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Coffee Varieties: Gesha

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Geisha variety coffee blossoms on Hacienda la Esmeralda. [Photograph: Counter Culture Coffee on Flickr]

Variety isn't just the spice of life: It's also one of the most beautiful and exciting things about coffee. We've been exploring some of the diversity that exists among coffee plants lately, starting with the heirloom coffees of Ethiopia. Today we'll peek at a coffee with an exotic flavor to match its name (even if it is a bit of a misnomer): Gesha.

Probably the best-known single variety of coffee, this type has been made famous by plots of it being cultivated on land owned by the Peterson family in Boquete, Panama. The Petersons' farm, Hacienda la Esmeralda, has become a kind of a trademark spot for the coveted plant, which originated near the Ethiopian town of Gesha (which is what the coffee is called outside of Hacienda la Emseralda) and was planted in Panama as a Leaf-Rust resistant type in the 1950s. Geshas can also be found in Honduras and Colombia among other origins, and as they continue to command exceptional prices on the specialty market, no doubt they'll be popping up on more farms before long.

The most striking thing about Gesha variety coffees is that they taste nothing like their Latin American counterparts: Instead of the chocolate and mellow-but-crisp acidity that quality coffees from Panama typically express, these are more delicate and intensely floral, not unlike the heirloom Ethiopian varieties we've already discussed. Jasmine or orange blossom, sweet clover honey, lightly toasted green tea—well cared-for Geshas are a stand-out on a cupping table.

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Gesha plant on a coffee farm. [Photograph: Counter Culture Coffee on Flickr]

In fact, one of the Petersons' coffees from Esmeralda, a lot called Lino, just helped my friend and colleague Erin McCarthy win the World Brewers Cup championship, an international competition that rewards the best cup of coffee in terms of presentation, extraction, and cup quality.

You'll usually have to cough up a big of change to taste one, though: Green coffee from Hacienda la Esmeralda sell to roasters worldwide in an online auction, and have gone for as much as $170 per pound unroasted in years past. That typically translates to an individual cup price of $10—or even way more.

If you're feeling extravagant, Intelligentsia Coffee currently has a Colombian Gesha variety called Santuario available for $80.50 for a half pound. (YOLO, as the kids say.)

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista, an audacious eater, and a smiling runner, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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