The Fascination with Geisha Coffee
Panama Geisha Coffee is world-famous for its exceptional quality and high prices. But did you know there are Geisha Coffees beans from other countries as well?
Geisha coffee is a variety of coffee that has gained immense popularity among coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs. Its unique flavor profile and rarity make it highly sought after. But it can also not be denied that exorbitant auction prices have contributed to worldwide attention. Geisha Coffee, aka Gesha Coffee, quickly became one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
The naming may have added to the success of Geisha Coffee. The term Geisha is phonetically similar to the traditional Japanese entertainer and may have added an exotic flair, but there is no connection whatsoever. It refers to its origin, the Gesha Mountain and the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia. Whether you call it Geisha or Gesha Coffee doesn’t really matter, and I am following the established naming of Geisha.
Let’s dive into the mystery of the roaring success story of this exclusive coffee and find out how you can enjoy this exceptional coffee bean without breaking the bank.
If you want to know where I buy my Geisha Coffee right away, you can skip ahead to the end of this post.
History and Origin
Geisha Coffee beans, also known as Gesha Coffee, have a rich history that traces back to its origins in Ethiopia. This unique coffee varietal hails from the Gesha District in the southwestern region of Ethiopia with the Gesha Mountain and the Gori Gesha forest, a region known for producing some of the finest beans in the world.
In the 1930s, the Arabica variety of coffee was brought to the Lyamungu research station in Tanzania and found its way to Central America only in 1953 when it arrived at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE)in Costa Rica for further study. Because of its coffee leaf rust tolerance, CATIE tried to introduce it to Panama in the 1960s. This varietal is an arabica coffee plant, but rather fickle to grow. That’s why the local cafeteros did not warm to it for a long time. It was once even considered lower-quality coffee.
The real starting point of the amazing career to become the most expensive coffee was in 2004 when in the Best of Panama Auction, the Hacienda Esmeralda entered one lot of its Geisha coffee. It fetched the sensational price of $21 per pound. This sounds very reasonable today, but until that year, the highest prices were only between $2 and $3 per pound.
in 2019 prices broke the $1,000 barrier, and in 2021 the $2,000 barrier fell.
The results of the Best of Panama auction, held on August 29, 2023 are in and here is my take with some background information.
Although originating in Africa from the Gesha mountain in Ethiopia, this unique coffee variety has gained prominence and recognition primarily in Panama, where it has become synonymous with luxury and exclusivity.
Panama can be considered the epicenter of Geisha coffee, with Hacienda La Esmeralda being one of the primary cultivators of this variety. Panama’s high altitudes and ideal climate conditions allow Geisha to develop its unique floral and sweet flavor profiles.
Apart from Panama, Costa Rica has also successfully adopted Geisha coffee cultivation, taking advantage of the country’s favorable climate and fertile soil. Farmers in other Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras and South American countries like Colombia and Bolivia have also entered this market with remarkable results.
In Hawaii, which produces the famous Kona Coffee, some farms are also experimenting with Geisha Coffee. Hawaii is located at the northern end of the coffee belt and can therefore get away with growing coffee at a lower altitude.
As Geisha coffee gained popularity, it also spread across other continents like Africa, where countries like Tanzania and Malawi have started cultivating this variety.
Geisha coffee has thus transcended its Ethiopian origins, spreading across Central America and back to Africa, becoming a symbol of luxury and quality in the coffee industry.
Cultivation and Processing
The cultivation of this highly sought-after variety of arabica coffee is quite a challenge to coffee farmers.
Geisha coffee trees are grown at high altitudes, mostly above 1700 -1800 meters above sea level, which allows them to develop a unique flavor profile and aroma. The award-winning Elida Estate grows its Geisha coffee beans at an altitude of between 5,500 and 8,200 ft (1.700 and 2.500m), making it the highest in Panama.
The Geisha coffee tree grows tall and skinny and has a less dense canopy causing less efficient photosynthesis. The root system of Geisha trees is rather weak, meaning that the trees absorb less water. These factors combined lead to a substantially lower yield compared to other varietals.
The coffee cherries harvested from Geisha trees are hand-picked to ensure only ripe cherries are collected. Timing is crucial and needs expertise. A meticulous selection process contributes to maintaining the superior quality of Geisha coffee beans. Once harvested, the cherries undergo various processing methods, which may differ depending on the producing countries’ circumstances. Typical processing methods are natural, washed, and honey.
Roasting and Flavor Profile
Having the roast level right is crucial for bringing out the complex and delicate flavor profile of the Geisha coffee beans. The beans are typically roasted at a light to medium level to preserve the intricate nuances, such as floral, fruity, and citrus notes. Roasting at this level allows the beans to retain a higher acidity, which enhances the overall experience. The light roast often highlights the vibrant flavors of jasmine, bergamot, and tropical fruit, making this varietal a stand-out among specialty coffees.
In addition to the fruity and floral characteristics, Geisha coffee may exhibit subtle hints of chocolate when roasted slightly darker. This added depth and richness create a well-rounded cup while maintaining its origin’s essence.
Coffee competitions and auctions
Almost every coffee-producing country has a coffee competition organized. Local farmers enter their coffee for a cupping session and evaluation by experts. An auction then follows these events. Often, these competitions are organized in two levels, a local one and one at a higher level with international reach.
