Gesha – is it all that?

I cupped the auction samples for the Tuesday auction of Panama Esmeralda Especial, their Gesha (or Geisha as everyone else writes it) lot selections. I guess being the most celebrated coffee of a celebrated cultivar has its downside, and it’s easy to take shots at Esmeralda Gesha when it isn’t anything but a 95+ point coffee. But the lots this year showed the full range of qualities, which oddly ended up ranked in order from lot 1 to 7 as they are in the auction. 1-4 lots are solid coffees, 5-7 are second tier… well, 7 is maybe even third tier Gesha with muddled character. But it begs the question; how good is great Gesha and how good is average, lower-grown Gesha. It’s a question that came up often at the Best of Panama competition (see my video listed below). Do we compare Gesha only to itself, where the lower grown lots suffer in scores, or globally to all other coffees, where even the lower grown lots score well, be they a bit murky and ill-defined in cup character? Should we compare them to fine washed Ethiopia coffees, which bear some resemblance in terms of flavor (jasmine, berry, bergamont, light body, etc)? And this leads to the question of how to price Gesha. Is it 3x better than a great Yirgacheffe, and therefore deserving triple the price? How should a mediocre Gesha be priced, when it is still a very interesting cup … and doesn’t that price encourage everyone to plant this type, even when they have no hope of growing great Gesha? And how will it be priced in the future when everybody and their uncle grows it? (They already do – wait a couple years for all this Gesha to come into production!) Did anyone else see the NY Times article about the P’ur Tea price bubble in China and think not a little about the Gesha bubble? All I can say is that the 95+ point Gesha of last year does not exist, I believe, in the small harvest of this crop. Sure, the Esmeralda is great, but is it like the #2 lot in last years auction, or the #3 peaberry? Wasn’t the #6 lot we offered at around $10 last season still a really nice cup, be it not the best Gesha ever? It gives me pause, since I am sitting here at home on the weekend trying to brew the #1 lot in the Tuesday auction, trying to get a great result in Vacuum pot, Aeropress, Pour-over, and … well… it’s a nice coffee, but not the 93.5 I gave it in my cupping room Friday. So it’s not just about asking whether the marketplace should encourage this, should pay this, should endorse it. I am asking myself how I should behave as well, and what best serves our customers. I don’t want to be part of any bubble, to wake up some morning and regret being involved in hype. I am not saying the Gesha phenomenon is that, but it’s a good question that I need to ask myself, and I hope others do as well… I also think about phenomenal Kenya arrivals this week, which are just the tipof the iceberg. Kenya has a big crop and great qualities. We bought heavily, and at high prices. But “high” means coffees we will be offering at $6 or perhaps up to $7 per pound. And we still are offering vac-packed Esmeralda Gesha #2 from the last harvest at $125 per pound! That’s what’s on my mind this fine Saturday …

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10 Responses to “Gesha – is it all that?”


  1. 1 Golasso

    The gesha issue worries me — I am just a consumer that roasts 30 lbs a year, but what worries me is the point you raised. If everyone starts planting gesha, what happens to bourbon, typica, catuai etc? What happens if Kenya or Rwanda or some other great coffee producing nation decides to nationalize the coffee industry and mandate that gesha is planted everywhere thinking that they’ll get $20 per pound instead of $2? At least with the JBM craze it was more about the “where” of the coffee than the “what.” Do you think gesha will become a world wide thing, or will it be limited to Panama and maybe Costa Rica here or there? How hard is it to keep farmers from deciding top replace their existing trees with gesha?

    BTW, loved the video from Panama.

  2. 2 James Hoffmann

    My experience and understanding of origin is extremely limited compared to many, but I couldn’t help but be slightly unnerved by the amount of farms putting aside space, or begin to grow Gesha – especially in Costa Rica.

    All referenced the price of the 2007 auction when asked about why. I wanted to know more about the variety and there isn’t much written about it in coffee literature apart from references to some trials in Costa Rica where Gesha was rejected for having a lower yield and unspectacular cup.

    These studies were from the 60s and I am sure a lot has changed in terms of knowledge when it comes to growing and processing great coffees. I do worry about people loading the variety with the burden of success – almost ignoring the hard work done and skill that Esmeralda must surely rely upon to create such a great coffee.

    Perhaps our urge to simply everything would mean that if the same cup was produced from Typica then we’d all be obsessing over how they were washing the coffee, or the way they fed the trees – looking to find the one simple thing to explain it all.

    All this also makes me wonder about the transparency of variety, as well as the flexibility of our expectations. Would a Gesha lot be rejected or downgraded if it was a super-sweet, very chocolatey and heavy cup – despite the desirability of those flavours when produced from other regions or varieties.

    I am asking too many questions. I’ll stop now.

  3. 3 ovenroasted

    Hey Tom I’m getting my Kenyas Tuesday and I’m super stoked about it! Can’t wait to get them. I didin’t buy big but If I love these I’ll get more. Really looking foward to what you are gonna bring from Panama. Cheers!

    axel

  4. 4 Thompson

    there was a couple comments on this from facebook too:

    1 – Wendy De Jong made a comment about your note “Gesha – is it all that?”: we had 2 sets of samples, and each set cupped differently because of the roast. they are so tricky to roast. I don’t agree that they ranked in order from 1-7, but I might have if we had only roasted and cupped one set of samples. I do agree, not as good as last year, but I still find the Mario coffees to be the best, classic profile. But I think their VERY BEST went to the Best of Panama competition this year, and is not even offered in their private auction.

