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Intro

I’ve never met Alfred Klein in person, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the course of the last year. We struck up a conversation last May that spanned months and resulted in something like 5,000 words across a blog series about the history of Finca San Carlos – you can check those posts out elsewhere on the blog: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

There’s quite a lot to tell about Alfred and his story and challenges on the farm, and we have two other tasty lots from San Carlos this season, but I want to focus the attention of this analysis especially on this delightful Crown Jewel. It’s an incredible Chiapas, really delightful sweetness with a sparkling acidity uncommon for its origin. Truly a special coffee, likely the most uniquely flavorful Mexican selection you’ll taste this season.

Don Alfred chose the name for this coffee, and it certainly has a ring to it. Jade Centennial refers to the deeper than usual hue of the coffee and the hundred-year history of the farm. There’s more to the story of course – a parcel of the farm called Centenario is home to many of the trees, and on the parcel a hand-carved Mayan jade figurine was unearthed.

The trees were planted on the farm by a Guatemalan worker who claimed to have brought the seedlings from Quetzaltenango. Sr. Klein isn’t sure of the exact variety. Per his description, the bean size is close to Maragogype, the bean shape like old Bourbons, the tree structure like Catuaí with large, deep green leaves and light green new growth. The tree is tolerant, though not resistant to roya and ojo de gallo.

To my eye, the polished seeds appear long, more like Typica, Java, or Gesha.

One of the especially unique aspects of Finca San Carlos is its year-round access to spring water, allowing the coffees to double wash with an extended post-fermentation soak commonly seen in Kenya and Ethiopia. Don Alfred’s water management is second to none; he’s installed purifying tanks and has excellent wastewater management practices. Always in search of innovation, recently Alfred began renovating his drying patio and installing raised beds. He’s also received good sensory feedback from an overall 25% increase in fermentation time.

Green

Mexican coffee has a reputation, much like Brazil, as a mild inexpensive blending option. While there are many Mexican coffees that fit this profile, this Crown Jewel is not one of them. Much larger than average screen size, high density, and precision-drying are hallmarks of this microlot from Finca San Carlos. You should expect this coffee to taste and behave atypically for a Mexico, in the best possible sense. Enjoy!

Taste

Ikawa

This Mexican coffee was quite versatile in the Ikawa. Given its high density and large screen size, I knew that it would take more time, rather than high heat to bring out its best. Ikawa Roast (1) was my first and best attempt at roasting this coffee. This roast was 15 seconds longer than my typical sample roast profile, but maintains a low end temperature through post crack development. The cupping notes were as I had hoped: nice crisp citrus, loads of florals, and a good creamy caramel base. For Ikawa Roast (2) I wanted to know how this coffee would taste with a shorter time and a shorter post crack development time, but keeping the same end temperature. The results were pleasant but very dry, and the citric acid was muted.

Probatino

Transferring the Ikawa Roasts to the Probatino, I decided to try and keep roughly the same roasting stage ratios. In the Probatino roast, the coffee quickly accelerated through the drying stage and I had to reduce the gas in Maillard to lengthen the roast. This ended up giving me great momentum through to the end of the roast with 1:36 post crack development time. On the cupping table there was loads of orange, black cherry, and peach. Roasting this coffee again, I would choose a slightly lower charge temperature so that I could extend the roast during the drying stage.

 

Behmor

Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.

For this week’s Crown Jewel selections, I decided to try something different. Instead of manipulating heat application using the profile/power level buttons, I opted to open the door of the roaster while maintaining 100% heat application. This was for a number of reasons. I have seen this technique used on many forums, and while the Behmor manual does not directly endorse this method, it isn’t outwardly condemned. I have used this technique very sparingly in the past, but not explicitly. So I gave it a shot, this time with more intention.

 

I felt that this this Mexican coffee might be a good candidate due to its low moisture content and high density. I know from experience that high density coffees need a bit more push from the heating elements to get to first crack. But I also know that coffees with low moisture content tend to rush through Maillard stage a bit in the Behmor. The greatest decision we have to make when roasting is whether we are more interested in the sugars or the acids in a coffee, and honestly I don’t want to have to make that choice if I don’t have to – so I tried to take a balanced approach.

