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Panama Geisha Coffee: A Coffee Worth A Thousand

Panama Geisha Coffee is a rare, exotic cup of coffee that is prized by aficionados around the world. This article explores the history, its origins, and its special place in the world of coffee.

Brandon Pierce
September 14, 2022

What coffee lover isn't curious about Geisha coffee? Geisha coffee from Panama, also known as Gesha coffee, is the most expensive coffee in the world market.

At the record auction price of $1029 per pound, it's even pricier than the infamous Kopi Luwak.

Did You Know? Geisha is so unique that once, in the "2006 Best of Panama" competition, a judge stated that tasting it was like seeing "the face of God in a cup."

Despite the exotic allure, the name, and a high price point, Geisha coffee has no connection to Japanese geishas. Today, no other specialty coffee around the world is so coveted.


You better be prepared. If you're going to beat the competition, you're going to pay good money.

The original Gesha coffee bean comes from the wild rain forests of Ethiopia spread over the Gesha region.

 Discovered in the 1930s near an English post, the seeds passed through Kenya and Tanzania, reaching Panama only in the 1960s.

panama geisha coffee history

Even then, it took many years more for people to discover the worth of this unique coffee. In those years, people had known Geisha coffee only for hybridization against disease. Before the rise of specialty coffees, the low yields made it troublesome to grow.

It's in 2004 that this coffee worth revealed itself. The family that owns Hacienda La Esmeralda acquired an estate in the Jamarillo valley.

It's there, in a corner of the farm at 5,300 feet, that they found the Gesha coffee trees. Ten hectares of tall coffee plants with long, curly leaves and bronze tips.

That year, Panama Geisha coffee ended up scoring 95.6 out of 100. It was the first competition in which this coffee appeared. The unroasted coffee sold for $21 a pound at the following auction and things didn't go without a hitch.

As the second-highest lot priced at $2.53, such an expensive development was unexpected, to say the least. So much the auction got shut down to check no one hacked the online bids!

Geisha Coffee: Harvest to Coffee Mill

Like all coffee, Geisha coffee trees thrive at the highest altitudes. This is why Boquete green valleys and slopes, twined around Volcรกn Barรบ, make the region ideal for coffee. At 11,398 feet above sea level, the cherries can ripen for the fullest flavor. But thatโ€™s not all.

Elevation to this coffee variety, it's not just important. It's vital. It develops the unique aromatics and bright taste that makes Geisha so famous. According to farmers, Geisha should be grown high up, at least 4,600 feet above sea level. Or it will lose that unique nuance.

But this Panamanian growing region doesn't just have the perfect altitude for coffee trees. Panama is also so wet that it is famous for triple rainbows and la bajareque, the fog.

Plenty of water to make the coffee trees grow tall. And the volcanic ashes that enrich the soil contribute to the flavor of these beans. Terroir affects the Geisha Arabica quality more than any other Panama coffee variety.

Beyond the microclimate, the growing process of Gesha coffee gets handled very carefully. Beans never grow in direct sunlight, but 40-50 percent shade. When the harvest comes, farmworkers handpick only the genuinely ripe beans. Today, some of the farms that grow it to ensure the coffee bean stays intact even airfreight them instead of container shipping.

panama coffee harvesting

After harvesting, Geisha coffee cherries undergo processing. You can find them processed by either of these three different methods:

  • Washed process: This is the most common process for coffee. Coffee cherries get separated through floating tanks. Whatever floats on the surface are unripe and thus discarded. The rest undergoes a mechanical separation of skins and pulp.

  • Natural process: Caรฑas Verdes, a farm that belongs to H. Esmeralda, started offering naturally processed coffee in the last few years. Some of their finest coffee goes through processing like this. It takes about nine days for the coffee processed this way to be ready.

  • Honey process: Halfway between washed and natural, it affects the coffee bean's taste very much. Cherries are pulped but not washed. Itโ€™s less expensive than the washed process and more environmentally friendly.

Other countries trying their hand at growing Gesha coffee are Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ethiopia. None succeeded in replicating what makes Gesha so special.

The unique conditions that unlock the subtle taste belong only to Panama. Not even every region makes it to the top. The best of the best comes from the highest peaks in the coffee estates.

Panama Geisha Flavor Notes

One could fill a book with how many flavor-notes judges and aficionados notice in a cup of Geisha coffee. And even slight changes in altitude and terroir affect this incredible variety's taste.


Actually, every year it looks almost like new; different tastes become part of the profile. Anyone who has tasted other Latin American Arabica coffees, like Costa Rica, will immediately notice the difference. No chocolate notes, no cinnamon, no nuttiness, and minimal cream. It's closer to Ethiopia specialty coffee, but far more nuanced.

panama coffee flavours

A common trait among all of the Geisha coffees is the bright, light-body, tartness, and intense jasmine notes. Or rose. Some people say they can perceive bergamot, orange peel, citrus, flowers, and honeysuckle in the cup: others, herbal tea notes. And more: a tropical fruit taste like mangoes and papaya.

