Geisha is the most prized cultivar in the specialty coffee world, selling for prices well above any other coffee. But what makes this highly-valued coffee so special?
History of Geisha
First things first: geisha or gesha? This varietal of coffee gets its name from its provenance in eastern Ethiopia, near the town of Gesha, where it is believed to have originated. But over time, as it made its way around the world, the name took on a new form and now both ways of spelling are widely used. This heirloom cultivar has traveled through Tanzania, Kenya, and Costa Rica, but only started to become famous after landing in Panama in the 1960s. In 2004, Geisha arrived on the world stage by winning the top prize at the Best of Panama (BOP) competition. Since then, geisha has fetched the highest of coffee prices - often selling at over $100 per pound, and makes routine appearances at the high levels of brewing and barista competitions.
What Makes Geisha Different?
Originally selected because of its resistance to certain forms of coffee leaf rust, or roya, this low-yielding plant is now prized for other characteristics in the cup. It is renowned for its quality, specifically relating to its sweetness, acidity, and floral tones. The geisha plant itself has some features that make it distinct and identifiable apart from other coffee trees. It has a tall stature, and is characterized by its elongated leaves, oval structure of the bean and the strong perfumed floral scent of the blossoms.
Nossa Familia’s Director of Coffee, Rob Hoos, says that geisha is so popular in specialty coffee because “it has a flavor profile that fulfills the sought-after flavor profile for people who work in and are heavily engaged in specialty coffee: sweet, bright, tea-like, and floral.” Indeed, expert cuppers often describe the notes of geisha with a feast of the finest fruits, such as papaya, guava, citrus, berries, mango, and pineapple. Other common flavor notes include bergamot or Earl Grey, citrus peel, coffee cherry, honey, floral, and honeysuckle.
Giorgio Bressani, a fifth-generation coffee farmer at Finca San Jeronimo Miramar, draws parallels between good coffee and other fine foods: “Finding differences amongst different, similar wines can be difficult for someone getting acquainted with the art. It’s the same with chocolate and coffee! Geisha is just like that bold difference in a special wine that makes it stand out, with the coincidence that it is just a super pleasant taste! A symphony of flowers, citrus acidity and sweetness.” He also notes that it is often a struggle for a farm to present itself to specialty roasters, and geisha cultivar helped open the door to the specialty realm for their farm.
What’s the story behind Nossa Familia Coffee’s Geisha?
At Nossa Familia, we have sold geisha coffees from both Colombia and Guatemala. This year, our geisha comes from Finca San Jeronimo Miramar in the Atitlán region of Guatemala. The geisha seed was a gift to the farm from a world-famous coffee researcher who visited several times and was impressed by their good work. He gave the geisha seed to the farm administrator and told him to plant it on a special spot since it was a very special bean. They planted it high on the slopes of the Atitlán Volcano, at 1500 MASL, on the El Ensayo lot, which means “Trial.” Giorgio says they believe their geisha has a fuller body and sweeter finish than most geishas they have tried. It has notes of cascara (coffee cherry), flowers and honey.