.
Even if Neto's coffee never sees commercial success, Fazenda Santo Antônio acts as a proof of concept that nature and coffee farming can coexist more or less peacefully. Keep an eye out for ant-processed coffee taking the coffee competition world by storm. Lactic processed Gesha is so 2018.
Top image from Marvel's Ant-Man via IMDB