TOP
Experiencing Geisha, The Most Expensive Coffee In The World

Experiencing Geisha, Most Expensive Coffee In The World

In case you’ve missed anything, we left the boat and have taken a road trip to Boquete with a few goals in mind.  Find the lost waterfalls, see where the world’s most expensive coffee is grown and hike to the highest point in Panama.  I am sure from the title of this post, you can guess which goal we’re reaching today.

Coffee is a daily ritual for us.  We like the science behind making the perfect cup, along with all the different brewing methods, almost as much as we enjoy drinking it.  Now we’re in Panama, a region where coffee is grown and it would be ludicrous to be so close to something we love to not see where it comes from.

Plus, we’re slightly obsessed with seeing how things are made, as well as developing a respect and understanding of where they come from.  Like the time we went to Kentucky to learn about Bourbon.  Our desire to learn, aka curiosity, is a huge driving factor behind why we live this un-sedentary way of life.

Even if you aren’t a lover of the rich brown caffeinated cup, it’s one of Panama’s prime exports and the world of coffee is exploding.  One specific variety, Geisha, has put Panama on the map and drastically changed the market. People are flocking from all over the world, and willing to pay top dollar to get it.  Geisha is, at this moment in time, the most expensive coffee in the world.

Our friend Ben owns a coffee shop in Tennessee called Crema.  We shot him an email as soon as we had cleared customs into the country asking, do you work with any farmers in Panama, we’ve just landed in Bocas Del Toro…it would be awesome to connect with you or visit one of the farms you buy from.  He quickly replied, one of our favorite farms and producers is in Boquete.  A few email exchanges later and we were all set up to meet Wilford Lamastus, coffee farmer extraordinaire!

We were stoked to say the least, but we didn’t expect much more than a few minutes of his time.  We thought, if we were lucky, maybe we would get a taste of whatever he was processing.  After all, a famous coffee farmer in Boquete must be a busy guy.  So, when I say we were completely blown away and overwhelmed by our experience…it’s not an exaggeration.

This is one of those times I wish virtual reality devices were far more advanced and included at least smell-o-vision.  But, hopefully we have done the experience some justice.  Go grab your favorite mug and join us!

I don’t know about you, but we were blown away. We knew growing and producing coffee was a lot of work, but hand harvesting and hand sorting is a very tedious process.  I would want to be paid $601 per pound for my coffee too!  The only thing I can think to compare it to is high end wine.  We’ve visited a lot of vineyards over the years and these are parallel universes in many ways. The time and effort put into producing and processing the best possible fruit requires passionate people.

It’s doubtful we will ever be able to top this coffee experience and between Wilford, Graciano and Rachel, it’s certainly put Panama on the map in our hearts.

elida estate coffee farm Boquete

best coffee in the world

coffee cupping in Panama

how coffee is grown and processed

how coffee is grown and processed

A native Ngobe boy plays in a sweet tomato tree on the farm waiting on dad.

A native Ngobe boy plays in a sweet tomato tree on the farm.

coffee cupping with graciano

cupping coffee with graciano

As luck would have it, I am sipping on a cup of Wilfords coffee now.  Not Geisha, that’s above our pay grade, but an excellent natural processed Catui that was a very affordable $10 for a 12 ounce bag.  We managed to pick some up at Bajareque in Panama City recently and it’s a little surreal having the flavors on my palate while sharing and reliving this experience with you.

What Did We Learn?

We learned more about coffee in these few days than we have in the past 10 years of drinking it. There’s no doubt my appreciation has drastically gone up for what it takes to get the grinds in my cup.  I also have a greater understanding of the different processes and how that affects the way my coffee tastes.  Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Elevation:  We learned that higher elevation slows down the growth of the tress and it takes the berries longer to ripen.  More time and work for the farmer but it produces dense beans with a desirable flavor.  We’ll look for coffees grown around or above 4,000 feet (1,200 meters).
  • Process:  There are 3 different processes: natural, honey and washed.  They all produce different flavors and we liked them all.  But, we really liked the natural and honey coffees, and knowing they are the most environmentally friendly to produce makes them taste even sweeter.
  • Variety:  Catui, Geshia, Typica, Bourbon…I don’t know how many different varieties of coffee there are out there, but it’s a lot.  They all have their own unique characteristics just like the different varieties of wine (Cabernet, Pinot, Bordeaux…)
  • Roast:  Every reputable coffee roaster, and now coffee farmer too, we’ve ever met…really emphasizes how bad it is to over-roast beans.  Have you ever had coffee that tasted burned?  It probably was.  Light to medium roast is usually best if you want to taste the flavor of the beans.  Specialty coffee, like the ones we experienced here, should be light roast.  If maximum caffeine is your goal, don’t worry, light roast coffees provide the same buzz as the dark roasts. Stronger flavor doesn’t equal more caffeine.

