The first thing to know about a Geisha Coffee is that "Geisha" is the name of a varietal of the coffee plant. A particularly temperamental varietal that is difficult to grow and really only thrives at high altitudes. Why grow a coffee that is so needy? It has the potential to produce some of the most unique flavors we may ever find in coffee. Geisha coffees can seem like coffees from another world. They're not afraid to break free of the taste profile we expect in coffee.
The Geisha plant blew up in 2004 when a farm in Panama entered their Geisha lot in that year’s Taste of Panama coffee competition. The Geisha won. The judges were shocked to experience it's Ethiopia like flavors from a Panama coffee. Now Geisha coffee's go for some pretty high prices at coffee auctions and thus end up as somewhat pricier cups to be enjoyed when they've finally made it to a shop.
Because of that event, Panama is where most people know the Geisha coffee from. However, it's only been grown in Panama since the 1960s. The real story of the Geisha began much earlier when it was found in the 1930s in the mountains of Ethiopia around a town called..."Gesha"...cool name right? There were a few experimental lots planted after it's discovery. Then in the 1950s some Geisha seeds made their way from Tanzania to Costa Rica's CATIE coffee research center. Somewhere around 10 years later Geisha coffee trees made their way to Panama.
Most early attempts to grow Geisha resulted in not-so-great coffee because the trees were planted too low down. A short while later the varietal was essentially forgotten. It was still occasionally grown in Costa Rica and Panama but usually blended with other varietals which hid most of it's unique qualities.
So do Geshas really live up to their hype? Sometimes. Sometimes a Gesha grown in Panama might just taste like it's from Ethiopia. Sometimes a Gesha coffee, grown under the right conditions and roasted to perfection, might challenge everything you thought you knew about coffee. Both are pretty fantastic results if you ask us.