Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism
- July 22, 2019
the coffee chronicler
There are many coffee varietals in the world; even within the family of arabica coffee, and they all have their own individual characteristics; not unlike apples, pears, bananas or other agricultural products.
While most of these coffee varietals have been developed and refined by agronomists and gradually spread in coffee growing countries, the case of Geisha is fundamentally different.
The world didn’t know about Geisha until 2004 when a small coffee miracle occurred.
In Panama, at the now legendary coffee estate Hacienda la Esmeralda, it was noted that some of the plants looked different and exhibited superior disease resistance. Previously, their cherries had been mixed with other plants grown at the farm, but in 2004, they were processed as a separate lot for the first time.
It turned out that these slightly elongated beans were something unique.
The taste was more like Ethiopian coffee than anything normally grown in Latin America. It had an intense floral aroma as well as taste notes of
It was later established that these unusual coffee beans did hail from Ethiopia – more precisely from a place referred to as ‘Mount Geisha,’ where the British consul named Richard Whalley had collected them in 1936 as a part of a larger expedition aiming to map out wild coffee with commercial potential.
Via Tanzania and Costa Rica, the seeds eventually made their way to Panama in the 1960s. Here Geisha grew in relative obscurity for close to fifty years.
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The coffee went on to win the national competition in Panama repeatedly, garnering much attention from international coffee buyers.
When demand is fierce, and resources are scarce, prices shoot up. That’s economy 101.
Since only one farm – Hacienda la Esmeralda – was producing this new wonder coffee, Geisha would go on to set new price records year after year.
Recently, however, more and more farmers and countries have started to produce Geisha but what’s astounding is that the price keeps increasing – especially when it comes to the top scoring lots at the annual ‘Best of Panama’ coffee competition.
In 2018 the most expensive coffee in the world was a $803 per pound Geisha from the Lamastus Family Estates in Boquete, Panama.
In July 2019 the record was once again broken by the very same producer; today the price is a staggering $1029 per pound. With the way things are going this coffee bean might be a better investment than bitcoin!
In recent years, there has been some controversy surrounding the name itself. As you might know, ‘geisha’ also happens to be the name of a traditional Japanese hostess.
It turns out that the area in Ethiopia, which has lent its name to the coffee is actually spelled ‘Gesha’.
However, in general, when words travel from one language (not to mention script) to another some alterations typically occur. This phenomenon is called an exonym. Most European capitals, for instance, have both an English name and a local one.
However, pedantry aside, it seems that the international coffee community has settled on its preferred spelling: Geisha with an ‘i.’
Coffee grown in the Ethiopian region of the same name, however, is instead spelled ‘Gesha.’
An American-Ethiopian company named ‘Gesha Village’ was launched a few years ago to retrace and produce the original bean from the eponymous forest in the remote Ethiopian region of Bench Maji.
The coffee from this project has garnered much praise and fetched prices almost as high as the Panamanian version.
So if we forget about all the fascinating historical details, would I recommend that you try geisha coffee?
Geisha is unlike any other coffee in the world. However, often coffee from the legendary Ethiopian region of Yirgacheffe can taste similar, albeit with less body.
Today, Geisha is grown in a wide range of countries:
If you are on a budget, you can go for a Geisha from a country like Colombia. Most people simply don’t have the money to buy a batch from the Panamanian top estates, however, you still get most of the original flavor if you buy from one of the neighboring countries.
Geisha isn’t an everyday coffee. Taste and price-wise that wouldn’t make sense.
However, for a caffeinated celebration, a special occasion, it’s okay to be a big-spender.
Think of it as the coffee equivalent of a bottle of champagne, brew it with care, and you can’t go wrong.