Still think a $5 latte at Starbucks is over-the-top? Hold on, because now theres an even pricier cuppa Joe to get buzzed about.
These days caffeine fiends are all atwitter about Geisha beans, a high-end coffee so rare and prized its being sold for $7 a cup. Thats a lot of dough for a straight-up cup of Joe, but worth it, say fans of the beans, which come from low-producing plants that grow only in certain areas.
Its got unique aromatics. Its just rich with tropical fruits. Its got tremendous brightness in the cup – sweet and just super-interesting stuff, says Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, based in Long Beach, Calif. Coffee people are just in love with it.
The beans emerged on the market about seven years ago and quickly got the attention of high-end roasters and coffee connoisseurs. Now, the coffee has moved toward the mainstream, being offered at Starbucks and sold by the pound by major companies, including Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee, which recently introduced its Colombia Geisha Special Reserve coffee as part of its line of rare and premium beans.
Just dont expect this to become an everyday blend, says Lindsay Bolger, director of coffee for Green Mountain Coffee. It cant because its limited and obviously were not going to be able to carry it year-round, she says. But when you really are seeking a very singular, very unique, very rarefied experience with your coffee, this is such a wonderful and convenient way to bring that to coffee lovers.
Geisha beans originated in the Gesha (no i) district of Ethiopia, hence the name. Theres no literal connection to the elegant Japanese hostesses, though Bolger sees a figurative affinity in that the coffee is very delicate, pure, the flavor expression is refined, graceful, very lovely.
The plant was taken to Central America at some point and became a sensation during the last decade after a Panamanian farm, Hacienda La Esmeralda, offered the beans at auction.
James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, a small, upscale chain based in the San Francisco Bay area – it also has outlets in New York City – was among those who were impressed with Geisha coffee when it first emerged. The company now sells tins of beans as well as brewed coffee for around $7 a cup.
Were getting a lot of great feedback about how distinctive it is, Freeman says. A good Geisha is very much unlike any other coffee that youve ever had, so its very memorable. Its not a subtle thing for connoisseurs only.
Why the high price tag? Not only does the Geisha plant produce relatively few beans, its also sensitive to soils and climate. Plant it in one spot and its special, try another and its just ordinary coffee, Bolger says. It requires just the right conditions and it requires very careful handling.
At Green Mountain, the Columbia Geisha is being sold in 18-count boxes of K-cup packs at $31.99, which works out to about $1.80 per cup. Blue Bottle is selling 150-gram tins at $25, with each tin producing eight to 10 servings.
The quest for super-premium coffees mirrors whats been going on in other parts of the food world, such as the revival of heirloom tomatoes, Rhinehart saus. Were always looking for unique flavors or exceptional qualities.
What Freeman likes about the Geisha trend is that consumers are recognizing the name and getting interested in the concept of searching out different types of beans. Its making people pay attention, he says. Its not a 99-cent thing that comes out of a tap.