Brazil’s coffee exports picked up at their fastest rate in nearly four years, although the acceleration disguised a marked difference in fortunes between booming arabica shipments and curtailed robusta volumes.

Brazil, the world’s largest coffee exporter, shipped 3.07m bags of green coffee in September – an increase of 22% from the August total, representing the quickest pace of month-on-month growth since October 2018, when the country’s output was recovering from drought-depressed levels.

However, Cecafe, the industry group which revealed the data, underlined that the September growth “reflects a greater inflow of new crop arabica coffees, which counterbalances” the drain on exportable supplies of robusta beans from domestic roasters.

While Brazil’s arabica exports, at 2.93m bags, recorded their second-best September performance on record, those of robusta coffee, at 147,323 bags, fell by 62% year on year to their lowest for the month since 2017, amid Brazil’s run of drought-depressed harvests.

‘Intense demand’

In fact, this year’s Brazilian robusta – or “conillon” – harvest is broadly estimated at a record high, with Conab pegging output at 17.97m bags, up by 1.68m bags on its data, and some other commentators seeing even larger figures.

Rabobank last month pegged Brazil’s robusta harvest at 23.1m bags, even as it trimmed its estimate for the arabica crop by 1.3m bags to 40.1m bags, citing evidence that dryness since March had curtailed the proportion of coffee cherries maturing into green beans.

However, Brazil’s own call on its conillon supplies has been particularly strong, notably thanks to buoyant demand for instant coffee, which is made in the main from robusta beans, and is favoured by consumers trading down amid the world’s cost of living crisis

Günter Häusler, the Cecafe president, cited “intense demand for robusta from the domestic industry”, which according to the International Coffee Organization is the largest exporter of soluble coffee, shipping 3.58m bags in the October-to-August period, ahead of India on 2.0m bags.

Vietnam slide

Meanwhile, supplies of robusta from Vietnam, the top producer, have after a firm start to 2022 proved disappointing, with customs data last week showing a 17.8% dip in volumes month on month in September, to 92,550 tonnes.

“Vietnam exports have been declining faster than expected, even in spite of declining shipping rates,” Rabobank said ahead of the data, adding that the dip had prompted a downgrade to 30.1m tonnes in its estimate of the country’s 2021-22 harvest.

The squeeze has been reflected in an outperformance of robusta prices, which were the biggest gainers in percentage terms of the four main coffee types in both August and September, according to the ICO.

In Brazil itself, the discount of robusta beans to arabica ones fell below R$500 per bag on October 3 for the first time since May, according to research institute Cepea.

The spread has since widened back to R$538.99 per bag as of Tuesday, amid concerns of hail damage in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s top arabica-growing state, to coffee trees undergoing flowering.