How much do you know about Geisha coffee?
Legend has it that it came from the mountains of Gesha, in southwestern Ethiopia. Richard Whally, a former consul in Ethiopia, brought it to Kenya in 1936 as a request of the Director of Agriculture. From there, its seeds were sent to an experimental area in Tanzania; then from there, seeds were sent to Costa Rica in July 1953 with the aim of combating Roya; and finally from there, to Panama in the 1960s.
Geisha beans frown on the Elida Estate in Panama all wrapped up, ready to be shipped (perhaps to your nearest coffee shop?)
Yet the wonders of Geisha Coffee remained unknown until 2004. Why? Because the beans were never consumed on their own. Daniel Peterson of Hacienda La Esmeralda was the first to pick Geisha beans and present them, unblended, to the international panel of tasters in The Best Of Panama 2004.
Precious Geisha coffee cherries drying in the sun.
Needless to say, they made an immediate impact. And in that moment, the specialty coffee industry changed forever – not only in Panama but in the whole world. Now, Hacienda La Esmeralda is the most recognized name in specialty coffee, while Panama is renowned for the exceptional quality of its specialty coffees.
Yet despite its fame, Geisha remains a mystery to most people. Read on for the four things you probably don’t know – but should.
- Geisha is a difficult plant. Its foliar system is very thin, compared to other coffee varieties, meaning that photosynthesis is far less efficient than other varietals. On top of that, the root system is poor. The result? Less intake of water and energy. A Geisha plant produces half the beans that a Catuai does.
- The most important factor for a good Geisha is altitude. This type of coffee needs to grow in high elevations; in Panama, the best Geisha grow above 1700 m.a.sl. In fact, at my farm, Elida Estate, Geisha grows at 1700-1950m.
- Timing is crucial. Geisha needs to be picked in the perfect moment of maturity – and it needs to start process immediately.
- In Panama, you’ll find natural, washed, and honey process Geisha.
- Natural: Coffee is dried with the pulp still attached. The whole process takes about 9 days.
- Honey: Coffee is de-pulped but the mucilage is not immediately removed, giving it the texture of honey.
- Washed: The most common process in coffee production, the beans are dried after both the pulp and mucilage has been removed.
The Geisha variety may well be the most sought-after coffee in the world.
Surprised by some of these facts? It might be difficult to grow but – as the prices show – this coffee is spectacular. In fact, in my opinion, it’s safe to say that Panamanian Geisha is the best coffee in the world.
Written by W. Lamastus Jr., a fourth generation coffee grower of Elida Estate. With thanks to Graciano Cruz, Wilford Lamastus Sr., and Price Peterson for their contributions.
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