The Coffee Trail. Panama: Geisha, Geisha and Geisha.

With no particular expectation prior to the encounter, Rachel agreed to receive us on her return from Asia.  Already I had deduced that the destination of her voyage represented the market for her coffee.  I will obtain answers to thousands of questions that have concerned me on the subject of the reputation of this arabica: the Geisha.  The same feelings as during my exploration of coffee origins in Hawaii came back to me, I want more than ever to demystify the notoriety of the “Geisha”. 

History and specifics: Geisha is the name of an original botanical variety discovered in 1930 in the town of Geisha in the mountains of southwest Ethiopia.  Cultivation began in the 1960s in Panama.  However, all of the impact and reputation of “Geisha” began in 2004 with the Best of Panama event (BOP), a contest developed and established in 1997 by the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP) during which it won the honour of first prize.  Since this phenomenon, a wave has been created on the Planet Coffee scene. 

Monday, 9:00 a.m., Rachel is there at the meeting place, we leave right away to explore the farms the hacienda owns at Boquete.  We traverse majestic landscapes that unfold before us due to the altitude at which the plantations are located.  The plant, a coffee tree of the “Geisha” type, displays a different allure, in size tall enough, with fine leaves.  Many of the plots contain ripe fruit, but most are only just beginning.  Boquete is a town truly unique for the roads used to reach the production area directly. They are mostly paved, which is truly exceptional. 

Hacienda Esmeralda

It is the Peterson family that welcomes us to these lands.  Rachel is the granddaughter of the hacienda’s founder, the California native Rodolph A. Peterson, an American of Swedish extraction.  Acquired by the Petersons in 1967, the farm formerly belonged to Hand Elliot, a Swede who had owned it since 1940.  During the 1980s the farm diversified into coffee cultivation and today, the total area devoted to coffee spreads over 50 hectares.  It was to follow up on what happened in 2004 that Rachel’s brother Bob became interested in “Geisha”.  After several years of research and trials, he undertook a program to plant this variety in carefully-selected locations.  Altitude, shade and soil, of the volcanic type, are important and necessary factors in order to maximize yields and achieve this coffee’s fine complexity. 

The Moment of Truth: In the Cup.

Strategy: I advise you to before tasting to remain calm and not have any expectations.  Surely because I completed training as a sommelier late in life, and also by the chance of having tasted wines from the great vineyards, I always let my mouth decide, not my head. 

The table is set, four coffees await us.  I go in blind, without seeking any information in advance on what we will have to analyze.  The first is suave, with a floral finish, but lacks acidity.  The second is round in the mouth with a bouquet of white fruits at the finish.  The third is all fragility with its fine acidity that tickles my taste buds gracefully in aftertaste.  Aromas of jasmine are revealed.  The last one surprises me, with a delicate winy presence, my first reflex is to see a trap.  Often during cupping sessions, the “Catador” or laboratory chief tests us with a cup that has a flaw.  I remember having experienced this situation several times and in different countries.  I maintain my sang froid and continue, tasting the second cup.  Every time we perform this exercise, five infusions of each coffee are always prepared, because of the risk of coming across one or more bad beans.  The second cup confirms the flavour, and I deduce that we are tasting a coffee that has been treated using a marginal post-harvest process. 

Rachel and the laboratory chief, Laurie, confirm to me that the four coffees analyzed are “Geisha”.  The first three come from cultivations on tracts at different altitudes, the fourth was of the same family, transformed by a natural process.  The fruit is dried in the sun and then hulled, which is what gives it its winy aspect. 

From this tasting, Rachel wanted to share with me that she pretends there is “Geisha”, “Geisha” and “Geisha”.  The organoleptic quality of the same botanical variety provides a cup directly correlated to the altitude, the type of soil chosen, the angle of the terrain and the environment of the tract.  In most agricultural operations that humans by their dexterity and art can transform, as with wine for example, the know-how of the vintner is the key to success.  We observe the qualities of a coffee cultivator alert to market tastes and possessing the expertise and the virtuosity required to give birth to the magic of this plant.  My most precious souvenir from this experience, the honesty and transparency of this woman.  Thank you for your integrity Rachel. 

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