A NIGHT’S ride north by railroad has brought me to Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil. Rio is the centre of the coffee trade. It is financially and industrially, as well as politically the Brazilian capital, and while it does not ship so many bags of coffee as Santos ships, it furnishes most of the money that moves the crop. Coffee, indeed, is the mainstay of Brazil; it is its chief export and its chief money crop. Brazil produces more coffee than any other country in the world. From its plantations come two-thirds of all the coffee consumed. In 1895, the total exports amounted to $180,000,000, and of this $140,000,000 came from coffee. The amount shipped is so great that the rise or fall of a cent a pound means prosperity or the reverse. Of late years coffee has been falling; the prices of to-day are not more than one-third those received in 1893, and with the new plantations which will probably spring up in Porto Rico, in Hawaii, and in the Philippines, the price is likely to go still lower.
The United States has for many years been the chief consumer of Brazilian coffee ; we drink more coffee individually than any other nation. In 1897 we used 10,000,000 pounds more than all Europe, and we are now annually consuming about 800,000,000 pounds, or more than ten pounds for each rnan, woman, and child among us. Within the past ten years we have spent $875,000,000 for coffee, or an average of $87,500,00 a year. The bulk of this money has gone to Brazil; some of it has found its way into the pockets of the coffee-planters; a large part has been divided among the shippers and dealers; and eleven per cent of the export price has been paid to the government. Brazil charges a coffee export duty of eleven per cent per pound; this, of course, is paid by the consumer, and such of our people as engage in coffee-raising will have the advantage of eleven per cent over Brazil to start with, for they will, of course, not have to pay duty. Some years ago there was talk of taxing coffee, but our congressional demagogues objected to taxing the poor man’s luxuries, and coffee was admitted nominally free. It was not allowed to be free, however, for Brazil at once put on an extra export duty and the poor man’s luxury cost him just the same. The only difference was that the Brazilian government got the money, and not Uncle Sam.
Coffee is raised in nearly every one of the Brazilian States. The country produced 10,000,000 bags last year, and it is still setting out new plantations. I have already described my travels through Sao Paulo, the richest coffee-raising region in the world. The States north of Sao Paulo are rich coffee states, and Rio de Janeiro, back of the capital, is one of the chief coffee-centers.
Brazilian coffee is chiefly known in the United States as Rio and Santos coffee. The names come from the ports from which the coffee is shipped. The Santos coffee is grown almost entirely in south central Brazil ; it is carried on the railroads to Santos and exported from there. It comes from a cooler climate than does the coffee raised farther north, and is generally considered to have a milder and finer flavour. It is estimated that the United States take about 30 per cent of the Santos crop and about 70 per cent of all shipped from Rio, so that the bulk of our coffee is Rio coffee.
At both Rio de Janeiro and Santos the great coffee-houses of the United States have their agents who buy of the dealers and ship direct to their houses in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago. They have large establishments for preparing coffee for shipment, and some of the smartest coffee-merchants of the United States are here watching the markets and buying the product by the thousands of bags. Coffee is handled in different ways at the two great ports. While I was in Santos I spent some time among the dealers and shippers. There I found that the coffee is put up in bags, of 132 pounds each, and of this bulk it is sold to the exporters. The buyers in Santos deal directly with the planters’ agents, taking the coffee in lots. In Rio the coffee first comes to commission men, who in turn dispose of it to the wholesale dealers, who then grade and bag it for the ex-porter. In this way the coffee has passed through three hands before it arrives at New York.
Since the remarkable fall in the price of coffee, the chief exporters have sent agents out among the planters and are now buying the coffee direct. Hitherto the consumer has had to pay half a dozen or more profits on every pound of coffee; in the first place, he has had to support the planter, then the commission merchant in Rio, then the wholesale dealer in Rio, and the local agent of the United States. He has had to pay the cost of shipment to New York, the wholesale dealer or roaster there, the commercial drummer, the railroads, and lastly his retail dealer at home. With all these charges he is able to buy coffee for 15 cts. and even less per pound, the same coffee costing here not more than 6 cts., and delivered in New York 6 1/4 cts. per pound.
If the consumer be particular about his coffee, he will pay 35 cts. or 40 cts. for some of this same coffee which here sells for a trifle over the sums above mentioned, the only difference being that the beans are of a little different shape or of larger size, and that they have been graded into certain so-called well-known varieties.
I have already mentioned the Mocha and Java coffee of Brazil. A large part of the Mocha used in the United States is grown in Brazil. Indeed, but little genuine Mocha coffee is sold in our markets. The Mocha fields of Arabia are so small that but few of the berries are sent outside Mohammedan countries. Mr W. G. Palgrave, the well-known Oriental traveller, says that two-thirds of the Mocha crop is consumed in Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, and almost all of the remainder is taken by the Turks. The coffee is sifted over, grain by grain, and the best taken out for the Mohammedans.
The Rio coffee sold as Mocha is largely made up of the little round beans which are found on nearly every tree. In many places they grow near the end of the stalk and are often imperfect berries, a coffee cherry containing one instead of two beans. They are known as pea-berries by some of the dealers. There is another class of beans which are flat. Some of these are very much like Java coffee and are often sold as such, so that many a man who smacks his lips over what he considers real Mocha and Java is actually drinking 7-cent Rio, although he has paid 35 cents a pound for it. This statement, it may be, will be denied by the grocers. They will likely tell you that they can tell Mocha and Java by the smell, or by the colour of the grain.
