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Coffees from Huehuetenango in Guatemala, affectionately referred to as Huehue (pronounced “whey-whey”) are among the more sought-after in all of Central America. Well-deserved reputation for high elevations and optimal climate, the coffees from Huehue are often complex and nuanced. The department is remote, the wild west of Guatemala’s coffeelands, just across the Mexican border of Chiapas.
This Crown Jewel from the municipality of San Pedro Necta is the latest harvest from Finca La Providencia, a farm owned and operated by Maximiliano Palacios, a third generation coffee farmer. The heart of La Providencia is a beautifully maintained mill that begins at a highpoint on the sloped property, designed to take full advantage of gravity, where the ripe cherries are placed in water and carried through the depulping process on a series of intricate canals to the drying patios below. The coffee comes to us under the moniker “Palhu,” a combination of the family name Palacios and the name of the department of Huehuetenango.
Don Maxamiliano is passionate, not just about his coffee, but about all coffee from the region, calling it the “lifeblood of Huehuetenango.” We feel pretty passionate about it too. The coffee offers a buttery mouthfeel and salted caramel sweetness, layered with spiced apple pie and golden raisin flavors; a perfect morning coffee as we enter the summer.
Solid green coffee figures, as always from Sr. Palacios, this coffee is very dense, nicely dried, and graded to typical SHB European prep standards (15-18 screens, mostly). The guardiola, a cylindrical tumbling mechanical dryer, was a Guatemalan invention. When maintained at steady, low temperatures, coffees dried in this way can match or exceed the shelf stability of more traditionally sun-dried coffees.
La Providencia is growing a solid mix of classic coffee varieties, including a number of uniquely American cultivars. Bourbon is, of course, the round-shaped legacy variety first grown on its once-namesake island (now called Réunion). Caturra is a single-gene short-stature mutation first observed in Brazil in 1937, and Catuaí is its hybrid heartier progeny. The other parent to Catuaí, also here in the mix, its itself a naturally occurring hybrid called Mundo Novo, which was among the America’s first genetic contributions to arabica. Mundo Novo is a spontaneous marriage of Bourbon and Typica, first seen in Brazil in 1943. Both it and Catuaí went though a number of lab iterations before being released as stable cultivars for propagation in the 1970s.
Doris Garrido, a member of our Crown barista team, was on her lab shift the day I roasted this Guatemala, and during the course of teaching her how to use the Ikawa she programmed and roasted a batch, using my tried and true 6-minute airflow mod profile as a baseline. Doris extended the Maillard reactions by about 30 seconds and post-crack development for another 15 or so over my original profile.
Roast 1 (red) was light and sweet, honey and mild lemon notes were predominate. Roast 2 (blue) further caramelized the sugars and slightly muted the acidity, making for a smooth and viscous coffee with copious brown sugar notes and hints of stone fruit. For this coffee to really shine, an extra day or two off roast proved useful on our later roast trials, worth noting as you look to enjoy it on your own.
One of the first origin specific coffees I remember tasting (that wasn’t an Ethiopia Kochere or Sumatra Blue Batak) was a coffee from Huehuetenango. I was blown away by this washed mild coffee from the famed Guatemalan coffee growing region, because, to me, it was anything but mild! The complex nature of flavors and interplay with the layered acidity and sugar sweetness was intoxicating and completely unexpected, given a descriptor that I interpreted literally. So, when approaching this Crown Jewel from Finca La Providencia, I knew that wanted to take advantage of all the meticulous work done by Maximiliano Palacios, to eke out the promise of the best that HueHue had to offer.
As is usual, I decided to do two roasts and compare how slightly changing the stage ratios, as well as heat application would affect the different characteristics I could eke out of this coffee. With the first roast, I wanted to bring out the delightful fruit and floral attributes I tasted on the cupping table initially. However, knowing how dominant the acidity could be, I chose to drop the gas as soon as I spied the change in color heralding the beginning of the Maillard stage of the roast. Doing so allowed me to extend this portion of the roast and so add the balance of browning and caramelization to the cup. Keeping the heat steady for the remaining roast time, I was able to push the Maillard stage to almost 50% of the total roast time. The shorter PCD (post-crack development) ratio, was still a respectable 16%. And so? So much, that’s what! A rich chocolate syrup covered baked apple pie! Warm and comforting notes of milk chocolate, baked apple, nutmeg and graham cracker were given nuance with a smooth citrus fruit acidity and delicate hints of blossom. All of these notes were held together by a viscous, buttery smooth body.
