• Cher Dayrit

Panama Geisha Coffee

Updated: Oct 9

One of the most sought after coffee beans in the world is here! Panama Esmeralda Geisha coffee Blue Mark

What is Geisha?

Geisha is an original variety of coffee that was discovered in the 1930s in the mountains around the Southwestern town of Gesha, Ethiopia. Geisha trees grow tall and can be distinguished by their beautiful and elongated leaves. The quality of this coffee can be drastically improved when grown at extremely high elevation. Rare and exclusive coffee, Geisha is often associated with coffees from Panama when in fact cultivation of the Geisha varietal only began there in the 1960s.

In the cup, the Esmeralda Geisha displays a good sweetness, clarity and sparkling flavor that may range from melon, fruity, strawberry, sweet, and aroma of intense floral and jasmine. Quite a bouquet for some palates. They are also recognized by the distinctive bergamot oil and orange peel taste, often described as Earl Grey tea! Others have experienced strange notes of marshmallows and vanilla!


Origins of the Geisha Coffee Plant

Geisha Coffee is relatively young in a history of coffee, and it started in 1931 when it was found in Gesha village in the South East of Ethiopia. The name, “Geisha” has no connection with Japanese “Geisha”. It was named after the place of origin: Geisha village.

Geisha beans were brought to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica in Latin America in 1953, through Kenya and Tanzania. Then Geisha species were got into Panamanian plantations in the middle of 1960s. But Geisha species grew slowly and produced less than half coffee cherries in a tree compared with usual species. In addition to that, they tasted bad because they were cultivated at the lower ground. At the result, Geisha trees were replaced by other species and they were laid aside.

In 2000 after several decades had passed, Geisha trees, which were grown up in the Esmeralda plantation in the Boquete area of Panama, produced red big coffee beans like Olives. This is “the rediscovery of Geisha coffee”. When they put the Geisha coffee up to a coffee auction, the high quality and good taste that had never been experienced made many authenticators surprised. And the Geisha coffee was auctioned for $21 per pound, which is ten times of usual coffee price. This news was enhanced to coffee lovers all over the world, but valuable Geisha coffee was difficult to get and was not a type of coffee that everyone could drink.

After the auction, the price of Geisha coffee continued to rise up every year with high reputation from authenticators, coffee lovers, and roasting experts in the world. Since it auctioned for $350 per pound in 2013, Geisha coffee has been looked as the most expensive coffee in the world. Now many plantations cultivate Geisha coffee beans pursing higher quality with the originality of each.


Panama Geisha Coffee Growing Region

Panama Geisha is grown in the highlands of the Boquete region in the Chiriqui Province of western Panama. The particular coffee that won these awards was Esmerelda Special grown by the farm Hacienda La Esmerelda where elevations are from 1,450 to 1,700 meters above sea level (qualifying as Strictly Hard Bean (SHB)) on the slopes of Volcan Baru.


Why Has Geisha Only Become Popular Recently?

Geisha made its spotlight ‘arrival’ to the world in 2004 as the varietal that took the prize at the Best Of Panama (BOP) competition. The BOP is a coffee cupping competition that was established in 1997 by the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP). The best beans from the Panama highlands battle it out to win a place in a special internet auction that fetches high prices. Since then this varietal has been creating waves in the coffee scene, as well as in all coffee championships worldwide.


Geisha Is the Norm in Barista Competitions

It is increasingly common to hear of baristas winning competitions utilising famous Geisha coffee. As a result of this, it turns out that many producers will find a great deal of interest in their coffee the day after big competitions! While Geisha is undoubtedly a beautiful experience, I believe it is somewhat of a surefire way to not disappoint. Geisha has a reputation and this can potentially distract judges away from what these competitions are about. Sensory judges in these very championships are often spoilt silly, with some of them having the honor of drinking more Geisha in a single competition day than they will ever find in a whole year being served in cafes.


The Reality of Geisha’s Non-Existence in Cafes

As much as it is well endeared amongst professionals, the famous Geisha has yet to struck a chord with café consumers. We can partly blame it on the fact that these coffees taste best as filter brews (and cafés are pretty much an 80% espresso based business), lower supply than demand in terms of cultivation, and the hefty price tag.

Truth be told, simply not enough café operators and/or owners are willing to break the bank and buy the greens to be roasted and supplied to their respective cafés only to be drunk by their very own baristas! Customers get turned off by the idea of having to fork out four to five times more than they would for their regular coffee. The reality is that the majority of consumers simply do not possess the knowledge to understand the price and the hype. Some consumers find it too gentle to even be considered as coffee! This is not hard to understand when the standard order is a tall milk-based drink with a blend that is roasted to bring out the chocolate and caramelised flavours while sacrificing bean complexity.


To conclude, the idea of Geisha as a mainstream coffee remains a fantasy as long as businesses are not enticed by consumers to even consider buying Geisha and make it available. Perhaps if a great deal of quality Geisha lots were to become available in the future this fantasy may turn into a reality, but for now that’s just an idea. At the end of the day, consumers drive the demand.


A Sought After Coffee: Panama Geisha

That discovery occurred in 2004, and Geisha has maintained its reputation as an exceptionally unique variety. The flavor profile is delicate and floral, with honeysuckle and bergamot almost always dominant. It also lacks sour and bitter notes. Today it’s variably marketed as Geisha or Gesha (the word carries no meaning). Panama still seems to be the place Geisha grows best, but Costa Rica, Colombia, and even Ethiopia are now experimenting with the coffee and trying to replicate the success experienced in Panama.

The Coffea arabica coffee plant varietal Geisha (Coffea arabica var. geisha) has won numerous coffee tasting awards in recent years, creating a high demand for the coffee at auctions.


Coffee Review

Geisha coffee plants are known for their distinguishing characteristics – elongated fruits, or coffee cherry, and its light body with honey and citrus flavors that provide an outstanding taste profile and cup character.

Geisha coffee exhibits a subdued yet intense floral and jasmine-like aroma and a distinct though delicate acidity, balanced and bright with shimmers of white wine and notes of berries, mango, papaya, and mandarin oranges. The long aftertaste/finish provides distinct bergamot-like notes.


Coffee Brewing Tips

For tips on brewing the perfect cup of Panama Geisha coffee see our section on Coffee Brewing. Geisha coffee demand the utmost care when brewing – not only are they some of the higher priced coffees on the market, but they have so much to offer that time should be taken to brew properly and enjoy.


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