March 22, 2022

Geisha Coffee, The Holy Grail of Coffee Beans

By Philippe Jolicoeur
Geisha Coffee, The Holy Grail of Coffee Beans

There are a lot of factors that contribute to a coffee’s price point and perceived quality. The region, and specifically the growing conditions of a certain coffee all affect the scarcity and flavor palette of coffee. Priced at 75 dollars a cup, with prices going up to about 1000 dollars for a pound of beans, the Geisha coffee plant is one of the most expensive in the world. Geisha coffee originated in Ethiopia in the Gori Gesha Forest. The name was given to the coffee by british officials that first discovered the coffee in 1936. In 1953 samples of this newfound coffee began to be dispatched to central america, where it was grown and recognized for its resistance to coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease that kills coffee plants. It was in Panama where Geisha became a staple amongst local farmers. This is why today one of the most popular strains of Geisha coffee is Panama Geisha Coffee.

The Boquete region of Panama became a natural hub for the coffee thanks to its unique humid weather and high elevation of 1131m. It wasn’t until 2004 that the reputation of Geisha Coffee reached a global stage. During the 9th national competition to find the best coffee beans in Panama, a group of farmers from the La Esmeralda plantation presented the varietal, which had historically been disregarded as a subpar botanical variety. Geisha destroyed the competition and turned heads, with the judges noting that the coffee had a flavor profile they had never experienced in another cup of coffee prior. In the past eight World Brewers Cup, the brewers presenting Geisha coffee have one five times. These days you can find it in certain regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Ethiopia has the greatest biodiversity of Arabica coffee anywhere in the world, it is thanks to this biodiversity that the world has extracted the wealth of flavors that we associate with Arabica. 

Geisha coffee specifically is known for its delicate floral, jasmine and an aroma that is said to resemble pitted fruit. A consistently sweet and fruity experience, Geisha coffee is a dynamic experience, with the specifics of the flavor said to vary from cup to cup. It features a very nuanced and complex palette with some people reporting notes of honey, black tea and chocolate. The diversity and fullness of the flavor profile is unique to the geisha coffee, a cup of geisha coffee is regarded as being of extremely high quality, especially when the plants are grown and managed properly at a very high altitude.

Geisha coffee beans require very specific cultivation conditions and high elevation to grow properly. This combined with the fact that they are also very demanding to grow and harvest makes them a scarce resource, which is the reason for the high price point. In 2019 during the best of Panama competition, a cup100 pounds of Geisha coffee beans sold for 100,000. All of this leads to Geisha Coffee’s reputation as the most valuable cup of coffee in the world. In 2021 a specific lot of Geisha sold for 4100 for an unroasted pound. Some coffee shops around the world have been known to sell cups of this tasty varietal for upwards of 75 to 110 USD for a single cup.

With all that in mind, the question on everyone’s mind is: Is it overrated? Is it overpriced? It’s tough to say. Inevitably, like with all things, hype tends to build upon itself, and as more and more people hear about this rare cup of coffee only grown by a handful of coffee farmers around the world with a unique diverse flavor palette unlike any other coffee, the lore of this magic plant begins to take on a life of its own. With that being said, it wouldn’t have gotten to the place it’s at now if there wasn’t something remarkable about it. In my own experience it’s unlike any other cup of coffee I’ve ever had before and will probably ever have again. Today , however, I’m not drinking Geisha coffee. Tomorrow neither, nor the day after that. Today I’m sipping on a reliable cup of 1936 Cubano Silver Instant Coffee. I think there’s something to be said about the idea of a holy grail cup of coffee you can seek out and experience once or twice in your life, and I also believe in the magic of a reliable cup of coffee that is waiting for you in your pantry every morning when you face the day and every evening when you get home. Cheers to that.

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