Many factors of coffee impact what you grind and brew each morning for your cup of coffee. One of, if not the most important, in my opinion, is the coffee's variety. It may be because people may not know a lot about varieties. Different varieties have different flavor profiles. If you're not familiar with what a coffee variety is, read on. We love to educate our customers so they can make the best decisions when buying coffee. We want you to know why different varieties of specialty coffee are unique and how some reach new heights of flavor and experience. Varieties are essentially variations of the coffee plant. At Sagebrush, they are all variations of the Arabica coffee plant, but each variety has a slight difference in genetic make-up due to generations of development in different environments, soil make-up, and care in processing. Visualize this concept by comparing it to apples. All apple trees are essentially the same tree. But there are drastic differences in texture, mouthfeel, acidity, sweetness, and even color of the apple fruit itself, depending on which variety is cultivated. Coffee is remarkably similar in this sense. All coffee, whether Arabica or Robusta, started with Rubiaceae, and from there, two major offshoots occurred. One is coffee Arabicae, where we get all Arabica coffee, and the other is Robusta. We don't talk about Robusta because it's considered lower quality coffee, and we only offer specialty coffee which is only Arabica. Some beans, even if they are Arabica, can be low quality or susceptible to disease. But some are so special that they leave others behind. Geisha is one of them. It's one of the most exclusive and unique coffee varieties out there.
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Geisha coffees are incredibly dynamic with powerful flavor notes. It is known as the top-tier royalty of the coffee varieties. It has broken records in auction prices at coffee competitions. In August 2021, a specific lot of Geisha topped out at $4,100 per unroasted pound. That is not a typo; this coffee variety costs a pretty penny! After spiking in popularity about 15 years ago, many farms capable of sustaining it have planted it. We have even been lucky enough to get our hands on a selection of Geisha beans several times in the past and are always on the lookout for a new amazing one. So, what makes a Geisha coffee special, and how can it be so expensive?
What is Geisha Coffee?
Geisha coffee is a hybrid variety of the Arabica plant family. It is often correlated with coffee from Panama, but Geisha beans did not begin growing there until the 1960s. Instead, they originated in 1931 from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, specifically in the Gori Gesha forest. An heirloom plant would be taken to Latin America, where it be cultivated and begin to spread throughout Latin America.
Gesha or Geisha?
The story of how the varietal got its name is not set in stone, but many assume it was named after the Gesha Mountain in Ethiopia. The spelling adjustment to "Geisha" is not believed to be related to the Japanese women entertainers but is used as an attempt to make the Gesha name more familiar to countries outside of Ethiopia. Both terms are acceptable and can be used interchangeably, which is why you may see them used both ways.
In the 1950s, Geisha coffee was exported to Costa Rica from Ethiopia and brought to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center for further study and cultivation. It finally found its way to Panama as a new and exciting coffee varietal, and the seeds were planted on a farm called Hacienda la Esmeralda. After many years of perfecting the Geisha coffee plant, the Hacienda la Esmeralda farm introduced Geisha beans at the 2004 "Best of Panama" coffee auction. The taste evaluators were floored with the delicious and unique flavors, and the acclaim of Geisha beans blew up worldwide overnight. Due to the overwhelming popularity and limited supply, they became the most expensive coffees in the world. By 2018, coffee beans sold for $803 per pound. There are even some coffee shops that will sell a cup of Geisha for $110. And we thought Starbucks was expensive!
Geisha beans are known for having a unique flavor profile. They are distinctively floral and intensely fruit-forward. The type of fruit flavor can vary depending on the origin. Generally, it often has mango, guava, papaya, and citrus notes. The unique taste can be traced back to Ethiopia, where it all began. This complex and vibrant flavor profile is not the norm for Latin American grown coffee. The exceptional flavor has given Geisha coffee a reputation that has attracted passionate coffee-drinkers far and wide.
Why Is It So Expensive?
As I mentioned, the Geisha varietal produces the most expensive coffee in the world, and I do not see the demand or cost slowing down anytime soon. The price of Geisha beans can vary depending on the crop, country, and status of the roaster or coffee shop. Some coffee shops will sell a cup for as low as $9, while another shop will sell it for $75 or more. Geisha coffee sold from the infamous Hacienda la Esmeralda farm will often be the most expensive, although my experience is that it isn't always the best.
Multiple factors contribute to the high price of Geisha beans. The first is that it is a tricky plant to cultivate. For a successful crop, you need to have a higher altitude (1,700-1,950m), and the timing of the harvest has to be precise with expedited processing. Also, the foliar system of the Geisha plant is thinner than other varietals, making photosynthesis less competent. The root system can also be feeble, not allowing sufficient water and energy intake. This means that the Geisha plant cannot produce as many beans as other coffee plant varietals. With Geisha beans, it is more about quality than quantity. Year after year, the Panama Geisha varietal has received the highest scores from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Out of the SCA's 100-point scoring system, Geisha has consistently scored above 90. Between the top scores, rare flavors, limited supply, and worldwide success, there is no doubt why the value and price of Geisha coffee have dramatically increased.
Is Geisha Worth the Price?
Geisha coffee is the priciest coffee in the world, but I do not think it is overrated. Unless you can easily put down a hefty dollar for a regular supply, it is probably not worth it for an everyday coffee. If you are passionate about coffee and want a one-of-a-kind taste experience once in a while, then you should definitely try it. You want to think of Geisha and other coffee varieties like wine. I drink wine varying from less than $10 a bottle, and for special occasions, I can get a $100 bottle. Coffee is the same, except you can enjoy a bag for more than one or two sittings. Brew it with care and reward yourself with an exceptional cup of Geisha. It is important to celebrate the incredible work of the farmers who produce these wonders of the coffee world!
Its Reputation Continues to Grow
The reputation of Geisha as a variety has continued to gain momentum. Since its beginnings in Panama, the Geisha variety has grown from uncertainty to being one of the most sought-after beans. Any time we can offer a high-quality Geisha, we're excited because they can be hard to come by.