Museum of Coffee: The Taste of the Past and the Present

Christian Pedersen recently visited the Coffee Museum, in the old centre of the city of Santos, on the coast of the state of São Paulo, and tells us all the details. 

By Christian Pedersen

Photos: Eric Major

Museum of Coffee, in Santos, São Paulo

Many people say that Brazil has no memory or any culture, but after visiting the coffee museum, located in the old center of town in the city of Santos, on the coast of São Paulo, I can say that they did a great job transforming a space which once housed the Official Coffee Trading Market, into a grand experience of the past without forgetting about the present or the future.

The Coffee museum has an eclectic architectural style, whose splendor draws the attention as soon as you see the imposing façade. By the way, the beautiful building has been named “Heritage Property” by the municipality of Santos and also by the state.  The main highlights of the museum are the artwork by Benedicto Calixto and the Trading Floor Room – made up of one main table and seventy chairs – this is where the negotiations for the daily quotas of coffee were determined in the day.

A rich history

The Trading Room

The coffee business was one of the main industries responsible for the development in the southeastern region of Brazil, so much so that it became the most important source of income for the country, used for paying the external debt for many decades beginning in the 1850’s. To give an idea, in 1860 for example, Brazil, which today is the largest producer worldwide, was at that time responsible for 60% of coffee production in the world and Rio de Janeiro for 90% of national production. Today, Minas Gerais is the state with the highest coffee production, with 17% of world production.

The success of coffee farming in São Paulo, during the first part of the 20th century, made the state one of the richest in the country. The coffee was drained, dried, stored in sacks, and later sent to the port of Santos. That was why in that city in 1922, the building of the Official Coffee Trading Market was built to centralize, organize and control coffee operations. Trades were made there until the 1950’s when it was transferred to São Paulo.

Experience in the present for the future

View of the Trading Room from another floor.

The Secretary of Culture in the state of São Paulo created the Coffee Museum in 1998, with the objectives of preserving the historical relationship between the coffee bean and Brazil and aiding the understanding of the importance of that building in the golden era of the coffee market.

During our visit, we were accompanied by Pedro Comin, Educator of the museum. “On a daily basis, I exchange experiences with visitors from all over the world and I try to leave them, at least a little, questioning the themes referenced here”, he said to Wave. This young gentleman graduated in journalism and has worked there since 2014 and also speaks English very well. According to Pedro, showing the museum to visitors signifies “deconstructing daily, the impression that people have that museums only show the past and to show them that, in a dynamic space like this one, you can have a personal experience, question the present, project the future and construct knowledge in different forms”.

Culture and art are transformational

A panel of the exhibit “Deconstructing an Epic”

Some of the exhibitions showing now are: “Coffee, Brazil’s cultural heritage: science, history and art”, divided into four modules: From Plant to Cup, History of Coffee, City of Santos and Arts and Trades.The exhibition presents different perspectives: scientific, historical and architectural via objects, images, videos and maps that contextualize the peculiarities of the production and commerce of the bean throughout history until today. “Today I see the museum as a place where all the spaces fit together and speak amongst themselves”, says Pedro.

Inaugurated in 2016 and showing through to November 2017, the exhibit “Deconstructing an Epic” presents a critical reading of the virtual “The Epic of the Bandeirantes”, by a painter from São Paulo, Benedicto Calixto, at the Trading Floor Room. The exhibit defragments the information contained in the piece in various layers, to provide the public with an understanding of the conception process behind this work. The experience to see and be able to walk through the defragmented parts of the work is something very interesting! Another work shows the public promotional material of the coffee companies at the beginning of the 20th century.

Besides this, the museum also has a centre that has many publications and documents about coffee and its history in the archives and it is free and open to the public, and the Coffee Preparation Centre has courses and workshops related to knowledge and preparation of the drink. Speaking of this, the museum shared with Wave two drink recipes prepared with coffee made by one of their baristas.

The Coffee Preparation Centre

The Coffee Preparation Centre

We cannot forget to mention the Cafeteria of the museum, who work with the coffees of Cerrado de Minas, Sul de Minas, Chapadão do Ferro, Alta Mogiana, Bourbon Amarelo, Bourbon Vermelho, Blend do Museu, Orgânico (seasonal), Premiado and Jacu Bird Coffee. This last one is the rarest and most expensive in Brazil, obtained from the coffee beans that are expelled from the Jacu bird, who feeds on the coffee bean. Yes, you read correctly, expelled (this one we declined to try!).

The barista Rodrigo José and Educator Pedro Comin at the Coffee Preparation Centre

Finally, what started out as a visit to an old building where the coffee trading market stood transformed itself into a wonderful experience, where we had a very interesting afternoon and we left happy to have been there. This feeling is in line with what Pedro Comin told us: “…I would like that everyone who walks into this space leaves differently. Culture and art are transformational. Therefore, if all those who visited the museum could experiment just a little bit of this transformation, I will have reached my professional goal”. I think he did it!

For more information about the museum visit: museudocafe.org.br

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