Django Coffee Co. - 29/03/2023
Geisha Or Gesha: Why Is It So Special?
The Geisha or Gesha varietal is arguably the most sought-after and cherished of all coffee plants. It is synonymous with exceptional quality, light and fruity flavours and high pricing. You will see Geisha in many coffee brewing competitions around the world and is one of the buzzwords associated with the speciality coffee industry. However, does it deserve the hype and what makes it so popular?
Geisha or Gesha?
It is often assumed that the varietal shares its name with the Gesha Mountain (also named Getcha) in Ethiopia’s Kaffa region. Although the use of geisha or gesha is often driven by the producer, usually influenced by culture. Ethiopian producers tend to retain the name of their local landmark and origin while Latin America's usually use geisha.
Geisha originated in Ethiopia growing wild amongst nature. It has distinct genetic variations and is derived from the modern-day Heirloom variety, one which we have roasted many times and absolutely love.
Ethiopia is the world's pantry of genetic diversity for Arabica Coffee. The complex climate and landscape result in regional divergence across the coffee-growing landscape. The Geisha variety was identified in the 1930s, in the mountainous Gesha region of southwestern Ethiopia. It was first studied in the 1930s in Tanzania by the Tengeru Research Centre and then again by Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Costa Rica, from there CATIE distributed it throughout Central America most notably in Panama. Although it was discovered to be very susceptible to coffee leaf rust its brittle branches and low yield meant it was not favoured by farmers and as a result was largely forgotten.
That was until 1996 when the Peterson family bought the now-famous Hacienda La Esmeralda, in Panama. Here they discovered small lots of wild-growing Geisha plants. David Paterson tried to find unique flavours in the different lots on the farm and it was during this process that he discovered that the Geisha Variety was particularly stunning. Fast forward to 2004, The Peterson family entered their Geisha lot into The Best of Panama Competition and it blew everyone away. Ric Rhinehart of Groundwork Coffee commented that "the coffee had intense berry fragrance in the dry grounds" he went on to describe the aroma and taste "The aroma reinforced that impression with notes of strawberry and a citrus blossom background. On first tasting, I was stunned by the crisp, sweet acidity and the complex fruit flavours." The coffee was so unusual that it attracted a record-high bid of $21/lb, which was then beaten in 2006 and 2007, reaching $130/lb. Nearly 100 times more than commodity-grade coffee. This saw an increase in producers planting Geisha to demand a higher price.
Growing and processing
Geisha is a very demanding plant and will only thrive in certain conditions. It is grown at many altitudes, but anecdotal evidence shows this only shines at elevations over 1500 masl, lower altitude coffee tends to be of poorer quality than those from higher up. It also requires a tropical climate with a prolonged rainy season and cool nights as well as volcanic fertile soil. This is why Panama is such a perfect fit for producing excellent Geisha followed by Costa Rica and Ethiopia.
When harvesting the cherries only the ripest are picked, this is always done by hand for accuracy and results in a very sweet flavour profile. When sorting the cherries larger producers usually do this mechanically although smaller producers will again do this by hand. Hand sorting is much more accurate and produces better quality. As with all coffee, processing can either be by wet or dry methods. Washed Geisha is described as being a much cleaner cup with vibrant acidity, balance and floral fruity notes. Producers are now experimenting with different processing methods such as macerated natural, carbonic and extended fermentation. These different variations of natural processing tends to produce a much more fuller bodied cup that has a bold and more prominent fruity profile with a lower acidity.
The flavour profile of Geisha coffee is the main factor that draws the attention to this coffee. Geisha is well known for its sweet flavour and aroma of floral notes, jasmine, chocolate, honey, and even black tea. These floral notes, and complex flavour profiles are very similar to the characteristics found in East African coffee growing regions, especially Ethiopia. Its unique flavour is a factor in its high price tag and prestige. Geisha as a collective in the cup is complex, floral, expressive, clear, vibrant, and delicious. Our Insight Subscription will contain numerous Geisha lots throughtout the year. This month we have one from Costa Rica. You can subscribe to next month's coffee by clicking here.