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What is Geisha Coffee?

By Daniel Parodi on

What the heck is Geisha?

In 2004, the Peterson family of Hacienda la Esmeralda in Boquete, Panama, shocked the coffee world by selling one pound of their green coffee for $21 at auction…at a time when all other green beans were selling for $4.80 or less per pound. But that was nothing.

In 2019 a single pound of Geisha sold for $1,029 at the Panama auction. Imagine the stress of roasting that!?

Geisha or Gesha? You’ve likely seen both spellings and wondered which was correct. Well, both really.

The Panama Geisha cultivar actually originated in a region of Ethiopia whose name is usually is usually rendered in English, Gesha. Many African languages don’t have direct translations to English so sharpening the pencil on names and terms can sometimes be challenging (an agreed upon correct pronunciation of Yirgacheffe is another example).

There is validation for both spellings, even in Ethiopia, so we maintain a neutral approach and respect both.

The Journey to Gold. The plant cultivar made its way into research centers, first in Tanzania, then to Central America in the 1950s, tagged as cultivar “T2722” — easily pronounceable, but decidedly unromantic. The coffee exhibited good resistance to leaf rust (a common coffee disease), but didn’t receive a warm welcome among farmers because it had brittle branches.

Up until 2004 when the Petersons submitted it in the Cup of Excellence competition and changed everything.

We’ve said this many times, but one of the reasons we are all enjoying literally unprecedented coffees is because we are encouraging its cultivation through a willingness to pay for “amazing.” Ideally, that willingness helps motivate farmers to more carefully consider the coffee that grows on that one, small, lot on their property rather than just milling all of their fruit at once.

That exact willingness is what eventually led to the T2722’s being processed and sold separately from the rest, and what has given us some truly remarkable coffee beans. Ones that are extraordinary and different from any other cultivar — soft and delicate with a floral, jasmine, and almost tea-like aroma. Yes… “Amazing.”

Panama (and Everywhere Else). Geisha has exploded throughout Panama and other Central American countries, resulting in essentially all exceptional lots of Geisha earning top dollar at auction. But not all Geisha is Geisha.

There are numerous Geishas throughout Latin America that can trace their roots to the same Ethiopia region (we currently stock a Colombia Geisha), that are genetically different than the Panama Geisha that hails from the coveted T2722. While nearly all of them are wonderful coffees with varying degrees of Geisha-like subtlety, the Panama cultivar alone is “The Precious”. When farmed by dedicated experts, it delivers “amazing” every time. For those willing to pony up, of course.

Geisha roasting tips. Since Geisha can be processed using different methods (washed, honey, etc.), generally follow your normal practice for such processes, tipping a bit toward the gentle/lighter side to help ensure adequate development. Consider running past completion of first crack to give enough development time, being careful to manage heat and avoid over-roasting or entering second crack.

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