Espírito Santo lies along the Atlantic coast between Bahia and Rio de Janeiro and is bordered to the west by Minas Gerais. Portuguese colonists established the state capital, Vitória, in 1551. They built the city an island to protect it from raids by indigenous peoples and attacks by the French and Dutch.
Residents of Espírito Santo are called ‘Capixaba’, a Tupi word meaning ‘corn hair’. The name is thought to refer either to the blond hair of the European invaders or to the widespread corn (Zea mays) plantations around Vitória. As with other coastal states, sugarcane was the most important export until the nineteenth century, when coffee took over.
Espírito Santo is one of Brazil’s smaller states — about the same size as Estonia — but the second-biggest coffee producer in the country, producing 19.1 million bags in 2020–21 compared with 34.8 million in Minas Gerais (USDA 2021). Around 75% of the coffee grown in the state is conilon, or Coffea canephora. Conilon was introduced in 1912, and its production in the state expanded dramatically during the coffee price crisis of the 1960s (Sales et al 2013). Today, Espírito Santo alone produces about 20% of the world’s supply of conilon.
Coffea arabica, meanwhile, is grown in the highlands to the south and west of the state, in a region called Montanhas do Espírito Santo. In Chapter 4 we will introduce another arabica-producing region, Caparaó, which straddles Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.