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The Geisha conundrum

This thing has been bugging me for some time and I have tried to build up some facts, rather than a PJ rant, you might be happy to know.

I haven’t bought Gesha/ geisha coffee in years and here is why. There somehow feels like something is wrong when value is transported from one of the poorest countries in the world to a cyclical economy where the financial peaks of coffee are shared amongst the hands of a relatively few very rich people in the developed world. This is, of course, a big part of the whole coffee imbalance, but I believe that Geisha, stands out like a soar thumb.

You may remember that 20 something years ago, a large American coffee chain tried to trademark the Ethiopian region, Yirgacheffe. This would mean that coffee growers (smallholder farmers) from Yirgacheffe would have to have permission and maybe even pay, to say their coffee came from its origin. Imagine paying someone in Ethiopia every time you bought a pork pie or stilton or cheddar cheese? it would be that ridiculous.

The relevance here is that Gesha is a varietal that originated in the Gori Gesha forest, in the Bench Maji zone in the southwest of Ethiopia. World coffee research acknowledges that Panamanian Geisha originates in Ethiopia. There are many varietals, that haven’t been discovered in Ethiopia. We are talking possibly thousands. What is known as Panamanian Geisha is a descendant of the T2722 varietal.

This all seems very heart on my sleeve until you look at what is happening in the Cup of Excellence and The Best of Panama, the most highly regarded and financially rewarded coffee farmers in the world.

2021 Cup of Excellence results In Geshacentric order:

Guatemala 46% Gesha, followed by Pacamara at 25%

Mexico: 9/30 including the top 4 producers used Gesha

Honduras had the highest proportion of winners with a Honduras bred hybrid Parainema, with parents of Villa Sachi and Catimore, followed by Gesha.

El Salvador 50% Pacamara  Gesha 13.5%

Nicaragua: 1 / 23 finalists

Ethiopian  Gesha’s 0.

The winning varietals in the Ethiopian Cup Of excellence are mostly 74’s, which tells us that their cataloging and selection is from 1974. 74110 and 74112 are sub varietals developed by Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) for resistance to the coffee berry disease.

Gesha became famous and was sold for record amounts of money. In 2004 Best of Panama, Hacienda La Esmerelda (1st auction) Gesha sold for all of $21 per lb. The previous highest was $4.80. In 2020 best of Panama was sold at a whopping $1300 per lb. If I have asked my calculator the right questions, that should be about £2200 per kilo green. Best of Panama is predominantly Gesha, but not all.

To wrap this up before I open too many cans of worms, Geisha can be incredible. I have turned Geisha down at £3/Kg green from Malawi, because it was too cheap and didn’t feel right. The idealist in me can be a little one-dimensional, admittedly as all coffee originates from Ethiopia. In another post, I should probably dig deeper into Ethiopian coffee varietals. Even if no one reads this, I have actually learned quite a lot in this quest.

Some of my Sources:


World Coffee Research

Ally Coffee

Perfect Daily Grind