Ethiopia Gesha Village Washed Limited Release
- October 2019
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
About as far west as one can get in Ethiopia, mere kilometers from the border of South Sudan, in the region called Bench Maji, there is a farm that is shaping the future of coffee by reaching deep into its past. Gesha Village is forging a new template by combining modern quality control and experimentation with traditional respect for the incomparable talent of nature. The farm is at once new and extremely old. Although it was founded just eight years ago, it is located in the heart of the planet’s most ancient coffeelands, right in the zone where coffee first appeared on the earth. The forest that houses the farm is full of ancient, towering trees that have given shelter to wild coffee for centuries. It is a botanist’s dream, a lush green landscape marked by waterfalls and diverse wildlife where the coffee seems at peace, thriving in biologically active soils undisturbed by civilization’s demands.
The Gesha Village farm is planted with several different coffee types, including 1931, a variety that was named for the year in which it was first catalogued and is associated most closely with the “Geisha” variety that is now planted of coffee farms all around the world. Another is Illubabor Forest 1974, a variety selected by the Jimma research center that has been widely planted across Ethiopia. But the most intriguing is surely Gori Gesha, a forgotten coffee that was harvested from wild trees growing in the forest. I like to call it the Original Gesha.
While many coffee lovers are now somewhat familiar with the ex-pat variety that goes by the name of Geisha, few realize that it has dozens of brothers, sisters, and cousins living in Ethiopia. In 1936, seeds were collected in the forests of Gori Gesha and transported to a coffee research facility in Costa Rica, via Kenya and Tanzania. Most of the Geisha being cultivated all over the Americas today is descended from those seeds. Gori Gesha represents the rest of the family that stayed home, living in the forest in relative obscurity, unknown to the coffee consuming world abroad until now. It is not one type but several, cultivated from cherries collected from the forest areas near the farm by its owners, Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel Overton. It is fascinating and dynamic, an ancient coffee recently emerged from anonymity that all of us are just beginning to get to know. Its best stories are yet to be told; each year it reveals more of its potential and shows new aspects to its character. I find it especially exciting because it represents a return to coffee’s roots, before varieties were botanically classified and isolated. It is a modern coffee mystery that will only be solved with patience and time, a sensory adventure that can transport us to the earliest days of coffee and provide us with delicious surprises each year.
Adam and Rachel, the couple that founded the farm in 2011, have a lot to be proud of and even more to be excited about. In their first several years of coffee production, they’ve already managed to produce some outrageously tasty lots that defy expectations and captivate us on the cupping table like few others. Their work in Bench Maji is bringing about a promising renewal of interest in a part of the country that had long been neglected by the coffee industry. They are not only uncovering latent potential and showcasing beautiful coffees, they are creating a pathway for thousands of farmers in the far west of Ethiopia to benefit from a natural resource that has been unrecognized and undervalued for most of its history by helping these coffees find their way onto the world stage. I love this coffee for what it is and also what it represents: a trip back into coffee’s past and a foreshadowing of its future. It speaks to much of what we celebrate in coffee and wine today: compelling craftsmanship combined with the taste of place and a profound respect for the mysteries of nature. Much like the natural wine movement embraces the values of variety and nature’s ability to surprise us, the Gesha Village approach — most especially with Gori Gesha — acknowledges the benefits of intentional production while maintaining reverence and plenty of open space for the less predictable beauty that comes about as a result of things that we do not control.
We’ve chosen to offer both a washed and a natural version of this coffee to provide a rare opportunity for exploration. The most exciting way to appreciate these is to taste them side-by-side and contrast the flavors they present. Both will deliver sweetness in abundance with pear and soft peach notes. In this washed version, we found more nuance and delicate melon and apple notes, whereas the natural dials up the volume on the aromatics, doubles down on the stonefruit, and delivers a mouthful of mixed-berry goodness. Tasting either one is a treat, but tasting them together is a memorable experience, and the best way to understand the way post-harvest processing decisions manifest flavor in a coffee. Each has its advantages. Which will you prefer?