Elida Estate Coffee

la Esmeralda geshia coffee

Is it Overrated?  Is the world’s most expensive coffee worth it?

In the back of my mind I was hoping I wouldn’t think the Geisha was that much more amazing than any other specialty coffees I’ve drank before.

Of course we didn’t taste the batch of Geisha that sold for $601 per pound at auction, but our taste buds were on cloud nine with every spoonful that did enter our well-aerated mouths. I really didn’t want to be impressed by it…but dammit, Geisha is the most flavorful and complex coffee I’ve ever had.

Klatch Coffee bought the $601 Esmeralda and it looks like a single cup will run $55.  I’ve even seen articles claiming certain coffee shops in Asia sell Geshia’s for up to $85 a cup.  I personally couldn’t pay that amount of money for any single cup of coffee, but that’s simply because it’s not in my budget. The same as I wouldn’t purchase a $300 bottle of wine.

July 2018 Update: Turns out Wilford took home the bragging rights of the most expensive coffee in the world this year.  His Natural Processed Geisha shattered the record for most expensive coffee in the world bringing a bid of $803 per pound.  The top price was paid by Black Gold Coffee Co. out of Taiwan and the lot is called “Elida Geisha Green Tip Natural”.  The Japanese roasting company Saza Coffee also purchased some of the same lot.  So, Congrats to Wilford, and if you find yourself in Taiwan or Japan you can probably pick up a cup…for a really, really hefty price 🙂

I mentioned the parallel between coffee and wine earlier and I think it applies to the value proposition here.  Wine from a specific vineyard could range anywhere from $5 – $500 a bottle.  The price difference comes from the amount of work/time given to produce the bottle along with the quality of the flavors.  The same applies for coffee.

As always, something is only worth the value we give it.

Some people don’t enjoy coffee or wine and wouldn’t be willing to spend more than $1 on a cup of coffee or $5 for a bottle of wine.  They don’t want or need high quality.  That’s ok.  We happen to love and greatly appreciate the craft behind both.  I wouldn’t think twice about spending $10 for a nice glass of wine at a restaurant.  So, we gladly paid $9 to have a cup of Elida Estates Geisha in Panama City at Bajareque.

Luckily, we also liked plenty of the other more affordable varieties too, mostly the natural and honey processed coffees.  Our big takeaway was that farmers who care this much about quality are naturally going to produce better beans all around.  And while one lot of Geisha may sell for $601 per pound, the neighboring lot might be almost as good for $60 per pound.  And the Typica or Catui grown on the same farm might sell for $10 per pound.

how coffee is grown and processed

how coffee is grown and processed

But the big question for us consumers is: How are we supposed to determine which coffee is actually good quality coffee? 

Price and quality are not one in the same.  How do we know when it’s worth it to fork over the extra money for a specialty coffee? How do we avoid those who are just trying to cash in by using the marketing value that comes with the words specialty coffee or Geisha?

I posed this question to our friend Ben because as a fellow coffee nerd, a guy who runs a coffee shop and has personal relationships with the farmers, I knew he wouldn’t steer us wrong.  Here is what he had to say…

It’s a very relevant question today, it is hard to know when there are so many micro roasters and specialty coffee shops — seemingly on every corner now in affluent cities across the globe. So sometimes you have to step back and wonder, am I getting what I’m paying for?

