There’s a real buzz about ‘Geisha’ coffee right now. It’s won a whole bunch of specialty coffee awards and has attracted a lot of acclaim from coffee connoisseurs worldwide. It’s even been described as ‘God in a cup’.
Despite all that, it has a shroud of mystery around it. It’s hard to find, and you are unlikely to be able to get it in your local coffee shop (unless you are particularly lucky). You certainly won’t find it in the average supermarket. So this begs the questions, what exactly is Geisha coffee and what makes it so special and so exclusive?
What is Geisha coffee?
First of all, Geisha coffee has nothing to do with the Geisha performance artists of Japan. Instead, we need to head to Africa to learn about the origins of Geisha coffee.
The village of Gesha in Ethiopia is its original home, although the name of the coffee is now more often spelled Geisha. Coffee has been grown in Gesha for centuries.
However, in the 1930s, seeds harvested from Gesha’s coffee plants were planted in Costa Rica, Tanzania and then eventually in Panama in the 1960s. As it worked out, this was the beginning of its rise to international acclaim. More on that later.
Today, however, Geisha coffee means specialty coffee beans from the particular variety of plant originating from Gesha, whether it is grown in Africa, South America and elsewhere.
What makes it so special?
There are several reasons Geisha coffee stands apart from other coffees.
Its unique flavour
Geisha coffee is very distinctive. For a start, it is particularly fragrant and floral. Many feel the fragrance is as enjoyable as a fine perfume, reminiscent of rose, jasmine and bergamot.
The taste is just as special. It is lighter and fresher than many other coffees, even tea-like. It is both fruity and floral with citrus flavours. It is complex, delicate and incredibly interesting. There’s a slight honey-like sweetness combined with a slight acidity, too, which many find incredibly tantalising.
The plant itself needs unique growing conditions to make the best Geisha coffee
Ethiopian farmers initially favoured Gesha plants for their rust-resistant qualities rather than the flavour they produced.
It was only when the Gesha coffee seeds were planted in Panama in the 1960s that the true potential of this coffee was realised. There, it found its ideal soil conditions, climate and altitude for optimal growth and harvests. This improved the taste of the beans, too.
Now, there is an expectation attached to Geisha coffee that it must be grown in prime locations that bring out its best qualities. Thankfully for coffee lovers, several other areas have been found that give the Gesha plants all they need to thrive. You can now find incredible Geisha coffees originating from Africa- including other parts of Ethiopia, Central and South America.
Geisha coffee is still relatively difficult to find, however. Because the conditions it loves are rare, it is still very exclusive.
The very best farming practices and production processes are used
To bring out the exquisite flavour of Geisha coffee, it needs to be farmed and produced in a unique way.
First of all, growing Geisha coffee plants takes dedication since it isn’t the easiest variety of coffee to cultivate. And then, when the harvest is ready, the coffee cherries must be handpicked. This is so that only the most flavoursome fruit makes its way into the final product.
The coffee cherries are then dried slowly, spread out in the sunshine for as long as it takes to reach the optimal humidity level. During this time, they must be carefully monitored to prevent over-drying.
All this attention to detail results in the exclusive, premium coffee that coffee connoisseurs expect from the Geisha name.
How should you drink Geisha coffee?
Geisha aficionados are largely in agreement that Geisha coffees are best drunk black or with a little milk as possible. Flavours are delicate and subtle, and too much milk can detract from the innate qualities of this coffee.
Many also believe that Geisha is also not ideal as an espresso; again, because of its delicacy. While it’s a matter of personal taste, the best idea is to treat it with respect and keep it as simple as possible.
Take your time to brew Geisha coffee carefully. With a French press, ideally use filtered water and be careful not to burn the coffee with boiling water. Allow your water to cool very slightly before pouring instead.
Three varieties of Geisha coffee to look out for
Fancy seeing what all the hype is about? Here are three stand out Geisha coffees to get your hands on.
Supernova Geisha from Panama
The production of this coffee is painstaking and time consuming but the results are phenomenal.
Producer Ricardo Koyner of Finca las Brujas takes the freshly harvested Geisha beans and places them in a sealed tank. Here they are inoculated with yeast and left to ferment without oxygen for 5 days. This production method is known as ‘anaerobic fermentation’ and allows pleasant acidic flavours to further develop.
After carefully monitored drying for several weeks, the beans are then ‘rested’ for four months which enhances the flavour even more. The results are sweet, particularly fruity, and chocolatey.
Nebula Geisha from Guatemala
The La Rosas farm in Guatemala produces a beautiful Geisha coffee, reminiscent of blackberry, plum and black tea.
The Palmita family has been farming coffee in the same spot since 1900 and their 620 acre coffee plantation is adjoined by an even larger rainforest preserve.
They use the ‘honey’ method of Geisha production. This means that the naturally found sticky mucilage is not totally removed before drying as it often is with many other coffee production methods. Once the coffee is dried, the mucilage gives the coffee a subtle honey or caramel-like sweetness.
Carbonic Natural Geisha from Panama
This Geisha coffee comes from an incredible farm, run by the Lamastus family, amidst a protected rainforest filled with diverse and beautiful wildlife.
Everything the farm does has this ecology at the forefront of its mind and all coffee is produced with exceptional care and consideration. As a result of this dedication, their coffees are among the most expensive in the world.
Their Geisha coffee is created using a slow-dry, anaerobic method of production. The results are an exquisitely fruity cup that has the reputation of being one of the world’s best tasting coffees ever produced.
Each and every variety of Geisha coffee you are lucky enough to find will have its own distinctive qualities. What they have in common, however, is the dedication of people committed to producing the world’s most delicious beans in some amazing locations.
If you love coffee, it will be well worth your time sourcing these unusual, incredibly special coffees.
Drew Dennehy is the co-founder of Three Coffee, one of the region’s leading specialty coffee companies, headquartered in Dubai. His passion for coffee has led to the pursuit of career opportunities around the world from New Zealand and Europe to the United Arab Emirates. Drew’s goal is to enhance the coffee experience and ensure the industry is sustainable at every level. “We will achieve this by telling the story of the farmers who make each cup possible.”