What Is Gesha (Geisha) Coffee?
With so many qualities and varieties to choose from, coffee drinkers have become a very savvy bunch. It seems that the more exotic the coffee, the greater its appeal to coffee connoisseurs. Take, for instance, the growing popularity of Gesha (also known as Geisha) coffees.
If the phrase Gesha coffee sounds exotic, that's because it is. Gesha refers to a unique cultivar of the Arabica coffee plant that was first discovered in Ethiopia. Over time, seeds from these trees were taken to other countries and successfully planted, including most famously, Panama.
There was a time when "mountain grown" and "good to the last drop" were the only taglines that coffee roasters and marketing executives needed to sell coffee. Now, it's all about where coffee comes from, how it is processed, and in the case of Gesha, its family tree.
In this article, we pull back the curtain on the mystique and notoriety of Gesha coffee.
The Gesha Coffee Mystique
If you ask a group of enthusiasts to put together a checklist of must-try coffees, Gesha is certain to be at or near the top of the list. But ask those same people to explain what Gesha coffee is and you probably wouldn't get the same answer from any of them. And none of them may be right.
What is certain is that Gesha coffee is widely hailed as some of the most exquisite coffee grown anywhere in the world. It's also quite expensive.
Auction lots of Gesha coffee selling for hundreds of dollars per pound are not uncommon. One in particular famously sold for $6,034 per pound, making it the most expensive coffee in the world at the time.
To fully appreciate what all the fuss is about, it is necessary to understand where Gesha coffee comes from, look back on its relatively short history, and consider what the future holds for this botanical wonder.
What Is Gesha Coffee?
In the world of coffee, there are two primary species of note:
Coffea arabica, referred to simply as arabica, is associated with higher quality varieties presenting desirable qualities when brewed.
Coffea canephora, more commonly known as robusta, occupies the lower end of the quality scale and is often used for instant and freeze-dried coffee products.
Within the arabica coffee space, certain varieties and cultivars have separated from the pack and risen to the top, acclaimed for their unique characteristics and exceptional quality. Of these, Gesha coffees are in a class of their own. So how did this come to be?
Where Does It Come From?
The original Gesha coffee plant (yes, the one that started it all) was reportedly discovered in the 1930s in Ethiopia's Gori Gesha forest. Among its notable characteristics at that time was its natural resistance to rust, a deadly fungus affecting the plant's leaves.
Seeds of the Ethiopian Gesha plant were taken abroad and planted in places like Costa Rica and Tanzania. Eventually, this relatively obscure cultivar reached Panama, where its future fame and notoriety were first sown:
Upon arrival in Central America, the Gesha cultivar was taken to Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), where it was assigned the identification number T2722.
T2722 spread to Panama, where among other places, it was planted by the Peterson family on their farm in Boquete.
In 2005, the Petersons entered their Gesha coffee in the "Best of Panama" (BoP) competition where it received exceptionally high marks and commanded auction prices unheard of at the time.
In 2021, a lot of fermented natural Gesha coffee sold for $2,568 per pound at BoP.
The following year, 24 lots totaling 1,800 pounds sold for an average per-pound price of $341.21.
Then, at a private auction held in 2022, a 7-pound lot of Panamanian Gesha coffee sold for a jaw-dropping $6,034 per pound.
While Gesha coffee from Panama may be the most recognizable with the most notoriety, this cultivar is also grown in coffee-producing countries like Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Tanzania. This list continues to expand as growers look to seize upon Gesha's popularity.
Is Gesha Coffee Worth the Price?
While its asking price at auction has certainly given Gesha coffee a lot of notoriety, there is no denying that people in the know have found it to be of superior quality with exceptional characteristics.
It was this cultivar's showing at cupping competitions like BoP that first put Gesha coffee in the spotlight. So what makes Gesha coffee so special? Here are a few highlights:
Floral notes - one of the defining characteristics of Geshas is the distinct floral notes, both in the nose and in the cup. Depending on the particular origin, there are sweet whisps of jasmine, hibiscus, and even roses.
Fruitiness - another signature characteristic of Gesha coffees is their fruit-forward flavor profile. Some Geshas present tropical fruit notes like papaya, mango, and passionfruit. Others offer a medley of peach and berry flavors.
Richness - Gesha coffees are also known for their warm, rich character. Whether by way of chocolate notes or hints of honey, you can expect an exceptionally smooth and soothing brew.
Few coffees offer the complexity of Gesha. Its rich medley of flavors and exquisite floral bouquet make for a rare combination of characteristics not easily found in nature.
Just beware of coffees claiming to be Gesha at prices that seem too good to be true. Because they may not be true Geshas.
Most diehard coffee enthusiasts would think twice before forking out $300+ for a pound of coffee - even one as famous as Panamanian Gesha T2722. But considering that some lots have sold for thousands of dollars per pound, maybe several hundred dollars isn't so bad after all.
Whether any coffee is worth paying $10 per cup is a matter of personal choice. But one thing is certain. Authentic Gesha is a coffee-drinking experience like no other. If you're passionate about coffee and you don't mind the cost, it's a splurge worth paying for.