My answer is this, you should never pay less for specialty coffee. Here’s why, specialty coffee (not commodity coffee) is picked by hand by economically oppressed families living in poor conditions at best (not always, but most often). It’s hard to say this strongly enough, really the only way one will appreciate the labor that goes into producing just one cup is to see production firsthand, such as what you two have done at Wilford’s farms. I am passionately convinced that no American who has visited a Latin American coffee farm would return to the states and ever complain about the price we pay for coffee.

But certainly, there are swindlers in the market. So, how does one know if the $65 cup of Geisha is really worth it? It’s all about transparency and reputation. Transparency means you should, at a minimum, be able to find on the bag of coffee: name of the farmer, farm, mill, altitude, variety, process method and how it was sourced (directly? through a third party?) Additionally, a solid roaster will typically have a blog with stories about the farmer, his/her practices and why the coffee is unique or special. Secondly, reputation. Wilford Lamastus has a reputation in the industry for the highest quality Geisha’s.  Detailed information about his coffees can be found on many sites with a simple Google search.

Last, if you’re in doubt ask about the coffee’s score. Every coffee receives a score and a roaster should be able to explain the score to you. At CREMA our Co-owner and our Lead Roaster are both Licensed Q Graders. Keep in mind though, that even if the coffee is a rare varietal, was processed, stored and scored well, it doesn’t mean that it was roasted with expertise.

Some of the best coffees we’ve had did not arrive in a fancy package. As they say, fancy packaging does not a great coffee make 🙂 Think critically, if it has extravagant packaging it could be that the roaster has to make up that margin.

Oh, and very last…it’s ok if you don’t like the expensive coffees. Price does not mean it tastes better. Drink what you enjoy and be adventurous, you might find that the unique tastes of a Geisha are what you enjoy most, but maybe not, and that’s ok.

best coffee in the world

Where to Get Coffee From These Farms

Coffee farmers don’t often sell to consumers, they sell to roasters and distributors.  Then those roasters and distributors store, roast and release the coffees at varied times.  It’s no wonder they each gave me a blank stare when I asked about where we the end consumer could find their coffee.  But, we’ve just raved about these individual farms, and what an amazing experience it was.  So, you might like to get a hold of a cup to see what all the fuss is about.  We did our best to list a few places that buy coffee from each of the farms.  They may or may not have beans from these farms at the moment but I’m sure if you contact them you’ll be able to find out when they will.

Elida Estate Coffee

  • USA:  Crèma Coffee – Considering Ben is the one who introduced us to Wilford (thanks Ben!), we know you can find excellent coffee, and some from Elida Estate at his shop in Tennessee or order from him online (I think he does free shipping promo’s a lot).  He is now pre-selling one of Elida’s Geshias if you feel like springing for it (let us know, we’ll come over for a cup!).  He also has a blog worth checking out and we especially love this post is about the work Wilford and Rachel are doing to give back to their community: crema-coffee.com/blog/what-your-coffee-purchase-can-really-do
  • USA:  Verve Coffee (we’ve visited these guys in Santa Cruz and they are doing amazing things with coffee), Equator Coffee & Teas, Portola Coffee Lab, Klatch Coffee
  • Australia:  Campos Coffee, Proud Mary, Sensory Lab, Seven Seeds, 5 Senses
  • Japan:  Maruyama Coffee
  • Taiwan:  Ok Lao, Haayas Gourmet Coffee, Waka Coffee, Cafe Lulu, Linking Coffee, Pebble Coffee
  • Norway:  Kaffa
  • Sweden:  Johan & Nystrom
  • Korea:  Cafe Libre

Los Lajones Estate

  • USA:  Flying Goat Coffee, Cafe Grumpy, Speckled Ax
  • Sweden:  Johan & Nystrom
  • Netherlands:  Boot Koffie
  • Czech Republic:  Double Shot

Hacienda Esmeralda

  • USA:  Klatch Coffee, Bird Rock Coffee, Peerless Coffee and Tea, Kean Coffee
  • Australia:  Normcore Coffee Roasters, Campos Coffee
  • UK:  Northern Tea Merchants

