Coffee is a luxury many of us cannot go a day without. But what’s the most you are willing to pay for a brew? 5$? 20$? How about 100$? How about more? In the world of the best coffees there are a few choice beans that can fetch a high price. Let’s check out some of these luxury beans and see what all the fuss is about!
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
Let us begin with this gem of the coffee world, Jamaican Blue Mountain. With a high selling rate and about 80% or so of the beans exported to Japan, getting ones hands on these beans is no easy feat. And that is because cultivating, harvesting and processing these beans are no easy feat, either! In order to be legally called “Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee” the beans must first be grown within a designated boundary of land in Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range. It must also be grown at an extreme elevation, about 3000-5,500 feet. In addition to that it must be hand harvested, hand processed and then pass a scrutinizing series of quality tests, all administered by human eyes. If the beans qualify in all these categories, then the beans are sorted into one of three bean grades. Number 1 grade beans possess the least defects and are also the largest.
[Image: Jamaica Blue Mountain Range]
Peaberry beans, or a slight mutation where the coffee bean does not develop a mirrored twin bean, are also produced by Jamaican Blue Mountain. Peaberry beans are also incredibly rare, are shaped like rugby or footballs and produce a different taste from their regularly formed cousins. The peaberry Jamaican Blue Mountain beans also happen to fetch an astronomical price relative to other beans.
What makes Jamaican Blue Mountain such a high quality coffee is not just the intense amount of human labor, cultivating coffee plants on dangerous steep slopes and painstakingly picking and sorting beans by hand, but also the environmental conditions the Blue Mountains of Jamaican provide to the plants.
[Image: coffee harvest in Jamaica]
To start, the high altitude the beans are grown at plays a role. Higher altitudes benefit coffee plants by allowing them to grow and develop slower. The slower development means a more fully mature plant that has had enough time to develop richer flavors and aromas. The tropical climate of Jamaica also provides enough warmth, while the humidity and elevation all conspire to cause high precipitation and cooling mists. Coffee plants love rain and they also love lots of cloud cover to keep them from being scorched by the hot sun. The mountains are also comprised of nutrient rich and porous volcanic rock. The nutrients in the soil contribute to healthy plants and the porous nature of the volcanic mountain allows for proper drainage so the plants do not get too swamped.
Jamaican Blue Mountain focuses on quality over quantity. The slow pace of growing and processing the beans leads to an emphasis on a truly luxuriant bean. Supply and demand are easy ways to explain Jamaican Blue Mountain’s high price, but it also misses out on the important and moving reasons as to why the supply is so small compared to the demand. The human reason. Humans do the bulk of the work, rather than machines. And because humans do the work, the price that gets charged is a high one. As it certainly should be.
To begin detailing this enigmatic bean, let us look at its origins. Though seemingly recent due to its recent wins in various barista competitions, the bean itself was actually discovered in the ‘30’s. Geisha, or Gesha, happens to come from the Ethioipian town of Gesha, hence the name. By the 1960’s it had found its way to Panama, where it has since then become deeply entrenched as a champion coffee bean of the country. Geisha beans come from trees with elongated leaves, and like other coffee plants, thrive at higher elevations. The legacy of an Ethiopian bean has not departed from Geisha, as flavors, hints, aromas and notes of this bean are often given descriptors on the flavor wheel that would not sound out of place describing a Yirgacheffe. Things like, berry, mango, citrus, jasmine, bergamot oil, Earl grey, tea-like and even, according to some, marshmallow, are all flavors that can make an appearance for drinkers partaking in brewing of this bean.
[Image: Coffee beans are collected at the Lamastus Family Estate farm in Panama; Credit Alamy Stock Photo]
In 2004 Geisha coffee made a real splash when it won the Best Of Panama competition, which ends with an auction of the favored beans including the winner. From here it has continued to take the spotlight at coffee and barista competitions around the world. One estate in particular, the Lamastus Family Estate, seem to be the big winners, setting records and setting high prices. One year, The Lamastus Family Geisha beans sold for a whopping $1029 per pound of Geisha beans. The Lamastus Family Estate Geisha beans also have maintained incredible scores for their beans at competitions like 95 points out of 100, barely dipping below 90 points out of the total possible score. The Ka-Bu team even had the honor of meeting the talented Lamastus family at World of Coffee Expo in Berlin in June!
[Image: KaBu & Co with Lamastus Family Estates at WoC Berlin 2019]
But there are some negative effects of having Geisha so well represented. And that is in the world of barista competitions. For starters, the default attitude has been centering around the presumption that all of the baristas will be using Geisha beans. Geisha’s reputation precedes it, and this can skew and sway judges away from objectivity to sometimes attempting to indulge in a very delicious, very high quality and very rare coffee bean as much as they can while they can. This desire to drink special and rare coffee can be seen as a sort of excess some judges have begun to take part in. But surprisingly within the past 5 years, it has been baristas that have stuck true to their chosen bean and craft rather than just using Geisha as an easy win attempt. Relying instead on skill, craft and know-how over a bean with a famous reputation.
