We explain the hype behind Gesha coffees and why we offer them.
You've heard about it, you've seen it, and you've probably widened your eyes after learning its price—the Gesha coffee. As a specialty coffee enthusiast, you're probably also dying to try it. However, you just can't bring yourself to spending more than $40 USD on a bag of coffee. At Bean & Bean, we offer a lot of Gesha coffees ourselves. Therefore, it is a duty to make sure our customers are informed buyers before deciding whether or not they believe the hype of Gesha coffee. And so, we explore the history of Gesha, where you can find it, what it tastes like, and more.
What is Gesha coffee?
A coffee plant has many subspecies called varietals since it grows differently in many parts of the world. Gesha is one of many varietals, or subspecies, of coffee. One comparison would be apples. Apples have many varietals like Granny Smith, Fuji, Honey Crisp, and so forth. Some examples of other varietals of coffee include Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai. These varietals will not only give varying taste characteristics, they will also vary based on where they grow! Therefore, one Gesha varietal will not taste the same in one country as it does in another. Many factors like altitude, climate, and terroir influence the way it grows and what flavors it brings to the table. Although the taste of Gesha may change with these factors, it is fairly consistent in producing a unique and desirable flavor profile no matter where it grows.
Where is Gesha coffee From?
Although popularized in Panama, Gesha coffee began in Ethiopia, named for its place of origin in the Gesha Village. Nevertheless, the name became lost in translation when Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) brought the varietal to Costa Rica in 1953. The farmers mistakenly called it Geisha, like the traditional Japanese hostess. This is also why there is a lot of confusion over the spelling of the varietal. Nowadays, the specialty coffee industry is trying to bring back the Gesha spelling out of respect to its origin.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, many went on coffee missions to Ethiopia to classify and collect coffee varietals. The purpose of these missions was to find more disease resistant and healthier plants. Thus, it was on one of those trips that Gesha traveled all the way from Africa to Latin America.
The Gesha species first arrived in Panama in the mid 1960s. At the time however, the Gesha grew slowly and produced many less coffee cherries compared to other varietals. It would not live to its full potential until the 2000s.
Hacienda Esmeralda Re-Discovers Gesha Coffee
Hacienda Esmeralda is a coffee farm in the highlands of Boquete, Panama. The owners of this farm, the Peterson family, purchased the Gesha from CATIE in the 1960s, which they grew alongside other varietals on their farm. In the 1990s, a devastating disease called coffee leaf rust destroyed the Peterson farm, but one varietal remained undamaged on the property—the Gesha. They then decided to plant this on one of their high-altitude farms, the highest it had been planted yet, at 1,650 meters above sea level. It was on this space that Gesha truly found its stride.
When the Peterson family submitted their Gesha to the 2004 Best of Panama coffee auction, it won first prize. All of the judges agreed without hesitation that the Gesha cup was extraordinary. The most notable features were its strong floral fragrance and unique tea-like characteristics that nobody had ever experienced. That year, Gesha made waves as the highest price ever paid for coffee at an auction.
After that auction, the prices for the Gesha skyrocketed. Worldwide, people started to hear about this exclusive coffee, and some cafés at the time were selling it for as much as $100 a cup. The reason for Gesha's high price is not solely the flavor, but also the limited supply. Grown in small batches, it consistently auctions at sky high records. In 2019, the Lamastus family's Elida Estate, another Panama-based farm, broke a world record for the highest price paid for coffee. It was their natural-process Gesha, and it sold for $1,029 per pound.
What does Gesha coffee taste like?
The Gesha flavor profile is different from other varieties grown in Latin America because of its strong floral aromas. The range of tasting notes is wide, with pleasant flavors like peach, melon, apricot, and jasmine. It also has a delicate citric acidity and light, silky body. No wonder why it captured the whole world’s attention with its fresh and clean profile. It combines the full body and strong aroma of Ethiopian varieties with the notable acidity of Latin America.
The Specialty Coffee Association recognizes this varietal's greatness too. On its 100-point scale, created by the Coffee Review, the SCA ranks Gesha at 94.1 points—one of the highest scores a coffee can achieve.
Geshas From Panama
Believe it or not, Panama is not a major coffee-growing region. Coffee is not the biggest export of the country. In fact, it ranks quite low behind oil, ships, bananas, and gold. So how did this underdog climb to the top as one of the most desirable regions for Gesha?
Panama only has one coffee-growing region in Boquete (where Hacienda Esmeralda and Lamastus Family Estates are both located), which lies at the base of the biggest volcano in the country—Volcán Baru. It is the tallest peak in Panama at 3,474 (11,398 ft) meters high, and gives the area rich, nutrient-dense soil—perfect for growing Gesha. Combined with the high altitude and tropical climate, Geshas from this region have an advantage in getting fantastic growing conditions.
The Rise of Gesha coffee in Latin America
After watching Panama rise to fame and fortune with Gesha coffees, Latin America took note. Since most coffee does not sell nearly as high as Gesha, many producers in Central and South America have begun to grow this valuable varietal too. Today, many farms are competing to make the best tasting Gesha, one that will score and sell just as well at an auction as Best of Panama.
One producer that has entered the game is Santa Felisa in Guatemala. Owner Anabella Meneses ranked #8 in the Guatemala Cup of Excellence in 2017 for her natural process Gesha. The coffee scored 88.36 points. Her hard work continues to this day as she pushes the limit on experimentation. Working with orange honey processed coffees, red Geshas, and purple coffee cherries, Santa Felisa is a force to be reckoned with in the coffee world. We are beyond thrilled to be able to offer Gesha at Bean & Bean, especially those produced by this woman-owned farm.
So is Gesha worth the price?
The race to sell the most expensive Gesha has come with some issues. Like cheap designer knockoffs, Gesha coffees have experienced their share of poor products too. Many coffee farmers these days will mislead coffee buyers into purchasing coffees that are not actually Geshas. Or, buyers will simply purchase a Gesha coffee that does not taste amazing. They buy it for the name, and for the lower price tag. Knowing where a Gesha comes from, how it was produced, and the estate's credibility is important. Amazing coffee can only exist when there are amazing people behind it.
We choose to work with Santa Felisa not just because they grow Gesha. We work with them because they are a family-owned, women-powered smallholder farm committed to quality, gender inclusion, the environment, and the surrounding communities.
We also offer a Panamanian Gesha from family owned Janson Farm, established in 1941, located between the Tisingal and Baru volcanoes. Quality production with harmony is Janson’s goal, keeping a balance of nutrients in the soil using enzyme microorganisms, while using no pesticides or herbicides. Plantations are separated by forests, which serve as natural barriers against pests and protect the natural flora and fauna. 400 solar panels produce the energy for the farms. This natural processed Gesha coffee is wildly complex, with intense sweetness and clarity.
In conclusion, we can't tell you if Gesha is worth the price. Whether you're buying it just to say you've tried it, or you want to taste a coffee that doubles as a jasmine tea, this is up to you to decide. The most important thing we will emphasize when trying a Gesha is to be an informed buyer—make sure the person that is supplying it is reputable and deserves the recognition.
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