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The Most Expensive Coffee on Earth: Panama Geisha

A decent bottle of wine or a decent bag of coffee each cost maybe $15. But for a nice Bordeaux, it’s easy to spend over $100. The best coffee, however, can be yours for only $19/bag. That’s only $0.25 more per cup to go from supermarket brands to carefully selected single origin beans. But these prices aren’t going to last. Markets are changing, consumer preferences are changing, and coffee prices are going up. In 10 years from now, $100 coffee bags (and $30 chocolate bars) won't be uncommon. So if you want to get into coffee, better do it now!

$396 Panama Geisha

What proof do we have? How about the fact it already exists. Here's a 10oz bag of Panama Geisha for $396. That's $643/lb! Truth be told, I've never heard of the roaster and I'm not recommending you purchase that coffee. Aside from this outlier, the highest priced Geishas typically come from Hacienda la Esmerelda and fetch $80/lb (sometimes more, but dependent on volatile auction pricing). They're seasonally available in the winter and early spring from well known roasters such as La Colombe, Verve, or Square One, and Angels' Cup offers a special Geisha Tasting Flight that ships the week before Christmas.

Geisha vs Gesha (or what is Geisha)

Just like wine, coffee comes in varieties (think Syrah vs Merlot). Some varieties do better in different climates or elevations, have different disease resistance, and of course, different flavor profiles. Geisha is a variety that originated in Gesha, Ethiopia, and was planted sparingly in Costa Rica where it gained a reputation for resistance to a coffee disease called "leaf rust". Eventually it was planted in Panama, and rumor has it that after a particularly bad year for leaf rust, single variety lots of Geisha were picked and processed for the first time, giving the growers at Hacienda la Esmerelda an opportunity to discover its unusual flavor profile. That discovery occurred in 2004, and Geisha has maintained its reputation as an exceptionally unique variety. The flavor profile is delicate and floral, with honeysuckle and bergamot almost always dominant. It also lacks sour and bitter notes. Today it's variably marketed as Geisha or Gesha (the word carries no meaning). Panama still seems to be the place Geisha grows best, but Costa Rica, Colombia, and even Ethiopia are now experimenting with the coffee and trying to replicate the success experienced in Panama.

The Best Coffee Will Only Get More Expensive

There are many factors driving coffee prices. Climate change and coffee rust (a disease that kills coffee plants) are two major risks that all coffee drinkers can expect to pay for. But I believe the biggest factor is something else. Hint: where did Starbucks grow the most in 2014? You guessed it, China. In 2014, Starbucks opened 742 new stores in China/Asia Pacific, representing 14% growth. That's 2x the growth rate in Europe and 3x the growth rate in the US. And it makes sense, because young Chinese people are starting to make the switch from tea to coffee. Here's a quote from a recent article: "Our parents don't drink coffee at all. They are afraid it will affect their sleep, so they prefer tea," said Wang Xiaozhe, one of the women, a 24-year-old office worker from Beijing. "But we drink coffee, coffee and coffee. Now I feel tea doesn't have any taste." China-breifing.com also reports "Soaring demand led China to import 1.6 million 60kg bags of green coffee in 2012-13, a staggering 270 percent increase from 2008-2009". That's some serious coffee demand.

Enjoy the Best Coffee Today, Before it's Too Late!

A lot of people wonder if a pound of Panama Geisha coffee could be worth $80 (or if a cup could be worth $12). If you're serious about coffee, I think it’s worth experiencing before it’s too late. If you decide it’s not for you, that’s awesome! You can forget about it and never have any regrets. Beyond just Geisha though, there are a lot of amazing coffees out there. With a coffee subscription like Angels' Cup, you can get in on the action while it's still affordable, try some great stuff, and figure out exactly what you like and where the good value is. The only people who lose are the ones who like coffee but refuse to give the good stuff a try because it’s an extra $0.25. In 10 years when coffee prices are making headlines, people are going to regret missing out!

PS - Don't Buy Kopi Luwak

There are other expensive coffees out there. The most commonly cited one comes from Indonesia called Kopi Luwak and it can fetch prices in the $400/lb range. It's famously ingested and pooped out by a civet (a small ferret-like rodent), a process that's supposed to mellow the flavor. In general, the coffee community agrees that a) the practice of harvesting Kopi Luwak is inhumane, and b) the coffee doesn't taste good. It's a novelty for tourists and you're better off saving your money for legitimately interesting coffee, like Geisha.