Greatness for the Price of a High Street Cappuccino
At the Best of Panama coffee competition in 2004 a jasmine-scented, unexpectedly fruity coffee wowed the jury. When its identity was revealed the bean turned out to be Gesha, sometimes called ‘Geisha’ though it has bugger all to do with an all-singing-and-dancing Japanese lass . Gesha, the coffee, has its roots in the Gori Gesha forest of Ethiopia, where seedlings were collected back in the 1930’s by the then British consul, Richard Whalley (no relation AFAIK). By 2004 it had rocked up, via Costa Rica, in Panama. This particular one was grown at the now famous Hacienda La Esmeralda in the high elevations of Boquete. Gesha has since been planted all over Panama, and subsequently in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There is also a revival of production in its homeland.
The tasting infused the speciality coffee world with a huge frisson of excitement. Gesha become one of the most coveted coffee varieties and rprices soared. Fast forward to September 2019 when an experimental batch of Gesha from a grower called Ninety Plus was sold to an Emirati entrepreneur for a stratospheric US$10,000 a kilo. Coffee from these beans was retailed at $250 a cup. Of course not all Gesha will fetch that sort of money. The parallels between coffee and wine are becoming more apparent year on year, so, just as every Pomerol does not have the cadre of Château le Pin, not every Gesha can slug it out toe-to-toe with Hacienda La Esmeralda.
Last week, thanks to Gary Grant, MD of Irish coffee importer Imbibe, I had the pleasure of sampling the pleasure of a Panamanian Gesha, La Huella “Canas Verdes”. I made it, as Gary instructed, in my filter brewer, 15g to 250 ml of water, as specified (giving me 4 decent cupfuls from the 60g packet). The resultant brew was remarkable. From the off, the big jasmine hit announced its present. But there was, for me, something equally floral but subtler on the nose that I identified as bergamot. Further on into the cupful I began to conceive the coffee as a meld of Earl Grey tea, fresh veal stock and pinot noir. I don’t this is stretching things too much, the Gesha was, at one and the same time time ultra-fragrant and rich and powerful. My mother, who used “beef tea” as a restorative, I think would have approved. I have frequently drawn equations between coffee and wine – after all, both the grape and the coffee cherry are fruits but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a coffee where the comparison is so apt. The precise, sensitive roasting probably contributed to this and to the long, long finish. There just a slight hint of woodsmoke too, something I’ve often found in Ethiopian coffees, so maybe a genuflection to Gesha’s roots.
Now, get your wallets out and enjoy Gesha’s complexity and uniqueness. Re-mortgage the mansion, flog the spare car. Relax, I’m joking. Thanks to Imbibe, who, I understand, are taking a hit on the project in order to encourage folk to think deeper about the coffee in their cup, you can purchase the “Canas Verdes” for €16 for a 60g pack or €20 per 90g (That’s €3.30 a cup) from their website, http:www.imbibe.ie