Gesha coffee burst onto the coffee scene in 2004 when it became one of the most expensive coffees ever sold. Since then, geisha or gesha coffee has maintained a reputation for excellent cup quality and a notoriously high price. So, what’s so special about this coffee?
Gesha coffee requires very specific growing conditions, and only a little is grown each year. This keeps demand high while maintaining the integrity of the crop. The special care taken to grow Gesha coffee is clearly reflected in its superior taste. It is incredibly hard to find in cafes since most establishments have to bid for the chance to serve this delicious brew.
The Origins of Geisha Coffee
The name ‘Geisha’ can be misleading. It makes you think this coffee is Japanese but that’s not the case. Geisha coffee is also called gesha coffee, deriving its name from the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia where it originated. Somewhere along the way, ‘gesha’ became ‘geisha’ and the name stuck. After its discovery in Ethiopia in the 1930s, Gesha coffee was studied in Tanzania. Then it was taken to Costa Rica and distributed throughout Central America in the 1950s.
These days the most famous Gesha coffee grows exclusively in Panama, although other countries like Colombia also cultivate it. The Gesha variety of coffee is very hard to grow so it remained isolated, only grown in some areas. That changed in 2004, when it was grown in Boquete, Panama winning the “Best of Panama” competition. It received an exceptional score and broke the record for green coffee auction prices.
Since then, Gesha coffee has remained an elusive brew, difficult to find and even more difficult to cultivate. It’s a favourite at brewing and cupping competitions, but out of reach for most casual coffee consumers.
Who Grows Gesha Coffee?
Gesha coffee is most famously cultivated in Panama, although it still grows in Ethiopia. Many estates in Panama grow the variety, the most renowned being the Hacienda la Esmeralda. They were among the first plantations to receive this coffee from Costa Rica in the 1950s. They went on to put this coffee on the global stage in 2004.
Growing and Processing Geisha Coffee
Gesha coffee plants are tall, with green or bronze leaf tips, and a medium yield per harvest. It is somewhat tolerant of leaf rust but susceptible to coffee berry disease and nematode infestations. It is also often picked by hand, contributing to its high cost. The ripest cherries are picked so that the resulting coffee will have some sweetness.
The berries are then checked for quality, either with a machine or by hand. Smaller farms stick to manually testing the berries. The selected berries are then processed either through wet or dry milling. Wet processed or washed coffees are said to be more delicate and balanced while dry-processed coffee has a fuller body and stronger flavour. After all this, we’re left with the green geisha coffee beans.
Gesha Coffee Flavour Profile
Gesha has a distinctive flavour profile, which has contributed to its global reputation. This coffee is delicate with floral and fruity notes including jasmine, peach, citrus, and even black tea. This complex flavour profile with heavy floral and fruity components is characteristic of most of these coffees..
The uniqueness and sweetness of Gesha coffee is part of why it’s so coveted all over the world. In addition, the aroma has been described as almost perfume-like with notes of rose and jasmine. Gesha coffee has a silky and smooth mouthfeel.
The flavour profile is almost unparalleled. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which rates specialty coffee from across the world and is the definitive authority on all things coffee, rated Gesha coffee a whopping 94.1 points on a 100-point scale. This incredibly high score is a testament to the extraordinary taste of this special variety.
How Much Does Gesha Coffee Cost?
The steep price is what first brought Gesha coffee to the spotlight. This is unfortunate since there's so much more to this coffee than its price. Its prices can go as high as USD 600 per pound, and prices are regularly three to four times higher than that of other specialty coffee. Why is it so expensive anyway?
First, this coffee is difficult to grow. The variety needs very specific environmental factors to grow well. It’s also a rather delicate plant that needs special attention. The brittleness of the plants necessitates the extensive use of manual labour to harvest and process it, driving up the price.
Second, it’s always in high demand. Only a small amount of Gesha coffee is harvested each year, so there is almost always a deficit between supply and demand. This naturally keeps the price high.
Gesha coffee is a definite addition to any coffee-lovers list of coffees to try. Its unique flavour and superior quality transform coffee from merely utilitarian to a gourmet experience that everyone should try at least once.