Five seconds before first crack, I began opening the door at a 2 inch aperture, for 5 seconds each time. I did this three times, with 10 second intervals between openings. While I didn’t achieve the same consistency of ColorTrack numbers that I did with the Yemeni coffee this week, the crack was long in duration, soft and consistent.

While this coffee did fare well on the cupping table, it could have stood up to a bit more development. The finish was slightly sharper than I would have hoped, and there were some savory black tea and grain notes (likely from underdevelopment) but the acidity came through loud and clear with kiwi and pear flavors. I might suggest aiming slightly for the sugar development side of the equation with this coffee, as much as I hate to choose. Either way, you’re unlikely to be disappointed with this delicious coffee!

Brew

This coffee, grown on the border with Guatemala, was delightfully easy to brew. My first attempt at a 1:16 ratio on the trusty Chemex yielded a cup that was balanced, sweet, and dynamic. Rather than get too absorbed into the minutiae of endless brew variables, I chose instead to keep all variables constant and play only with ratio between brew water and ground coffee to see how different brew strengths would affect the cup profile.

At 1:16, as I mentioned above, Alfred’s coffee tasting vibrant and sweet, with orange, cherry, hibiscus, and apricot, as well as chocolate, clove, and browned butter. At a more concentrated brew, the orange became a little more acidic and was complemented by grape and stone fruit, but there was a new layer of sarsaparilla, honey, and butterscotch too. Taken to the other end, at 1:17 those citrus notes were still present but the needle had tipped a bit closer to white grape and lemongrass, still retaining its caramel backbone with notes of nougat and graham cracker.

I haven’t had the honor of meeting Sr. Klein yet either, but his continued dedication to experimentation, quality, and eco-friendly practices is astounding; it also results in phenomenal coffee. If you have the opportunity to support Alfred’s work – and taste his delicious coffee – don’t pass it up!

Origin Information

Grower
Alfred Klein & Annette Schnippenkoetter | Finca San Carlos
Variety
JadeCentennial | Unknown "Jade" Variety
Region
Unión Juárez, Chiapas, Mexico
Harvest
October – March
Altitude
1100 – 1350 masl
Soil
Clay minerals
Process
Fully washed after pulping, fermented underwater for 48 hours, then soaked for 48 hours in clean spring water, and finally dried in the sun on patios and raised beds.
Certifications

Background Details

With too many producers and their heirloom varieties on the brink of extinction in Mexico, we’re happy to offer a comeback story with coffee from Chiapas. The estate is called San Carlos, located at the border between Mexico and Guatemala on the western slope of Volcán Tacaná, and it has a rich heritage that dates back to 1896. The comeback 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 Klein. 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, heirloom varieties and vintage mill equipment all included. In 2020 we visited San Carlos and it’s clear that Alfred and his 40 full time employees have done the job. The farm has over 10 varieties: Typica, bourbon, mondovo, Costa Rica 95, pacamara, jade, Ana café 14, marsellesa, and even a few robusta plants. He also continues to experiment with some rare stock including seedlings of black bourbon and Jade varieties grafted on a robusta root system to counter nematodes. Processing coffee at San Carlos has no compromises. Coffee cherry is carefully sorted, depulped with the vintage vertical depulpers, slowly fermented for 48 hours in cold spring water, then double washed with a 48-hour soak. There is versatility with drying strategies. Micro-lots are slowly dried on patios and raised beds, while mechanical dryers are used for drying larger lots. 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. All of these layers of efficiency are essential because weather patterns have become more and more unpredictable. 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 Annette is also deeply involved in the business, handling human resource and labor law compliance for employees, as well as, 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 and Annette have done much to save their coffee business against all odds but it is no less important to recognize that two-thirds of their 370 acre estate is dedicated to crop diversification (including guanabana, cardamom, macadamia, and banana trees) and preserving natural habitat for many native species. For further reading about Finca San Carlos, check out our three-part producer profile series, a blog about refrigerated banana containers, and another about climate change.