With too many producers and their heirloom varietals on the brink of extinction in Mexico, we’re happy to offer a comeback story with this coffee from Chiapas. Finca San Carlos, located at the border between Mexico and Guatemala on the western slope of Volcán Tacaná, has a rich heritage that dates back to 1896. Alfred Klein’s story starts in 1996 when the grandson (Otto Hotzen) of the man who planted the first coffee trees at San Carlos offered to sell the farm to Alfred. Alfred had made his reputation in the coffee world as the guy who could restore old mill equipment and his work restoring mill equipment at San Carlos impressed Otto. For the next two decades Alfred worked hard to pay Otto, but San Carlos suffered from every possible consequence of climate disaster (wind, hail, and hurricanes), peso devaluation and skyrocketing inflation. At the bottom in 2004, Alfred lost ownership of San Carlos due to his inability to make the agreed payments to Otto. Alfred continued to manage San Carlos another decade for the Hotzen family and developed a strong relationship with Royal during this time. But by 2012, more than 85 percent of San Carlos had been destroyed by leaf rust. And now the comeback story: With some financial support from Royal, Alfred repurchased San Carlos from the Hotzen family in 2013. With his gift for restoring heirlooms, Alfred immediately began an aggressive plan to renovate San Carlos to its original luster, vintage mill equipment and heirloom varietals all included.
Processing coffee at San Carlos has no compromises. Coffee cherry is carefully sorted, depulped with vintage vertical pulpers, slowly fermented for 48 hours in cold spring water, then double washed with a 48 hour soak before slowly drying the coffee on patios and raised beds. Although there is an abundance of spring water, Alfred has configured the mill to operate with 5,000 liters per day, which is recycled several times and then returned downstream, clean, pH balanced, and oxygenated thanks to a state-of-the-art water purification system and bio-digester. Alfred also runs his own dry mill using a series of 3 vintage catadores (wind channels) to classify his coffee. He explained that cherry selection and classification at the wet mill is so good that he does not need any more equipment in his dry mill to sort the coffee. Alfred’s wife handles all the export logistics from Tapachula, including refrigerated banana containers, which defy all the regular conventions of moving coffee across Mexico to Veracruz for milling and export.
Alfred has renovated nearly 10 hectares with the nearly extinct Maragogipe varietal, a natural mutation of typica discovered in Maragogipe, Brazil in 1870. Maragogipe grows very tall and requires special pruning techniques, has low yields, and is very susceptible to leaf rust. The yields at San Carlos account for nearly half of this lot and the remainder Alfred sourced from small producers in Siltepec, a region with small farms above 1600 meters with a dryer microclimate less susceptible to rust damage.
For further reading on Finca San Carlos, check out our three-part producer profile series
, a blog about refrigerated banana containers
and another about climate change