About 100km north of Colombia’s famed salsa dancing epicenter of Cali, one can find a collection of farms co-managed by brothers Luis and Rigoberto Herrera, the third generation in the family’s line of coffee growers. This Crown Jewel is an exemplary, if limited, offering from their recent harvest of Geisha from the Buenos Aires farm.
Buenos Aires is not far from Cerro Azul, the source of a Crown Jewel Geisha selection from a prior harvest cycle, in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca (not to be confused with the separate department of Cauca, located immediately to the south). Valle del Cauca also shares a border with coffee-rich Tolima on the East and its western coast includes the port of Buenaventura through which a large quantity of the country’s coffee is exported.
The brothers’ fincas, collected under the Umbrella organization of Granja la Esperanza, are Cerro Azul, Las Margaritas, La Esperanza, Potosi, and Hawaii. Each farm uniquely exemplifies the innovation and stewardship undertaken by the brothers’ father, who first diversified their coffees to include Yellow and Red Bourbon, Caturra, and Typica back in 1945.
Rigoberto is a man who exudes humility, passion, and vast knowledge of cultivation, speaking with us in detail about the farm and why its unique microclimate is particularly suited to the cultivation of a fickle cultivar. After a year managing a coffee farm in Panama (and taking first place in that harvest’s Best of Panama competition), Rigoberto returned to his family’s farms with the coveted Panama Geisha seeds and began the work of continuing the spirit of the farms’ founders.
In addition to the wind and sun, the humidity and soil and elevation and so many other factors influencing the plants’ growth, there is also an impressive amount of attention paid to processing, including a zero-water depulping with an underwater fermentation stage that lasts between 18-20 hours. They actually perform taste evaluation on the fermentation before washing and drying to confirm the flavor profile, and the resulting coffee is unparalleled.
The Geisha variety’s unlikely origin story begins somewhere close to the town of Gesha in remote western Ethiopia. Coffee berries were picked and transported to Kenya, then to Uganda and Tanzania, and finally across the ocean to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica where attempts to cultivate the trees earnestly began in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Planting there, and shortly thereafter in Panama, was largely abandoned due to low productivity and poor quality. It’s generally accepted today that the variety is fickle, and that its best attributes are highlighted by a combination of elevation, rainfall, soil and nutrient composition, and myriad other environmental and horticultural factors. It seems apparent that either early trials lacked the necessary conditions to produce the sweet, floral attributes now recognizably associated with Geisha, or that those attributes simply weren’t valued the way they are today. In any case, after the explosion into the specialty coffee scene in the mid-2000s, Geisha has been the twinkle of the coffee-buyer’s eye, and it is now widespread amongst growers trying their luck with the storied cultivar.
This particular Geisha, from Buenos Aires in Valle del Cauca, exhibits the expected longberry seed type and shows lower-than-average looking density for a high-altitude Colombia but stable moisture content. Typical for many of the coffees we see from Granja la Esperanza, the water activity is a little high by comparison to the moisture, preemptively indicating a minute or so extra in the roaster might not be such a bad choice for enhanced sugar-browning sweetness. The lowish density indicates it may not require a lot of extra heat to get there, however.
Roasting Geisha is always a pleasure because they are so aromatic. The size and the shape of the Geisha cultivar can easily frustrate a roaster because of its long oval shape. This particular Geisha is less dense than I expected and the seed was not quite as large as some I have roasted before. My usual approach is to roast Geisha similar to the way I roast an Ethiopian coffee with a short overall time and a short post crack development time. This Geisha, however is not very dense and responded well to the slower approach of the first roast to preserve and heighten the floral aromatic character of this coffee. On the other hand, the second roast with its push of heat during the drying stage, produced a sweeter and more balanced cup. Both roasts were easily exceptional because of the quality of the coffee. If you crave a high acid cup and want all the flowers, I suggest stretching out the drying stage and keep your post crack development time short.
Roast one: jasmine, ginger, cranberry, rose, peach juice, bright
Roast two: grilled nectarine, jasmine, sparkling lemonade
There is no soft way to put this – this is an amazingly flexible and delicious coffee. When tasting through the four brews of these two roasts (PR-642 and PR-643), a couple people were convinced they were tasting two different coffees entirely, though the brew times and methodologies were very similar. We had a very slight preference as a group for PR-643 brewed in the Bonavita brewer, and PR-642 brewed with the Kalita, but honestly both of these roasts were very enjoyable. What else would you expect from a Geisha coffee, after all? We weren’t disappointed that with the two liters of Geisha we had at our disposal.
As for notes, the Kalita brought out quite a bit more berry and ‘red’ flavors (for you fellow synaesthetes out there) from PR-642, and this may have contributed to our enjoyment. We noted raspberry, plum, cranberry, and chocolate truffle in our tastings.
The Bonavita emphasized those ‘red’ notes once more, but this time in PR-643. Lemony tartness, apricot and plum stonefruit, and a sparkling clean finish is what drew us to this roast. PR-642 came across as more floral, but less shiny. If you’re looking for a mellower cup made through a batch brewer, PR-642 may be more of your jam. Raspberry jam.