How we brew coffee on the sailboat

Jason’s been promising a post about brewing coffee since we traveled in the RV. He’s a nut when it comes to accumulating specialty devices to make the perfect cup. Sadly he’s accumulated so many new ones recently, and we broke a couple of old ones, we don’t have a complete guide to brewing yet. Rest easy, Jason has promised to create a video about his coffee brewing gear before Thanksgiving (in the states), that way if you’re thinking of buying something for Black Friday, Cyber Monday or a Christmas gift there will be plenty of time. For now, we do have everything listed on our site here: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/product/coffee-tea

Hiking Gear Used In This Video

  • Quatix 5 Watches (smart watches we use for adventures but they also connect to the auto pilot on the boat): http://amzn.to/2ygOudg
  • Hiking/Water Adventure Shoes: http://amzn.to/2yLNOfb
  • Backpack – We wouldn’t recommend the one you see me (Nikki) carrying in this video but Jason’s camelback is an oldie but a goodie.  They don’t sell his particular model anymore but we have always had good luck with their gear.
  • Garmin InReach:  http://amzn.to/2wVdbaP 

Sailing Road Trip Report

To see our full map with interactive pins, click here: gonewiththewynns.com/map

boquete road trip map

  • Dates Stayed: August 24 – 31, 2017
  • Farms Visited: Elida Estate, Los Lajones, Hacienda la Esmeralda
  • Anchorage:  We left Curiosity docked at Red Frog Marina on Isla Bastimentos.
  • Where We’re Staying: Fireside Inn and Grill.  We paid $54 a night, it was basic and marginally clean but a friendly and an inexpensive base camp for the week.  Our options were limited because of the cats and needing a pet friendly place to stay. Otherwise, we would have picked another location.
  • Cell & WiFi: We had good +movil and claro cell phone service.

Cameras Used to Capture This Video

 

Poop Coffee

Just in case you’ve seen any stories floating around about the famous poop coffees and how they are the most expensive, the new record is indeed Hacienda la Esmeralda’s Geisha.  Don’t know about poop coffee?  Here are the two I know about, and no we haven’t tasted them:

  • Kopi Luwak – coffee produced from beans that have passed through a civet cat.
  • Black Ivory – coffee produced from beans that have passed through an elephant.

 

Thanks for being a part of the adventure!  If you enjoy what we do and you want to help us keep the videos and posts flowing, or buy us a cup of coffee, check out our Say Thanks pageIt lists out some ways you can show us some digital love and most won’t cost you a penny.

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (22)

  • Lutfie

    What an excellent post… Appreciate it so much. And perhaps you would try those “poop coffee” you’re mentioned as an adventure and comparison among world most expensive coffees.

    reply
  • Doreen Colnaghi

    Just watched CBS This Morning and saw a segment on a farmer outside of Santa Barbara now growing geisha coffee beans! They are teaming up with Charlie Habegger of Blue Bottle coffee to sell it. We immediately thought of you and your segment (which we loved). They did the slurping and everything. It should have been you guys, lol.

    reply
  • Deborah Kerr

    I could just smell that coffee!!! You guys are so lucky! I never paid attention to my coffee type or anything like that, now I’ll be looking around at shops for coffee info!

    reply
  • Roger B

    Wow! I thought I was the coffee snob. I do grind my Colombian Coffee Beans and while that is brewing, I grab a quick cup from my K-cup Keurig. The best coffee we experienced was while visiting Costa Rica.

    reply
  • Tev

    Wow what a great video. I have always said coffee was much like wine in many ways and people thought I was crazy. What’s crazy to me is poop coffee. Those poor animals having to eat and digest coffee beans. Doesn’t seem natural. I’d rather enjoy a cup from the farms you visited. So much work involved but it was fascinating. I wondered how they brewed their coffee? Looking forward to Jason’s video about his brewing methods. Thanks again and keep sharing your adventures.

    reply
  • Scott

    At this time when supporting local agriculture is a growing trend in ethical and healthy consumption, it is so cool that you are able to bring your own “local” to such wondrous places and in a low impact way.

    reply
  • Paula

    I recently saw a vlog on guildbrook farms where they were roasting green coffee beans using a whirley top? popcorn maker on a gas burner. Evidently green beans store better than roasted, so I thought of you guys and your love of coffee. It would suck to run out of coffee when cruising around some of those small pacific islands! I also thought it looked fun to roast your own beans and this device made it look so easy plus does double duty for popcorn so may make it worth storing.

    reply
  • Mark

    Really awesome video guys!
    The pricing made my eyes water (Nikki was right ~ is my pallet really “educated” enough to discern the differences). You sure wouldn’t want to spill THAT cup of coffee.