And more familiar to westerners: strawberries, blueberries, and peach. Even apricots. And some other people, a while ago, even got a taste of vanilla marshmallows. It really makes it worth the price.

Buying Panama Geisha Around the World

In Panama, you can find a cup of Geisha coffee for $9-12, while the prices skyrocket in countries like the United States. There, one cup can cost upward of $75. The price difference is so significant that there is a separate auction for Geishas.

These are  coffee shops and roasters aiming to buy the finest lots of this exceptional coffee. These lots' prices can be as low as $5 per pound and go up to $110 even more micro-lots.

This disparity highlights how the terroir and microclimate can make a massive difference in quality for this plant. Coffee shops that hope to bid on these beans need to prepare themselves for some serious competition. The market is yet another reason why Gesha prices so high. Demand dwarfs the offer by a wide margin.

It's still tough to find Gesha coffee available, especially outside of Panama. Even some elite western coffee roasters (Rocanini, Batdorf & Bronson, Stumptown, and Fourbarrel) have serious difficulties finding a way to serve a cup of Geisha to customers.

You definitely won't see this sold at Starbucks- at least, not in Europe. Japan got to try a premium Gesha exclusive at their local stores. Some other places that got their hands on some, like Monmouth Coffee Company Neal's Yard in London, couldn't get more later. However, here are some places you try around the world:

Panama

  • Cafรฉ Unido. One of the coffee chains in Panama City. Very well known.

  • Bajareque Coffee HousePanama City. It was one of the first shops to sell specialty coffee.

  • Leto Coffee Brew Bar. Itโ€™s a pretty popular place. Panama Geisha Coffee is sold here. 

  • Paddle Coffee. It's found in Panama City, and the shop belongs to Bambito Estate, a coffee producer.

United States

  • Klatch Coffee Roasters. Found in The Bay Area, San Francisco. They sell a couple of Geisha coffees. In 2019 the cafรฉ even offered the much prized Elida Geisha Coffee.

  • Zekeโ€™s Coffee. A popular roaster, they offer Gesha coffee every now and then; owns a couple of shops in Washington DC. Keep an eye out for this place.

Europe

  • Imbibe Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Ireland. Another place you that ships Geishas occasionally. To keep checked often.

  • Bond St. Coffee is located in North Laine, Brighton, which sells Geisha coffee from the Kotowa Farms.

  • Cafรฉs El Magnรญfico. Barcelona, Spain. You can't drink Gesha there but sure can find some Geisha beans to buy.

Online

If you don't live close enough to any of those roasters, you can try buying online from the source. Know this, though: the competition is fierce, and there's little product. But purchasing the top of Geisha coffee from these producers and roasters is well worth a try:

  • La Hacienda Esmeralda

  • Cafe Duran

Cafe Duran: Tradicional Regular  Panama Coffee

Pros

  • 100% Certified
  • Whole Bean
  • Fresh Roasted
  • Medium Roast
  • Hand picked packing
  • Lavanta Coffee Roasters (not always in stock)
  • Volcanica Coffee (their Geisha isn't always from Panama)
  • Panama Coffee Gold Reserve (a few choices of Geisha)
  • Hayman Coffee
Hayman Coffee:  100% Panama Geisha Coffee Beans

Pros

  • 100% Certified
  • Single origin, never blended
  • Fresh Roasted
  • Medium Roast
  • Beautiful box packing

How To Enjoy the Best Geisha Cup

First off, you need to have a good grasp of the roasting process. Roasted Gesha beans should take on some color, but overdo it, and you will find yourself with a bitter, unpalatable cup. The key is to preserve flavor and aromatic oil compounds. If you lack roasting experience, you also stand to lose the coffee great citrus notes and jasmine. So keep your roast light. Temperatures between 412ยฐF โ€“ 433ยฐF are enough. Be careful to stop after the first crack.

Another important thing is to filter all your water. Contaminants such as chlorine will destroy your taste experience.

Third tip: Gesha is also particular about grinding. A medium grind will get you the best results. If it's ground too coarse or too fine, you'll get bitter flavors and miss the aroma.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Do not waste this delicate coffee over espresso. Itโ€™s too harsh a method for it. The best way to enjoy a cup of Gesha is Chemex or other similar ceramic tools. What you want for this brew is a hand-drip pour-over method.

Chemex uses thicker filters than the usual pour-over, allowing water a long time in contact with the coffee grounds and a richer cup without any residue. Another advantage is that Chemex is made of borosilicate glass, one of those materials that won't affect the taste.


Brandon Pierce

About the author

My name is Brandon and I love cold-brew coffee. If you're a fan of everything homebrew, then we'll get along just fine. I also enjoy riding my Onewheel around town, and going on adventures with my future wife! As an online work-from-home advocate, it's important that I stay connected to the world while being able to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

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