    2 -Darrin Daniel made a comment about your note “Gesha – is it all that?”: thought this year was uniformally not that exciting. i think your comments are valid…i been thinking the same thing and wondering why we are not showering ethiopia with $$$ instead of this type of situation. good thoughts, Tom

    I (Tom) would say again that even a lower grown Gesha, or even if last year was a little better perhaps, Gesha is amazing, Esmeralda Gesha in particular. But James brings up a good point, that this “Gesha Rush” oversimplifies the issue of exactly how to grow great coffee, great Gesha in particular. I am sure we could learn a thing or two from faddish wines, and in that vein I referenced the P’ur tea phenomenon. But in the least it leaves me, and some others too, feeling ambivalent. And it’s winse to underscore the other issues with Gesha; hard to grow, hard to process well, hard to roast. It’s not just the slam dunk that growers, roasters, or coffee drinkers would want it to be.

  5. 5 Thompson

    By the way, Rachel wrote on FB:
    Rachel Peterson at 12:39pm May 18
    The Best of Panama lot was a mixture of lots 3 (Carnaval) and 4 (San José), half and half. If you buy one of each of those lots and mix them you’ll have the exact same as the Best of Panama lot.

  6. 6 Thompson

    Well, auction is over and the results are fairly surprising as Tim notes below. There were the normal super high prices, and the #2 and #3 lots (which I thought might have been the best, most balanced, cleanest Gesha types) went for $28-35. Shocking was the #6 and #7 that were murky in the cup, nice, but on par with the #5 lot last year that went for $7/lb. Those went for like $25! That’s weird. Do people actually cup ??? Anyway, we took our ambivalence to the auction and bought 2 lots of the #2 coffee, which was my favorite (along with #3). No … I didn’t start this thread to say I was swearing off Gesha, just to communicate the mixed feelings it brings up and the related issues one thinks about while trying to buy great coffee and do the right thing for both our customers, and the producers of coffee. It’s tricky … -Tom

    Tim Dominick made a comment about your note “Gesha – is it all that?”:

    sorry Tom, too lazy to log the blog.. The coffees were very nice, I agree it was hard to top out above a 94 and there was a decent gulf between top 4 and bottom 3.

    I am surprised the prices are all +$23 a pound. On one hand I am pleased for the Petersons, it was a small harvest and if it ended up yielding 50% of last year the average price needed to be over $24 to net out the same. I like to see people do well and get rewarded for their efforts. They work hard to stay one step ahead of the wave.

    On the other hand, are the lower scoring lots really $24 pounds? With shipping, roasting and marketing can a roaster comfortably sell these coffees for $40-50 a pound? At what point do consumers stand up and say, “wait a minute, why is this $50 when you have a friggin’ awesome coffee from Helsar for $17?”

    Auction psychology is intense. We are in an industry of type-a, competitive people who want to win and hate to lose, be it a triathlon or a hermit crab race.

    Win at all costs?

  7. 7 James Hoffmann

    [blockquote]On the other hand, are the lower scoring lots really $24 pounds? With shipping, roasting and marketing can a roaster comfortably sell these coffees for $40-50 a pound?[/blockquote]

    So shipping, roasting and marketing this coffee costs approx $25 per pound including margin? What about a $3 coffee – does it cost less to ship, roast and market because you rarely see a $25 markup on a coffee like that. I don’t mean to be an arse – I just worry that putting coffees through a % markup doesn’t make sense for super premium coffees. That is a whole other thing though.

  8. 8 Thompson

    Trish Rothgeb made a comment about your note “Gesha – is it all that?”:

    well Tim, I’ve been waiting for consumers to figure out a bunch of these coffee farces for years and they still haven’t, (“why is this Kona so pricey, when I can just go down to Dunkin and get something better?”)
    But the Esmeralda is so celebrated because it was our answer to this. This is a coffee that’s markedly different than almost anything else the consumer has tasted so far.
    Important to remember when I first started roasting that the Kona was better…and so was the La Manita, for example. Back then, I thought I would never taste a more beautiful coffee than La Manita in my whole life it was that good.
    Is it still that good, or have I just had other great coffees since then? Or have other coffees gotten better so they can compete?
    What if the Bagersh (sp?) family had an online auction? There must be a bunch of studies in psychology about auctions and how we feel and act while engaged in them.

  9. 9 Thompson

    james – we don’t use percentages to mark up, which is why our expensive coffees end up seeming inexpensive. but the shocker from the esmeralda auction was that the #5 and #6 and #7 lots which are definitely 2nd tier Gesha went for $25 a lb. Somebody isn’t cupping, or they just want the name so bad, they will buy any lot that is less expensive than the next. that’s where we really get off track with this whole auction thing. the only odd thing about the WAY overpriced #1 lot was that somebody decided to bid like $117 on one, and $95 on the other. huh? they are the same coffee – why not edge up both lots equally. very odd.

  10. 10 James Hoffmann

    Tom – I wasn’t, by any means, accusing you over that kind of markup – more the industry itself.

    The subdivision of auction lots and the pricing is very weird though I guess that maybe the extra $22/lb difference could be marketing spend on getting talked about for spending so much money. Or something.

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