Geisha… a beautiful word that conjures images of Japan but, in the coffee world, is also the most sought-after variety due to its ability to win auctions, contests, Brewers’ Cup and barista competitions. Its high demand commands a high price, but this morning I have an accessible and affordable geisha from Switchback Coffee Roasters in Colorado Springs, CO.
SWITCHBACK COFFEE ROASTERS EL SALVADOR LAS DELICIAS GEISHA
Few varieties of coffee are as well known and cause as much excitement among coffee drinkers as geisha. An Ethiopian heirloom varietal that was named after the town it was first identified in, Gesha (or Geisha, depending on how you want to spell it!), this coffee has elongated leaves and grows taller than a lot of other coffee trees. Geisha was first brought to Costa Rica in the 1950’s and it quickly made its way into other parts of Central and South America because of its rust-resistance. Rust, or roja, in that part of the world, is a fungus that coats the leaves of coffee plants and can kill the tree and it has been a major problem in the coffee world for a long time.
The Geisha variety is a pretty humble coffee until it reaches higher altitudes. Geisha took its place in the spotlight, really, around 2004 when the Peterseon family in Panama separated out lots of their geisha plants and won the Cup of Excellence that year. From there, the Geisha craze exploded and its the darling of competions around the world. Geisha was planted at Miguel Menendez’s Las Delicias farm in Alpeca, El Salvador three years ago and this is their first crop of this variety.
Switchback Coffee Roasters were able to secure the entire crop of Las Delicias’ geisha this year, so this should be something you can only get from them! This is a washed coffee grown in the 1400-1800masl range and it’s available for a cool $25/12oz bag from Switchback, which is a darn good price considering that high cupping score geishas from Panama can easily cost 3-4 times this! Geishas tend to have lots of complex floral and fruit notes. Switchback Coffee Roasters say this “combines the fruity, floral flavours found in the geisha, and the chocolatey, full-bodied flavours normally associated with coffees from El Salvador. These flavours all come together to produce notes of hibiscus, mango and buttercream.”
I used my standard 1:16 pourover ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino dripper with white Kalita 185 filters. My grinder du jour is a Handground set on 3.5. For the record, I do believe this is only my third geisha… I’ve had one from Guatemala from my good pals at Oddly Correct and one from Costa Rica that came from Brick & Mortar Coffee in Springfield, MO. I have never had a $60 cup of La Esmerelda’s top-end Panamanian to compare these to, is what I am getting at! LOL
If I were blind tasting this coffee, I’d be a little stumped but I think I’d probably end up calling it an unusual example of a washed Ethiopian coffee. Switchback has put a light roast on this coffee and in the cup the flavors are intense and paradoxically delicate at the same time. There is definitely a tea-like vibe and dry, green tea finish to this coffee for me, so it really does have some Ethiopian wet-process characteristics, for sure. This geisha has a body somwhere between light and medium but the flavors are quite intense for how light the body is.
There is a lot of tropical fruit in this cup. Mango definitely stands out, but think mango, papaya and that sort of thing rather than pineapple, for example. I don’t eat a lot of tropical fruits, so my descriptors are weak, but I definitely get mango and papaya out of this coffee. There is a tropical brightness and freshness in this cup, too. I would say the acidity in the cup is what I would associate with those fruits, too, and it really hits the cheeks and sides of my tongue. This is definitely what I would consider a “juicy” coffee, or one that sort of encourages saliva production and makes you want to keep sipping more and more. This geisha has that in spades!
I don’t really get much of the chocolatey tones that Switchback mentions but there are a lot of complex floral notes that come and go very fleetingly with each sip. There’s a lot going on in this cup and it’s really unique, for me, since I don’t get my hands on many geisha coffees. This is a nice cup, for sure. It’s sweet, clean, bright and juicy but also delicate and balanced and complex! LOL It has a little bit of everything and it all works. This is expertly roasted to be very light and to enhance the origin without any grassy or peanut buttery notes, and yet there’s a fullness to this coffee that belies its light body and overall character. Switchback nailed it!