Introduction by Chris Kornman
Smack in the middle of Colombia’s Valle del Cauca department are a collective of farms, co-managed by brothers Luis and Rigoberto Herrera, the third generation in the family’s line of coffee growers. Their farms – Cerro Azul, Las Margaritas, La Esperanza, Potosi, and Hawaii – exemplify 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. 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. This Crown Jewel is this year’s culmination of the Herrera brothers’ work for the 2016 harvest, and we couldn’t be happier to add it to our menu.
We had the opportunity to host Rigoberto and his marketing/sales coordinator Felipe a few months ago here in the Bay Area, and then to join them for a whirlwind 2-day tour of Los Angeles to promote their coffees. Rigoberto is a man who exudes humility, passion, and vast knowledge of cultivation, speaking with us in detail about the Cerro Azul farm (which is entirely dedicated to the 30,000 trees of the Geisha variety) and why its unique microclimate is particularly suited to the cultivation of a fickle cultivar. 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 19-22 hours depending on the temperature. Mechanical dryers are used for precision slow drying, and the resulting coffee is unparalleled.
One of many unique features of the coffee’s flavor is its propensity to retain the acidity commonly associated with high grown Colombian coffees, but not necessarily affiliated with the Geisha variety. When roasted to a relatively light degree, the coffee showcases both floral and citric notes that provide a fascinating example of the adaptation of a cultivar’s flavor profile to the terroir in which it is grown.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
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 a myriad of 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.
This particular Geisha, from Cerro Azul in Valle del Cauca, exhibits the expected longberry seed type and is dried precisely. Surprisingly, the density is very average-looking, despite the high elevation, which makes me wonder if the shape of the seeds affects the way it settles in the graduated cylinder. As with all long shaped type seeds, the risk of tipping in the roaster are an ever present danger and care should be taken to apply heat evenly when roasting.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
Both roasts of our gesha performed nicely on the cupping table, but amplified different attributes of this cultivars dynamic acid structure. Our first roast, PR-439 was very floral with notes of jasmine, rose, and nasturtium with a lovely dark chocolate. Our second roast, PR-440, had a bit more sweetness and balance with a lot of peach nectar, lavender, and pink grapefruit.
Brew Analysis by Chris Kornman
This delicate Colombia Geisha was, by all accounts, most enjoyable when brewed through a paper filter and sipped. By and large, the coffee’s nuanced complexity was less apparent the day after the roast on the cupping table than it was in our Chemex brews, which were both sweet and lush with a lot of the floral and stone fruit notes we’ve come to expect from this celebrated, extraordinary cultivar.