Geisha Coffeee

Today I’ve been roasting up a small batch of washed Geisha Arabica from Café Kotowa in Panama, in advance of Cup North coffee festival in Manchester this weekend. It’s got me thinking a little bit about what makes this varietal of coffee so special, with it’s distinct floral, papaya and orange aromatics.

Yet, it’s still rarely seen in the UK, partially due to the high price the beans fetch and partly down to a lack of education about it. Panama still flies the flag for the best examples of this coffee, but perhaps roasters, baristas and consumers have felt a little let down with examples from other origins and farms that haven’t quite captured the classic Geisha profile.

Below are some words I wrote back in 2012, only a few of which reached print in Roast magazine (May-June 2013) for an article written by the legendary Willem Boot (“Exploring the Holy Grail – Geisha Coffee 10 Years On”.) Here I responded to thoughtful questions posed by him and his team, and I don’t think my answers would have changed much over the last 2 years.

Is the market for Geisha expanding, and will the coffee – with the attendant high prices – become a category in itself or will the coffee become what JBM (Jamaica Blue Mountain) is in this industry (a rarity coffee with more marketing appeal than true flavour promise)?

DB In a worldwide sense, there’s a clear expansion of the Geisha market with more roaster access, consumer interest and increasing production. The UK coffee scene has been a little slow to react to the Geisha phenomenon, but that could be a combination of roaster and importer wariness over price and selling the coffee but also a lack of consumer demand. With Panama and the SCAP the main driving force of this varietal, there’s an overall lack of specialty Panama coffee in the UK – hopefully 2013 should see a change in this.

Whenever we’ve done blind tastings with customers, roasters or baristas, the Geisha on the table has nearly always blown the competition away – from the initial smell in the dry through to the final taste. People perceive it as sweeter, juicier and having that little bit extra.

I believe Geisha will help drive consumer interest in finding out more about single varietals and their desire to understand the differences between them – from the coffee varietal itself or if the flavor profiles are created by processing, climate or other factors. JBM today is simply a matter of supply and demand and a brand name that’s more important than the taste in the cup – Geisha delivers the quality in the cup so roasters and consumers will be happy to pay more for it.

How do you perceive the flavour of Geisha coffee? What flavour notes are important to you in this bean?

DB It’s over 5 years since I first had the opportunity to cup a Geisha coffee (unsurprisingly from Hacienda La Esmeralda), and it already had the early stages of the hype attached to it at the time so I approached it cautiously. But it simply blew me away, not only from a technical scoring perspective but from my sensory and emotional reaction too. A genuinely unique experience and Geisha coffee continues to do this to me.

What do I perceive and what do I value in this coffee? Jasmine and rose hip florals, mandarin orange through to stone fruit aromatics; super sweetness and complex acidity in perfect harmony; elegance in the flavour and finish.

With Geisha coffee it’s that rare example of where you can actually taste the characteristics of the varietal – there may be great Geisha and bad Geisha but you can still perceive those floral notes and the orange citrus. During Panama Best of Panama discussions between the national jury and international, there’s always the question of “Geisha-ness” – there’s a heightened expectation of the aromatics and flavor profile and the coffee has to exhibit these characteristics to a high scoring level.

With BoP having a distinct Geisha category now, it means a Geisha coffee really has to stand out from the crowd. It’s easier for this to happen when in a blind cupping against Caturra, Bourbon or more traditional varietals, and unfairly so, as the Geisha is just noticeably different. I guess it’s a similar situation to Pacamara and Bourbon in El Salvador.

Did you ever or do you ever doubt the integrity of the product’s offering? Is it 100% Geisha, or has it been mixed with other product?

DB Its never even crossed my mind. We’ve only bought Geisha from Panama and it’s not just a case of trusting the producers implicitly but there’s also the tell tale signs in the shape of the bean and cup profile.

Are there limitations in the shelf life of Geisha? What storage protocols do you use and/or recommend?

DB In the green form, I’ve heard first hand stories of Geisha coffees that have died on arrival and been rendered unsellable when there’s no wow factor aromatics to back up the hefty price tag. However, this could be true of any coffee that’s not been dried or shipped correctly. In vacuum or grain pro we’ve had no problems with the green, but I’d consider protective methods to be critical for the shipping of Geisha.

From roasting to customer, I think any coffee with fine floral aromatics needs to be treated carefully and in the hands of the end consumer as soon as possible. Washed Geisha needs to be brewed fresh.

At least 4 countries produce Geisha coffee: Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Guatemala, and others will follow. Which of these countries’ Geisha have you purchased and tasted and which do you prefer and why?

DB Injerto in Guatemala has produced some killer Geisha coffee (described separately as Ethiopia and Central American if I’m correct), which we’ve sampled but never bid for at auction. I’ve tried Costa Rica Geisha from a specific farm which has been tasty but perhaps not exhibiting the full Geisha spectrum, so we haven’t bought. Geisha from Café Takesi in Bolivia would be intriguing to try…

Our primary interest lies in Panama Geisha because there’s not only the history and quality in the cup, but also lots of pioneering work on the varietal. From planting Geisha at higher altitudes (Los Lojones), to natural processing (last harvest of this from Esmeralda was stunning) to the amazing processing projects at Ninety Pus Gesha Estate. I Ioved their HP honey Gesha and was lucky enough to cup a table with Steve Holt that had a coffee bean separation experiment that had to be tasted to be believed.

Do you support the idea of a Geisha certification process so that there is some guarantee that the Geisha you are buying is authentic and comes from a trusted source?

DB If this is what the producers want to see, then I’d support it. Otherwise I believe that direct sourcing and relationship from producer to roaster to consumer is the only required guarantee of a coffee

Do you feel that Panama Geisha should be certified by itself because it’s the “mother of all Geisha”?

DB Hmm, well it did come from Ethiopia right?? The Serracin and the Peterson Families deserve the worldwide credit for pioneering this varietal, and Panama Geisha should be considered unique in it’s own right. But again, I’m not sure about certification unless it’s something that the producers wish to see.