The Best of Panama auction is the most famous because of the headline-making prices for the winning bids. Another well-known auction is the One of a kind Guatemala. The Alliance for Coffee Excellence has been organizing these events in many countries since 1999 and has contributed to raising quality standards in coffee production.
International coffee buyers follow these auctions with great interest. Particularly notable are the buyers from Asian markets like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China. You can see that the Best of Panama auction website has language options of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean besides English. Consumers in these countries are much more willing to accept high prices for top quality than consumers in the West.
What does the auction price mean for consumers?
Geisha beans are often considered top-tier royalty within the world of coffee, with their distinct flavor and aroma setting them apart from other varieties. Because of their uniqueness and scarcity, coffee enthusiasts are willing to pay a hefty premium for these rare beans, which explains the astronomical auction prices at coffee competitions.
As a consumer, you don’t have to worry too much about auction prices as they concern only the extremely rare top of the crop. Not all Geisha coffee carries such an extravagant price tag. Usually, only one or two lots in each auction fetch those extraordinary headline-making prices. The majority goes for far less, as you can see from the 2022 Best of Panama auction results. Of course, $100 to $300 per pound is still expensive.
You will probably have little to no chance of getting your hands on the high flyers anyways. But you won’t miss out on an extraordinary coffee experience. Even the more reasonably priced Geisha coffees show almost identical characteristics and flavor profiles that won’t disappoint you.
How can you get your Geisha Coffee?
Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay exorbitant auction prices when buying Geisha Coffee beans, not even for the most sought-after Panamanian Geisha.
Because Geisha Coffee beans are scarce and always in high demand, you may find it challenging to find these heavenly beans in retail stores. Online shops suffer from the availability problem as well. Soon after the harvest, these beans may be sold out already.
Here are ten tips to ensure you make a well-informed and satisfying purchase:
- Choose Reputable Sellers: Buy only from well-known and trusted sources. This could be directly from a coffee farm, a specialty coffee roaster, or an online merchant with a direct relationship with coffee farmers. You may obtain accurate information about the coffee’s origin, processing, and quality from these sellers.
- Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask the seller about the coffee’s origin, processing, and recommended brewing methods. Their willingness to provide detailed information indicates their commitment to quality.
- Research Origin: Geisha coffee originated in Ethiopia and gained prominence in Panama. Learn about other regions that produce Geisha coffee and their specific flavor profiles.
- Check timing: Geisha Coffee may sell out quickly after harvest and processing due to the scarcity and high demand.
- Check Cupping Notes: Look for detailed cupping notes and the score provided by the seller. These notes describe the coffee’s flavor, aroma, acidity, and body. The Specialty Coffee Association has developed a scoring system used in most countries. This information can give you a clearer idea of what to expect from the coffee.
- Check Roast Date: Fresher coffee generally offers a more vibrant and true representation of its flavors. Look for the roast date on the packaging to ensure you get freshly roasted Geisha coffee beans.
- Compare Prices: Geisha coffee is often priced higher due to its rarity and quality. Compare prices from different sellers to ensure you’re not overpaying.
- Read Reviews: Look for reviews from other coffee enthusiasts who have purchased and tried Geisha coffee from the same seller. Their experiences can offer insights into the coffee’s taste and overall quality.
- Avoid Blends: Blends are created to reduce the retail price but often contain only 10% of the real thing. This is often done to expensive coffees like Kona from Hawaii or Blue Mountain from Jamaica. It is legal in most countries as long as they are correctly labeled. But the taste profile has nothing to do with authentic premium coffee and is not worth the price.
- Beware of Counterfeits: Due to the popularity of Geisha coffee, there have been cases of counterfeit or mislabeled beans. Be cautious when purchasing from unfamiliar sources and prioritize reputable sellers.
My recommendation to get the good stuff
To be sure to get authentic Geisha Coffee beans roasted to perfection and delivered to your home, my first choice is to buy directly from the farms wherever possible. One problem is the limited availability, as their harvest is usually sold out quickly.
As smaller farms may not be ready to handle the process of roasting and shipping internationally, you should also look at roasters and retailers with direct relations with farmers. Being located in the country of origin may be an additional advantage. To avoid disappointment, follow recommendations and check customer feedback.
Buying directly from farms
Hacienda la Esmeralda is the pioneer in Panamanian Geisha Coffee and is best known for its top quality. They are a very prominent contributor to the Best of Panama competition.
Please note: Their prices include worldwide shipping.
Janson Family Coffee is another well-established farm committed to quality.
Lamastus Family Estates is a very successful producer and was involved in establishing the famous Geshary Coffee House in Tokyo. They hold private coffee auctions instead of running a regular online store. This may be of interest if you are running an upscale coffee shop.
Reputable Roasters and Retailers
Volcanica Coffee is a US-based prime roaster and a major seller of exclusive coffees from various parts of the world. Their service is friendly, efficient, and reliable.
Volcanica offers a great selection of Geisha Coffee beans from Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
Spirit Animal Coffee is a roaster from Honduras. They have totally changed my perception of coffee from Honduras. Their relationship with highly motivated farmers gives them access to truly outstanding green coffee beans. They are then roasted to perfection and shipped anywhere in the world. Their dedication to offering outstanding coffee and pushing its quality to new levels is impressive.
They only recently started offering a Geisha coffee, the Nahun Fernandez micro-lot, with an official score of 91. I believe this one is the most interesting to watch.