Gesha Village Ethiopia Special Selection
- June 2017
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
About as far west as one can get in Ethiopia, just a handful of kilometers from the Sudanese border in the region known as Bench Maji, there is an incredible coffee story unfolding. It is a tale of serendipity and revival that provides us with a glimpse into the future, foretelling the mouthwatering coffee flavors possible when the latent potential present in the genetic birthplace of coffee is unlocked. A deliberate, patient fusion of modern quality control with traditional respect for the incomparable talent of nature has enabled these heirloom coffees to show what they are truly capable of.
Adam Overton and his wife Rachel Samuel Overton chased the dream of building an Ethiopian coffee farm for more than a decade. The seed from which Gesha Village came into being was planted in their minds during filming of a documentary about coffee in 2007. The more they learned about the industry, the more certain they became that they wanted to become coffee producers. Over the next several years they researched vigorously, traveling to Panama and the United States to visit coffee farms and accumulate knowledge. Along the way they befriended Willem Boot, a coffee veteran with sterling credentials who happens to be an authority on Ethiopian heirloom coffee cultivars. He became a trusted advisor and invaluable source of wisdom as the project took shape.
The search for the right location to start a farm took them further afield than they ever expected to go, to one of the most inconvenient and difficult to access locations in the country. And it was perfect: a stunning, extremely remote patch of wild forestland with a thriving ecosystem stretched high along a ridgeline with breathtaking views of the expansive valley below. They knew instantly that it was the right place, and over the next four years they worked, with considerable help from the local Meanit community, to develop a no-holds-barred boutique coffee operation with the express goal of celebrating one of nature’s most delicious gifts and producing coffees as memorable and beautiful as the place where they were conceived.
The farm is at once new and extremely old—the region is part of the zone where coffee first appeared on Earth, the center of origin for the Arabica species. The forest within which the farm is carefully integrated is full of ancient, towering trees that provide shelter for the coffee below. 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. This is the kind of place that coffee was born to live in, and the site of a thrilling revival that will likely be remembered decades from now for having added an important chapter to the specialty coffee saga. Bench Maji was the origin of the famed “Geisha” variety that has set the coffee world on fire by dominating quality competitions around the world for the past decade, but it has not produced any specialty coffee for most of the past century. It was unknown to most buyers, obscured in the shadow of more recognized growing regions like Yirgacheffe and Sidamo. Thanks to the work of Gesha Village, Bench Maji has come out swinging, showcasing the incredible potential of the region and helping Ethiopia reassert its birthright as the home of the world’s most exciting coffees.
The Gesha Village lot we are featuring this year is Gesha 1931, the genetic line from which the transcendent Panamanian Geisha is descended. It is a Natural, which means the cherries were harvested and dried in their skins, the oldest approach to post-harvest handling of coffee. The fruit was picked, sorted for ripeness with meticulous care and set out to dry in the sun until it shrunk like a grape being turned into a raisin. Coffees processed this way have a much different character than their washed twins—they taste more overtly fruity and sweet, in ways that we often associate with port wines. Often the perceived acidity is diminished because the delicate tastes derived from the organic acids are overpowered by more dominant flavors that suggest red wines and dried cherries. The aromatics are distinctly fruit-like and can be very intense. Compared with washed coffees, naturals are like photographs that have been layered over with a vivid color filter, obscuring some detail while elevating the dramatic impact. The extended contact time between the cherry skin, pulp and seed imparts flavors that are not found in washed coffee, developed as a by-product of the particular kinds of fermentation that take place. When those flavors intertwine with the intrinsic fruit acids without overwhelming them, the result can be magical.
We selected this coffee specifically for its exceptional clarity and stunning detail—it presents like a washed coffee, with the added dimension of a natural. The dramatic impact of this stunning lot is Oscar-worthy, yet it delivers that experience precisely, in an articulate way, and finishes with a clean elegance normally found only in coffees processed using the washed method.