Many factors impact the beans you grind and brew for your morning for your cup of coffee. One of these factors is a coffee's variety. Varieties are essentially variations of the coffee plant. At Sagebrush, we only source and sell variations of the Arabica coffee plant, but each variety has a slightly different genetic makeup due to generations of varying development and care.
A comparison we like to use to explain this concept is comparing coffee plants to apple trees. All apple trees are essentially the same tree, but the fruits they produce have different textures, mouthfeels, acidities, sweetnesses, and even colors. Think of a Granny Smith and a Red Delicious apple. One is green while the other is red. One is more tart while the other is known for its sweetness. Coffee is similar in this sense. All coffee, whether Arabica or Robusta, started as the Rubiaceae plant. From the Rubiaceae, two major offshoots occurred. One is Arabica, and the other is Robusta. We don't talk about Robusta much at Sagebrush because it's often considered lower quality coffee, and as a specialty coffee business we only Arabica beans.
Some varieties, even if they are Arabica, can be low quality or more susceptible to disease. Some, on the other hand, are so special that they shine amongst their genetic cousins. Gesha is one of these coffee super stars. It's one of the most exclusive and unique coffee varieties out there.
Gesha coffees are incredibly dynamic with powerful flavor notes. They are known as the top-tier royalty of coffee varieties and broken records in auction prices at coffee competitions. In August 2021, a specific lot of Gesha 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 Gesha beans several times in the past and are always on the lookout for a new amazing one. So, what makes a Gesha coffee special, and why can it be so expensive?
Gesha coffee is a hybrid variety of the Arabica plant family. It is often correlated with coffee from Panama, but Gesha 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. This heirloom plant would later be taken to Latin America, where it would be cultivated and begin to spread in popularity throughout the world of specialty coffee.
Gesha or Geisha?
When looking at Gesha beans you may see it spelled both as "Geisha" or "Gesha." Here at Sagebrush we use both spellings, but why is that? The variety got its name from the mountains it was found in, the Gesha Mountain in Ethiopia. The spelling adjustment to "Geisha" is believed to have been an attempt to make the Gesha name more familiar to countries outside of Ethiopia. Both spellings are acceptable and can be used interchangeably, and both are pronounced the same (gay•shuh).
More About Gesha
In the 1950s, Gesha 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 Gesha coffee plant, the Hacienda la Esmeralda farm introduced Gesha beans at the 2004 "Best of Panama" coffee auction. The taste evaluators were floored with the delicious and unique flavors, and the acclaim of Gesha 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. Today, there are so many variations of Gesha coffee depending on origin, care, and processing, that price can fluctuate but it is usually on the higher end. Some coffee shops will sell a cup for around $9, while another shop will sell it for $75 or more. Both of these prices are pretty high for one cup of coffee but there is still an obvious difference between them.
Gesha beans are known for having a unique flavor profile that is distinctively floral and fruity. The type of fruit flavor can vary depending on the origin, but common notes are mango, guava, papaya, and citrus. This exceptional taste can be traced back to Ethiopia, where it all began, and has given Gesha coffee a reputation that has attracted passionate coffee-drinkers far and wide.
Is It Worth the Price?
Multiple factors contribute to the high price of Gesha beans. The first is that it is a tricky plant to cultivate. For a successful crop, you need to have a higher altitude of at least 1,700-1,950m. Additionally, the timing of the harvest has to be precise with expedited processing. Looking at things on a more biological level, the foliar system of the Gesha 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 Gesha plant cannot produce as many beans as other coffee plant varietals.
With Gesha beans, it is more about quality than quantity. Year after year, the Panama Gesha variety has received the highest scores from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Out of the SCA's 100-point scoring system, Gesha 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 Gesha coffee have dramatically increased.
Another comparison we like to use here at Sagebrush is between coffee and wine. Sometimes I'll buy a $10 bottle of wine to have with a home cooked meal, and other times I'll splurge on a $100 bottle of wine at a nice restaurant. Coffee is the same, except you can enjoy a bag for more than one or two sittings. To explore this comparison a bit more, read this blog that Jonathan wrote called A Case for Expensive Coffee.
The reputation of Gesha as a variety has continued to gain momentum. From its beginnings in Ethiopia to its popularization in Panama, the Gesha variety has grown from uncertainty to being one of the most sought-after beans.