Don’t believe them! The coffee as it conies from the plantation is often far different from that which is exported on the ships. I have visited, here in Rio, enormous establishments that make a business of painting and polishing coffee to suit the different markets. In South Africa, for example, the people want black coffee-beans; it seems the coffee they have been buying is of that colour. The Brazilian beans are naturally olive green; they are turned into a great mill and rolled round and round in con-tact with a coloured powder which paints them as black as any coffee that can be grown in Africa. Other grades are given a tinge of yellow, and others still are varnished in different shades of green. I should suppose that some of the colouring matter is unhealthful, for the men use gloves when they handle it. In one Portuguese house, I saw about 4,000,000 pounds of coffee being coloured for the Cape of Good Hope, and in another they were polishing coffee for the Argentine market. This is no fiction, for I saw it myself, although I am told that the coffee sent to the United States goes there in its natural colour.
The big coffee factories are interesting places. Some of them have as much machinery as a Minneapolis flour-mill. You walk under a network of moving belts, through air mixed with coffee dust, and go from room to room filled with machines for dressing the beans to suit the various markets. Each market seems to have its own wants; the Germans, for instance, demand that the husks be on the beans when they arrive at Hamburg. They prefer to do the shelling themselves; they do the polishing of the beans, and the coffee so prepared is sold as washed coffee, bringing a much higher price.
There are other peoples who want their coffee polished. It is shined up as you shine silver, being so delicately brushed that the grains are not injured. The coffee that goes to the United States is sold as it comes from the plantations. It is passed through the separators and graded, but so far, I believe, not polished or sold in any other than its natural colour. A great deal of our coffee is bought by the roasting companies. It is shipped directly to roasting mills in New York and Chicago, where it is browned and ground and put up in the fancy one-pound pack-ages sold by the grocers.
One of the busiest places in South America is the coffee-exporting section of Rio de Janeiro. There are huge warehouses near the wharves which are filled with coffee, and into which coffee is being brought by thousands of bags. The streets of this section are narrow and dirty; they are filled with waggons and cars loaded with coffee. There are scores of half-naked men trotting from the cars to the warehouses with bags on their heads, and scores of negro women down on their knees sweeping up the coffee out of the cobblestones, where it has dropped, that they may wash it and sell it again. Each of the street-cleaners has a sieve, in which she puts the beans as she picks them up, shaking out the dirt as she works. I am told that many of the women make a, good living by gathering these stray coffee-beans.
Stop a minute and watch the men as they unload the waggons! Every bag is tested before it is taken into the warehouse. The tester has a little tin pipe about as large around as a broom-stick, with a sharp point on the end; this he jabs into a bag and it brings out a handful of coffee. A glance at the beans tells him whether they are according to sample, and if not, the remainder of the load is carefully watched.
But let us follow the coffee into the warehouse. The carload which is now being handled has to be repacked before it is ready for shipping. We walk through long aisles, walled on each side with coffee-bags, and come into a hall where the floor is covered with piles of green coffee-beans. At each pile are a dozen half-naked negroes in their bare feet. They are scooping up the coffee into bowls, much like bread bowls, and pouring it from them into the bags. We hear the scratch, scratch, scratch of the bowls as they touch the floor, varied by the light laughter of the people at work. Now the men burst out in a song, keeping time with their scoops as they sing. As soon as a bag is filled, it is drawn off to a pair of scales to be weighed. It is next handed over to women, who sew up its mouth, leaving enough vacant space at the top that it may pack well in the steamer. In other factories the bagging is done by machinery, and all the work goes on in a business-like way.
Each of the American establishments of Rio annually handles vast amounts of coffee. Its manager must be a sharp trader and a man of business ability; he must be a good judge of coffee, and must know how to take advantage of the rise and fall of the market. Each establishment has its coffee-expert, who can tell instantly by eye and nose just what the coffee is worth. His judgment is usually passed without grinding or burning the berries. Samples of about a pint each are spread out on blue paper, and the coffee-expert puts his price on each grade by looking at, handling, and smelling the samples.
The coffee of Rio is chiefly shipped from the coffee-wharves. They are not far from the warehouses, and the scenes about them are among the most interesting in Brazil. Come with me and look at them ! We jump upon a car, containing three tons of coffee; it is hauled by two mules, who drag it over the street railroad, through one narrow alley after another, down to the bay. We stop at the wharves, where a gang of negroes stands ready to take in the bags; they back themselves up against the cars and balance the great sacks on their heads. They carry them in on the trot, and we hear the thud, thud, thud of .their bare feet as they go over the floor. They run, for they are paid by the piece, and not by the day. Each man gets a cent and a-half for every bag he brings in, and the best of the workmen make from $35 to $40 per month, which is considered high wages here.
What a lot of policemen there are everywhere! At the ends of the wharves there are policemen in uniform; a custom-house officer is always on hand to see that nothing goes on or off the ship without paying duty; and there are besides many private detectives. A close watch has to be kept to guard against stealing, for the wharves are great places for thieves. The detectives look below the wharves, as well as above them, for some-times thieves come in boats under the wooden floors and stop below one of the great piles of bags. With an auger they make a hole through the floor, then a piercer or pipe is thrust up through the hole and into a bag, so that the coffee pours down through the pipe in a stream to the boat. In a short time half a dozen bags can thus be emptied and no one be the wiser, unless the detectives spy the men under the wharves.
Stealing is also done by the negroes who unload the coffee. They come to their work with piercers in their sleeves. By a dexterous thrust they drive the piercer into a bag as they are carrying it in on their heads and allow some of the coffee to roll down their sleeves to their waists. This they do with one bag after another, as they readily can during the day, and, on the pretence of getting a drink, go off now and then to secrete their stealings. This mode of stealing is well known, and the men are consequently carefully watched. Some of them work half-naked, while others have their sleeves rolled up to their shoulders. Thieves are at once arrested, and the factors pay large sums to detectives who watch out for pilferers.