Geisha vs Gesha
This variety was originally collected from coffee forests in Ethiopia in the 1930s. From there, it was sent to the Lyamungu research station in Tanzania, and then brought to Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE) in Central America in the 1953, where it was logged as accession T2722. It was distributed throughout Panama via CATIE in the 1960s after it had been recognized for tolerance to coffee leaf rust. However, the plant’s branches were brittle and not favored by farmers so it was not widely planted. The coffee came to prominence in 2005 when the Peterson family of Baquete, Panama, entered it into the “Best of Panama” competition and auction. It received exceptionally high marks and broke the then-record for green coffee auction prices, selling for over $20/pound. Recent genetic diversity analyses conducted by World Coffee Research confirm that Panamanian Geisha descendent from T2722 is distinct and uniform. It is associated with extremely high cup quality when the plants are managed well at high altitude, and is known for its delicate floral, jasmine, and peach-like aromas.
Just like wine, coffee comes in varieties (think Syriah vs Merlot). Some varieties do better in different climates or elevations, have different disease resistance, and of course, different flavor profiles. Geisha is a variety that originated in Gesha, Ethiopia, and was planted sparingly in Costa Rica where it gained a reputation for resistance to a coffee disease called “leaf rust”. Eventually it was planted in Panama, and rumor has it that after a particularly bad year for leaf rust, single variety lots of Geisha were picked and processed for the first time, giving the growers at Hacienda la Esmeralda (Owned by the Petersen Family, mentioned in the story) an opportunity to discover its unusual flavor profile.
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. Panama still seems to be the place Geisha grows best, but Costa Rica, Colombia, and a new wave of Ethiopian farms are now experimenting with the coffee and trying to replicate the success experienced in Panama.