Updated: Jan 15
The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro is Erez Coffee’s homage to Brazilain coffee. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee and has been for the past century and a half. Brazil achieved this venerable position after coffee was introduced to the former colony by the Portugese in the mid 18th century. For roughly one hundred years, coffee was cultivated for domestic use only, while sugar and cotton remained Brazil’s most lucrative exports. By the mid-19th century, however, American and European demand for coffee grew exponentially. In what became known as the first of two “coffee booms”, Brazil’s export of coffee exploded, overtaking both sugar and cotton as its major export. In the corresponding decades of the coffee boom, Brazil’s slave trade reduced significantly, due to the coffee plant’s relative ease of cultivation, specifically compared to the harvesting of sugar and cotton. While the early cultivation of coffee was dominated by slave labor, by the time Brazil outlawed the foreign slave trade in 1850, most of the coffee industry was being run by European immigration. This in turn led to an increase in European immigrants searching for steady work in Brazil, thus the coffee industry suffered no loss in productivity when Brazil finally outlawed slavery in 1888.
Coffee played such an important role in the country that the period between the 1880s and 1930s is referred to “cafe com leite”--coffee with cream--referencing the boom in coffee and dairy industries. This boom led to the growth of other industries, most notably the railroad. Railways were originally constructed to transport coffee beans to market more efficiently, turning small towns into booming port cities. One such city is the now-capital of Brazil, Sao Paulo. Once a modest town, by 1900, Sao Paulo was Brazil’s largest city and largest industrial center as it became a hub of coffee export and attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants to work in its coffee industry. Men in the coffee industry achieved significant success economically and became important stake-holders in local and national politics. Thus we see an inextricable link between coffee and Brazil’s political history in the twentieth century.
The Mayor of Rio reflects the importance and longevity of Brazil’s contributions to the modern coffee industry.