While most Arabica coffee varieties come from Typica or Bourbon, coffee originally comes from Ethiopia – and Kew Gardens have established that the country holds 95% of coffee’s genetic diversity. When you see “Ethiopian Heirloom” written on a bag of coffee, it means that it was probably grown wild or in a lightly cultivated garden.
Gesha/Geisha originated in the village of Gesha, Ethiopia, but remained under the radar until 2004 in Panama with Hacienda La Esmeralda. Since then, Panamanian Geisha has become one of the industry’s most-famous coffees. With most coffee championship finalists using it, and a recent green bean auction price of US $601/lb, it’s become a byword for excellence – and exclusivity.
It has a distinctive profile: tea-like with a jasmine aroma, orange blossom and bergamot notes, and delicate florals.
As for the plant, it grows best at high altitudes (WCR recommend above 1,400 m.a.s.l.), is low-yielding, and can be delicate. While it has earned high prices at auction, there have been horror stories of producers growing it outside of Panama only to see their plants die in incompatible climates and soil.
SL28 and SL34
By far the most creatively named varietals, Scott Laboratories was hired by the Kenyan government to develop stronger, drought resistant varieties. The result was a coffee that has a unique, sweet, citric and balanced flavor even though it suffers from very low yields on the trees.
This is only an introduction to the wonderful world of coffee varieties. There are many more that deserve attention: Pacas, Pacamara, Maracaturra, Rume Sudan, Laurina… The list goes on and on.