As Geisha is a difficult item to see for retail or in cafes, this amps up the temptation for judges to treat themselves and become spoiled by enjoying Geisha during competitions. There are many other reasons that, despite the grandeur and excellence of Geisha it is a hard type of bean to find at a coffee house. For starters, Geisha is superb as a pour-over brew. While espresso or milk based drinks do not synergize as well with Geisha in comparison. However, these are the beverages cafes and many general coffee drinkers focus and gravitate towards. Also, a general populace unfamiliar with many nuanced or high end types of coffee beans may not see the virtue of spending the higher price cups of Geisha can fetch for something they may not be interested in having or know enough about. Geisha’s gentle body and tea-like character can also serve as a reason for criticism by drinkers unfamiliar with it, as they may find it too weak or unexpressive.
Kopi Luwak (and why its price may not be worth the cost!)
This next item, kopi luwak, or civet coffee, is mostly known for the sensational way in which it is described. It is coffee produced from coffee beans collected from the droppings of the Asian palm civet, an arboreal cat-like animal native to South and Southeast Asia. While it may sound charming enough, there are some reasons why the high price tag does not balance out the treatment these animals receive in order to produce this coffee.
The coffee itself is also considered a luxury bean alongside Blue Mountain and Geisha, fetching a high price of nearly 100$ USD per cup. The taste is described as nuttier and less acidic than other types of coffee.
[Image: Luwak Civet in the streets of Bali]
The coffee beans are produced by Asian palm civets who eat raw coffee cherries. When the cherries are passed through the civet’s digestive track they are partially digested, leaving the coffee beans mostly intact. The resulting beans are then refined into a potable grade of beans. Originally the beans for this coffee were collected from civets in the wild, but as it has become a growing and lucrative trend, kopi luwak farms are more commonplace. To mass produce these beans which can sell for up to $600 USD per half a kilogram, some farmers have been capturing wild civets and keeping them in small, cramped cages on plantations. For wild civets, the coffee cherries are a snack, it is not their main food source that they need for sustenance and survival and so feeding them only coffee cherries is not good for their well-being or health. Meanwhile, captive civets are fed, sometimes forcibly, massive amounts of the coffee cherries. Civets are also nocturnal animals. But in captivity, they are kept in brightly lit facilities. In captivity, civets may get into fights, contract diseases, gnaw on their appendages out of stress and die. Worse yet, the industry of civet coffee is largely unregulated and it is almost impossible to delineate between beans that have come from harmful practices and beans that come from the natural process of collecting the wild civet’s droppings in nature. For this bean, the price tag is not the only reason to avoid it. By not buying coffee that harms humans and animals, we can choose not to create demand for such an item and further harm others.
[Image: Luwak coffee served in Ubud, Bali]
Worth the price of coffee
KaBu & Co is dedicated to providing great information on coffee, as well as the source. And while Jamaican Blue Mountain and Geisha are both brews to enjoy if you have the chance, other expensive beans like kopi luwak, are better left alone. Our mission at KaBu is to connect the coffee growers to markets around the world; we care about real solutions and real action, not just awareness. We certainly hope this article has helped to raise your awareness, too, however. So let us enjoy a fine brew, whether it is brewed from a luxury bean or not, and look forward to the future!
Dabov Specialty Coffee. “Lamastus Family Estate Won Again and with a New Record the Online Auction after Best of Panama.” Dabov Specialty Coffee, 17 July 2019, dabov.coffee/lamastus-family-estate-otnovo-pobediteli-i-na-turga-na-best-of-panama/.
“Geisha (Coffee).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geisha_(coffee).
“Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Aug. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Blue_Mountain_Coffee.
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Perfect Daily Grind. “What Is Panama Geisha? The Reality of a Fantasy Bean.” Perfect Daily Grind, 3 May 2017, www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/06/what-is-geisha-the-reality-of-a-fantasy-bean/.
“The Problem with Civet Coffee.” Caffe Society Blog, 1 Aug. 2016, www.caffesociety.co.uk/blog/the-problem-with-civet-coffee#targetText=Less%20acidic%20and%20nuttier%20in,by%20some%20Asian%20coffee%20growers.
Schering, Brittney. “Geisha Coffee: What to Know About 2018's Award-Winning Coffee.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 31 Jan. 2018, theculturetrip.com/central-america/panama/articles/geisha-coffee-know-2018s-award-winning-coffee/.