Floral / Tropical Fruits / Complex
About Geisha from Ethiopia to Hacienda La Esmeralda
Region – Boquete
Farm – Hacienda La Esmeralda
Producer – The Peterson Family
Varietal – Geisha
Processing – Natural
Altitude – 1,600 – 1,900 m.a.s.l.
Weight : 125g of roasted coffee
The story of Geisha coffee reaches back to 1936, the time of a British colony in «Abyssinia,» and Captain Richard Whalley, a Consul for the Bench Maji region, who was tasked with collecting 10 pounds of coffee seeds from the area around Geisha Mountain in what is now Ethiopia. Captain Whalley had been tasked with collecting these seeds as part of a census of Ethiopian wild coffee varieties ordered by the Director of Agriculture in Kenya. The wild forests of Ethiopia are the birthplace of coffee, and this survey was done to assess commercial viability of hundreds of «accessions»—small, regional mutations in a main coffee variety—for planting in other British colonies. Even in the 1930s, word had reached the coffee traders at markets in the area of the delicious coffees from the Gesha region.
How the area of Gesha, or sometimes Gecha, became noted down as Geisha is unclear, but reports from the time listed this 10 pound sample collected and hand-processed by Captain Whalley as coming from around Geisha Mountain. This moniker stuck as the seeds subsequently traveled to Tanzania and Costa Rica on their way to Hacienda La Esmeralda. The Geisha coffee seeds were exchanged amongst a network of gene-banks and coffee research stations before arriving at CATIE in Costa Rica, where Hacienda La Esmeralda acquired them. At the time no great mention was made of the samples beyond a resistance to «Ojo de Gallo» a disease affecting coffee trees.
It was Geisha coffee’s resistance to «ojo de gallo» that wound up bringing the seeds to Hacienda La Esmeralda. Coffee had been grown in places on and around Peterson family farms since the 1960s, but it had been variably harvested and maintained, with a large mix of varieties and accessions planted across the farms. In the 1990s, as the farm was devastated by coffee leaf rust, Daniel Peterson noticed that Geisha trees had not been hurt. So they decided to plant Geisha on more parts of the farm and in sections above 1650 masl, higher than Geisha had been planted before.
It was this high-altitude planting of Geisha coffee that helped set in motion the events of 2004, when Geisha’s amazing aromatics first became clear. This was in the leadup to the Best Of Panama competition, an annual coffee cupping competition and auction that had been gaining significant interest amongst a group of next generation coffee producers in Panama. For that year’s competition, the Petersons did something they had never done before: during processing they separated production from different areas of the farm out into individual lots. One of the lots they separated out came from high up in Jaramillo, and when it landed on the cupping table, it blew everyone away.
This was the first time cuppers had gotten to taste a sample that was 100% Geisha coffee, and when they did, it was clear Hacienda La Esmeralda had something new on their hands—the explosion of juicy brightness and multi-layered aromatics in a high-altitude Geisha coffee were more reminiscent of a coffee from Ethiopia then Latin America. Once the initial shock was processed, the cuppers couldn’t get enough of it. Hacienda La Esmeralda went on to win the 2004 Best of Panama competition with their Geisha coffee, and that year set a record for the highest price ever paid for a coffee at auction.
More about Hacienda La Esmeralda
The lands that make up Hacienda La Esmeralda where first brought together as a single estate by a Swede named Hans Elliot in 1940. This land comprised several hundred hectares in what are now the Palmira and Cañas Verdes farms. In 1967, a Swedish- American banker by the name of Rudolph A. Peterson (1904-2003) bought Hacienda La Esmeralda as a retirement venture. At the time, the land was predominantly pasture for beef cattle, with some small smatterings of coffee mixed in.
Coffee had been growing on lands in and around Hacienda La Esmeralda since at least, 1890, and it was this huge reservoir of coffee knowledge and culture that helped the Petersons redevelop much of their land for coffee farming and even make their first coffee farm expansion at Palmira in 1988.
After the events of 2004 and Geisha’s official coming out at the Best of Panama Auction, much of the Peterson’s focus settled on developing an infrastructure to support superior lot separation, meticulous processing, and a healthy auction format. As auction prices grew and grew, so did the demand for experiments like Natural Processing, and for ever more specificity in lots.
Delivering on this infrastructure allowed Hacienda La Esmeralda to look to the future with confidence, and in 2007 the Petersons began a decade-long research project into coffee varieties. It was a happenstance of altitude and lot separation that discovered Geisha’s amazing flavors and aromatics. The hope is that by carefully planting a high altitude environment with many seeds, some from the same germbanks that originated Geisha, other interesting and exciting combinations of variety and microclimate may be found.