The Geisha Varietal
A native Ethiopian varietal, Geisha was isolated by British researchers in the Gesha region of Ethiopia in the 1930’s, and thereafter studied at research stations in Kenya and Tanzania. It was much later introduced into Panama during an outbreak of leaf rust, due to observed resistance to the disease. The varietal was planted sporadically, blended into lots with other varietals, and mainly forgotten about until it's potential was rediscovered in Panama in the early 2000's. Since then the varietal has risen to stardom, and continues to impress us year and year again.
The first time we have been able to purchase a small lot of Geisha from Mauricio’s farm
Altos del Abejonal sits at 1800 metres above sea level in the Tarrazu region, only 70 kilometres south of the Costa Rican capital San Jose. The Talamanca Sierra runs through the region, with peaks of above 3000 masl. The farm is also close to the regional capital of San Marcos, which sits at 1350 masl and is home to 9000 people, providing the hub to an area famous for its high quality coffee production. The volcanic soil and afternoon cloud cover in the region provides the perfect conditions for Mauricio to produce excellent coffees at Altos.
Honey processing is popular in Costa Rica as an alternative to washed processing, providing a cleaner cup with more acidic notes than a natural coffee, but with a much lower water usage than traditional washed processing. At Altos, the ripe cherries are first run through Mauricio’s Penagos Eco-Pulper, which even further reduces water and electricity usage at his micro-mill. The amount of mucilage left on the cherry will control the amount of influence the fruit has on the coffee as it dries. More mucilage means a flavour profile closer to a natural coffee, ripe, sweet and heavy, less mucilage means closer to a washed coffee, higher acidity, more tea-like coffees. Mauricio accomplishes his white honey process by removing almost all of the mucilage from the seeds, before they are laid out on drying beds to dry slowly for around 14 days. This leads to a very clean representation of the Geisha varietal, with the typical floral and citrus aromas backed up by sweet and fresh lemon sherbet in the cup.
Delicate white floral and citrus aromas, followed by a crisply balanced lemon in the cup
We first met Mauricio by chance. In March 2014 we were in Tarrazu, travelling around farms as guests of Exclusive Coffees, an exporter based in the region. After the last farm visit, our driver had to make a quick errand to see a friend, whose child had broken his hip and couldn’t leave home. The driver dropped off a gift for the boy, while we made some conversation with his father. He was also a coffee farmer, he told us stories of his passion for coffee production and of how his son wanted to become a barista. The next day we asked the staff at Exclusive about Mauricio, and were able to cup his coffees. Some of the cleanest naturals we had ever tasted shone on the table, along with clean and crisp honey-processed coffees. We visited Altos again the next day, and bought our first couple of bags. The coffee was so well received back in Denmark that we returned to Costa Rica the next year to visit Mauricio and buy more coffee. This is now our seventh year buying coffees from Mauricio. Having built a relationship over several years, we have discovered a shared interest in pushing the boundaries of how his coffee can taste. This coffee is very special to the team here at La Cabra, we always await its arrival with baited breath, eager to taste the fruits of this year’s harvest. The hard work and dedication shown by Mauricio at every stage of coffee production is obvious in the cup, and we are proud to showcase his work to so many of those who truly appreciate it.
With the honey process a certain amount of mucilage and pulp are allowed to remain on the coffee bean during depulping. The cover will stay with the bean during fermentation and drying thereby contributing to the sugars absorbed by the bean and affecting the flavour notes of the final cup. The amount of mucilage remaining defines the type of honey process - white, yellow, red or black in ascending order of mucilage concentration. If they are processed properly, the coffees can take on quite a lot of sweetness and flavours while remaining clean.
Raised drying beds (sometimes referred to as African drying beds) are often preferable when working with honey processed coffees, because of the additional airflow they allow. The air ensures that the beans dry evenly and reduces the incidence of fungi and bacteria formation. On the other hand, some farmers are accustomed to using sun-exposed patio drying that require a regular raking of beans to avoid moulds. While total fermentation and drying time depend on such choices as well as ambient temperature and moisture levels, red honey processing easily needs two weeks from depulping until drying has completed.