Saturday, September 29, 2007

Panama Esmeralda Geisha

James and Christine got Mabel a Peet's Coffee Tasting Tour as her med school graduation present, and we've been enjoying it for the past 4 months now.

We've had Guatemala, Kenya, and--still my favorite--Major Dickason's Blend. I've decided that I can only really distinguish 3 things in my coffee: freshness, body, and acidity. Everything else is lost on me. That observation was only reinforced with this month's coffee, which was a "Top Blend" called Panama Esmeralda Geisha. Here's what Peet's has to say about it:
Characterized by an unforgettable jasmine-like fragrance and pristine citrus clarity, this coffee has garnered 10 first place awards in the last 4 years. Only 215 sacks of this rare coffee were produced in 2007. As the original buyer of this remarkable coffee, Peet’s purchased 50 sacks in advance of the harvest, enabling us to offer it at the same price as last year. After the harvest, a select ten sacks of Panama Esmeralda Geisha auctioned for $130 per pound unroasted, and was judged the best coffee in Panama.

You'll see why this coffee has won such acclaim as soon as you open the bag. The fragrance — variously described as smelling like jasmine, citrus blossoms and bergamot — is extraordinary. We'll leave you to decide which, but there's no question that the bright, sweet citric acidity, and delicate flavor nuances will remain in your memory long after you've drained the last precious cup.

Panama Esmeralda was born of a misfortune – a silver lining on a very rainy cloud. The coffee is grown on just one small block, at the highest altitude of Hacienda La Esmeralda, in the Boquete region of Panama. 1998's La Nina season decimated the farm's crop of 15 different varieties – bar one. This heirloom variety – known as "Geisha", after its probable origin in the Ethiopian region of Gesha – was the strongest survivor of the relentless rains and the fungal diseases that accompany excessive moisture.

Tasting it for the first time on its own, the grower was astonished by the flavor of "Geisha", and has reserved and milled these beans separately ever since. Whether it is the altitude, the mists, or the soils of the microclimate, or the Spartan yields of this rare variety itself, the beans develop a flavor that hasn't been experienced anywhere else.

Wow, $130 per pound. That's insane. Peet's sell's it roasted for $50 a pound, and we would never have gotten it if it weren't for James and Christine. But I have to admit, I couldn't smell the Jasmine or distinguish anything else from the coffee other than it tasted like it came from Peet's and was generally good. I would definitely not have guessed that it cost more than their typical coffee. Unfortunately, we only got around to drinking it about 1.5 weeks post-roast. That's still pretty fresh in my mind, especially since the bag wasn't opened for that time. Also, the beans were still very shiny.

The beans will look more dull as it becomes stale and these were not dull at all. But it's definitely possible that some of those fragrances were lost while it was waiting around.

Anyway, Mabel still sensed that "there was something extraordinary about it" when she drank the coffee for the first time, so I believe that there's something to this coffee. It's just beyond me.

I figured that some people in the lab might want to try it, and maybe they could provide some extra insight. So I brought some freshly ground beans into the lab last week.

Lei said that it was very, very good and had what amounted to a clean finish.

Nicolas and Cecile both couldn't get over it being lighter bodied. They said that it seemed dilute even though I used 4 tablespoons for 14 ounces of water and brewed it in a French press for 5 minutes.

Ian said that he got hints of Jasmine up front, then citrus and noted, "It is a clean finisher." He was joking about the Jasmine but was serious about the citrus.

Dave Malito said no Jasmine, but got citrus as an aftertaste.

Priscilla said it was very good but noted that yesterday when I overbrewed it she could taste one of the flavors more. The flavor wasn't Jasmine. She added, "But you could smell the Jasmine a little bit." I'm not sure if she was saying that to make me feel better.

Everyone agreed that it doesn't leave a coffee aftertaste in your mouth and that it was very clean tasting overall.

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