    Thanks for letting us in on the surrounding heritage and environment these beans are grown in ~ I guess I can rationalize a cup as a “mini-vacation” now!

    (Did anyone sleep that night…or were you all wired?!?)

    reply
  • Deby

    Incredible video! I had no idea that coffee farming & grading was such a process. This was so interesting. What an experience. Thanks so much for sharing!

    reply
  • JOHN SCHRETLEN

    A micro-roaster based in Vancouver, BC who travels to Central America annually, goes to small farmers such as the ones you visited. He buys a few sacks at a time, something the Starbucks and Nabiscos of the world do not do. (The need ten train cars of beans, not ten sacks.)

    Your video highlights and expands his descriptions of the plantations. Those ‘farms’ are really very steep hills and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to haul hundreds of pounds of beans from tree to tree to processing plant.

    What is so great about your visit is that you are now one of the VERY few consumers who have had the incredible pleasure of being there, on the hill, smelling the trees, tasting the coffee and talking to the owner. You are very lucky to have the opportunity, to have your friend Ben, to have the taste for a good coffee, and to have the curiosity to make this video happen.

    On the other hand, now that you have tasted some of the very best, you might spend the next 65 years trying to make the perfect cuppa. Have fun.

    reply
  • Excellent video!!! Reminds me of our wine tasting adventures in Napa and chocolate tastings at a farm in Hawaii. Problem is once you have developed your taste buds it is hard to go back! Next RV Trip might look up Ben. Jason – can’t wait to see the coffee video as will be timely for presents.

    reply
  • Sid

    I’ve been curious for a couple of years now.
    WHAT US YOUR FAVORITE COFFEE?
    I no that you do not enjoy Starbucks any longer so what replaces it?

    reply
  • Denise

    Very cool episode. As a French roast devotee, you’ve convinced me to give lighter roasts a try… that and my sister sent me some Nicaraguan medium roast from a plantation in Nicaragua that I bought a hand bean grinder for… it was delicious… so thanks to all of you for opening my eyes ?

    reply
  • Rob McLennan

    Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee. The main factor of it’s high price is the uncommon method of producing such a coffee. It has been produced from the coffee beans which have been digested by a certain Indonesian cat-like animal called then palm civet or also civet cat. This is the reason kopi luwak is also called cat poop coffee or civet cat coffee. The feces of this cat will be collected, finished and sold as kopi luwak. Maybe when you get over to Thailand, you’ll give it a try?

    reply
  • Barbara Dobree

    Wow! Most entertaining and educational. Thank you for all your hard work putting this together.
    One thing – I don’t see any sources for purchasing in Canada. We drink lots of coffee up here in the great white north. Just ask your crew!

    reply
      • Sue

        Phil & Sebastian (Calgary) have coffee available on their website. I notice they have a 1/2 lb of Hartmann’s Washed Geisha from Panama available for $30.00 (along with other fine coffees)

        reply
  • Rich

    What wonderful folks to take the time to show you around and educate all of you. I had a Panamanian buddy in the Army back in the 70’s, and listening to him, I have always wanted to visit Panama. I’m not a coffee fanatic but now I know I’m going to seek out some Panamanian coffee to sample.

    reply
  • WOW, all I an say is WOW. I love coffee, NO I really love coffee and was totally enthralled with your experience. I have roasted and tasted some amazing coffees but your cupping experience was off the charts. Thanks for a great video…I am still smiling and yes, of course jealous but so happpy that you had this incredible coffegasmic experience.

    reply
  • Doreen Colnaghi

    Fascinating adventure and video. We learned so much, never even heard of Geisha or any of those types. We did see the coffee growing in Costa Rica and were amazed that the pickers would climb up and down the mountains to get it. We do try to by fair trade coffee. Is this fair trade do you know? We will look for some of these coffees in the places you listed. Thanks!

    reply

Post a Comment