Unsurprisingly, the first roast was a hit with The Crown team, but would roast two be as successful? A resounding ‘yes!’ was the answer to that question. I started the second roast with a low heat until the turning point – the lowest gas application that I typically use on the Probatino. Once the temperature of the bean mass had attained equilibrium with that of the drum, I ramped the heat all the way, until about a minute after the start of the Maillard stage. At this point I stepped down on the gas twice; firstly, a minute after the start of Maillard stage had been recorded, and then just after recording first crack. The latter gas change allowed me to extend the PCD stage just a little longer. Reversing my application of the heat at the start of the roast, along with the slightly longer PCD time brought out flavors of brown sugar, buttercream, cashew and pecan, along with dried fruit notes of apple, raisin, apricot and even a gorgeous persimmon acidity to complement that of the lingering citrus notes. My recommendation? Enjoy this as coffee as a delicious morning drip or pour over to lift your day. That being said, a sweet, syrupy, sugary, bright espresso, enjoyed as is, or mellowed into a pecan and apple pie latte might be your thing. Either option would suit this coffee and most palates – it definitely did mine!
As we begin to get situated at The Crown, I’ve taken out the Quest M3s again. This little machine offers a bit more manual control over the roast, and the addition of Artisan and the Yoctopuce thermocouple for logging my roast data gives me a bit more data to work with. While the simple K-type thermocouples I’m using now aren’t the most sensitive, they do provide a benchmark for future roasts.
At our screening cupping, this Guatemalan Crown Jewel promised thick caramel and brown sugar notes, with a background of peachy goodness that I wanted to pull out with slow and even development. Plum and pear made a showing on the cupping table, but for those of you out there who have kept up with my style, you know that I lean toward the developed sugars. This coffee will work great for espresso and filter drip, where the sugars will really pop.
To begin, I warmed the machine up for about 10 minutes, until the temperature was relatively stable at 395F. After stabilizing, I started the roast with what seemed like a fairly standard charge temperature, 393F. True to my previous roasts, I kept 9A power steady throughout the roast, but started with the lowest airflow setting (fan dial at 0, and back of roaster open). At 1:20, I increased fan speed to 3, and turned the fan speed all the way to full at crack (5:30). At 6:45/412F I ended the roast.
Looking back on this roast, I would have liked to spend a bit more time in Maillard, and proportionally less time in development. There were pleasant notes of peach, toffee, and dark chocolate, but I believe this coffee has a lot to offer in terms of clean sweetness less influenced by roast.
The best way to accomplish this would be to start at a slightly lower temperature, or to begin airflow immediately on dropping the coffee. As I found out in my earlier explorations on the Quest M3s, enhanced airflow will really change the outcome of your roast – so keep your fans clean, and dial in that airflow for best results!
Brewing Don Maximiliano’s coffee was an exciting sensory experience. Crown Barista Doris Garrido put us through our tasting paces by brewing this sample three different ways with identical grind size (10.5 on the EK43S), coffee to water ratio (1:18), water temperature (200F), and preinfusion (40g water for 30 sec) statistics. She used the Origami dripper with a Kalita filter for a flat bottom brewer experience, a Phoenix c70 for a cone dripper, and the Clever dripper for a hybrid brew experience. For the Clever brew, she added a bypass element to compensate for the volume (our Clever is small, but mighty) and correct the TDS and extraction percentage to SCAA standards. Once the coffees were all brewed side by side, we did a blind tasting to determine which brewer performed the best with this deliciously sweet Guatemalan coffee.
Results? The brown sugary sweetness and buttery mouthfeel of this coffee persisted across all of the brew methods. The Origami brew produced notes of apricot, pear, plum, caramel, brown sugar, and milk chocolate. The C70 was a longer extraction, yielding more intense citric acidity (lemon, lime), as well as deeper flavors such as baked apple, walnut, and cocoa. The Clever brew emerged as a surprising favorite, giving us a complex cup that retained the beautiful fruit acidity balanced by well-developed sugars. The cup blew us away with notes of mandarin, ripe cherry, plum, brown sugar, and caramel, and an impression of your favorite shortbread cookies. The bottom line is that this coffee is easy to brew, and even easier to drink, with a complex and pleasant flavor profile containing something to please everyone. You can’t go wrong with this little gem!